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Harry and I were choir boys in the famous Father Moore's Choir in
Newry until our voices broke. Our love for music took us to learn to
play instruments and into pub groups and relief bands before the
showbands. I joined Tracy and the Grassroots in late 1971 on bass
guitar and stayed for a year before leaving to join Poteen with Eric
Murray (singer who replaced John Farrell in the Dreams), Charlie
Arkins from the Nashville Ramblers and Cotton Mill Boys fame on
fiddle and some others. When Poteen broke up most of the band formed
a pop group called Tomorrow's People playing nightclubs like "Good
Time Charlies" in Dublin and Cork etc. Eric left and I got Harry to
replace him on vocals.
Jim Farley approached myself and
Peter Lyons from Manchester who had been drummer in Poteen and
Tomorrow's People to join Roly Daniels Band. Harry went on to be
guitar/vocalist with The Hootenannys and then with Dermot Henry and
John Egan, who was road manager
for Green County told me that there was a vacancy for lead singer
with Bloody Morgan and the Pirates and he took Harry to Kinnegad
where he passed the audition with flying colours and moved to live
in Limerick where the band was based. Mick Quinn was manager of Roly,
Danny Doyle, the Pacific, the Pirates and Maxi, Dick and Twink among
others and was a partner in Green County with Jim and Roly - they
also owned Poteen. A small circle eh? Dublin itself too! everyone
knew everyone in the Dublin band scene!
One night I was
in the Revolution Club in Dublin and Julie Boyd of Spotlight
magazine told me that Red Hurley was looking for a bass player so I
got to the Tara Club where he was rehearsing for his new band with
T. J. Byrne as manager. I got the gig without auditioning on the
strength of playing with Jim Farley. I played with Red for about a
year but left to join a friend to help out for a few months -
Brendan Quinn who had formed The Bluebirds.
then rang me and offered me a job with Cahir O'Doherty and the
Dazzle Band which he had formed on the strength of his success in
"Jesus Christ Superstar" After about six months Big Jim Farley rang
me and asked me to join a band he was putting together to tour
Canada (Vancouver etc) and then the circuit in Ireland. We rehearsed
and did a few gigs in Ireland to tighten the band up but the
Canadian tour fell through and we broke up. As it happened, The
Pirates also broke up and Harry and I decided to form our own band
Spring 1977 in
Newry - both me and my brother Harry back where we started - living
with mammy! We drew up a plan to get ourselves on the road. We
hadn't got a whole lot of money saved so we went into debt. Cecil
Thompson was a dancehall and hotel promoter in Northern Ireland
having about 30 venues, many of which Harry and I had played in and
he loved Harry as a singer. A 6 ft. tall, handsome rascal who could
belt it out; Thomson loved him. "Big fella" he called him. We drove
up to Larne in Co.Antrim to his apartment and he proceeded to lift
up the mattress and handed us £2,000 in banknotes.
We were able to
get a top of the range P.A. system and a second hand Bedford van.
"Lets get the job done, we're on the road!" The plan was to gig
around the country and to head across the water to Birmingham at the
end of summer to audition for "New Faces". In order to get decent
sort of money for gigging we called ourselves "The Bloody Morgan
Supersound" as we wanted to capitalise on Harry's past as Morgan but
were contractually prohibited from using "Bloody Morgan and the
Pirates" because it's ownership had been registered in Dublin. In
order to get the few grand we had to sign a 5- year contract with
Thompson and 25% management fees off the top - c'est last vie.
Of course he
had to get his initial two grand outlay back also. Anyway we chopped
and changed our line-up throughout the summer and headed to
Birmingham with 3 of the best musicians around - The late Davy
Stuart from The Outlaws on keyboards; on guitar Mick Loughrane from
The Crypt (managed by the late Ollie Byrne, later owner of
Shelbourne F.C.) and on drums Rick Bleakley from Candy and Lyttle
People". Incidentally, Rick's daughter Christine is married to
Frank Lampard, manager of Chelsea F.C.
We arrived in
Brum and made our way to The Hippodrome for the auditions. Two weeks
later we were informed that we were accepted and that we would be on
the show - November 1977. We decided to keep the song we had chosen
for the audition for our appearance on "New Faces", A fair few
years previously "The Rubettes" had had a massive hit in England
with "I Can Do It" a rock 'n' roll song which was also the last
number Cahir O'Doherty performed in the Dazzle Band programme when I
was with him. It always had the crowd bouncing so we adopted it as
our closer in Supersound and later as Flash and of course on TV.
Although New Faces was broadcast on ITV and UTV on a Saturday, we
had rehearsals on the Monday before and the show was recorded on the
Tuesday before broadcast.
The format was
that you laid down a few backing tracks (our instruments) on the
Tuesday afternoon and chose the best backing track to which we sang
live in front of the audience - we sang live to our pre-recorded
backing tracks coming through the stage monitors. Timing had to be
precise obviously. There was a panel of four expert celebrity judges
and three categories, presentation, content and star quality, each with
a possible 10 points. Out of the maximum 120
points we received 112 with the arch-critic Tony Hatch who had
written the theme song for the soap opera "Crossroads" and many top
chart hits for Petula Clark amongst others giving us two tens and a
nine out of 30!
Next move was
down to London to get measured for new stage clothes. Colin Wilde
was a top fashion designer to the stars in Carnaby Street. Red
Hurley had used him when I was with him as did many of the top Irish
showbands - dress suits, cat suits, whatever. When you were doing
the Irish ballroom circuit in England, many bands co-incided their
tour with a visit to Colin; that was if you could afford him - the
flamboyant Colin wasn't cheap.
We won it - the
first and only Irish band north or south to ever win New Faces.
Having known we had won the show on Tuesday night, we had to keep
the result a secret until the broadcast on Saturday night excepting
close family of course who were sworn to secrecy - not easy I can
tell you especially as we were back in Newry via London where we had
a gig and another visit to Colin Wilde for a fitting for more new
clothes as we had decided to go leather gear for the Christmas Eve
SPLASH THE MONEY!
We came back to
Ireland and the money was rolling in. We employed two roadies,
invested in a new massive sound system, a 30,000 watt lighting
system, a new van for the equipment and a Jaguar XJ6 for the band to
travel in - twin petrol tanks, 16 miles to the gallon - that's the
stuff, had to be done - a bit of luxury, eh!
Times were good
and it wasn't long before we were back over in Birmingham for the
New Faces Christmas Eve Special which showcased all the winners of
Series 6. The Grand Final was won in the New Year by English soul
singer Patti Boulaye.
The first few
years on the road went smoothly then our drummer Rick and the late
Davy were poached from us to join a band called "The Sweat" based in
Coleraine. Their main man bassist and writer had secured a record
deal from Double Dee Records in England owned by Dave Dee of "Dave
Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich" fame. They charted top twenty in
England and appeared on Top of The Pops with their hit "Why Did You
Have To Lie". As it happens, as you can see by the photo with Billy
they came back to us!
We came on the
scene well past the hey days of the band scene in Ireland:discos
were getting popular and cheaper to a proprietor. ITV and UTV were
not shown in over half the counties in Ireland and as such in
Munster, Connacht and the majority of Leinster - a new group like
Flash, even though we had won a massive talent show like New Faces,
did not get the exposure we could have had a few years later, a time
when RTE had no opposition on the airwaves in Éire; subsequently our
television exposure was limited.
But we motored
on and then came a chance meeting with Billy Brown whom I hadn't
seen for a while. We went for a few jars and discussed an idea Harry
and I had of doing a cover version of the Foundations hit "Build Me
Up Buttercup ". Billy thought it was the business, a brilliant idea.
"Magic" that was one of his favourite expressions. He had his own
office in Lombard Street producing records et al for Ritz Records;
he set up recording time for us.
IN THE STUDIO
A few weeks later we get the band together in
the studio. Billy has an idea for a big sax sound so he has got top
session man Richie Buckley down. To get this sound he has himself on
baritone sax and Richie on tenor and they are both in the studio
toilets next to the main recording studio belting it out to get the
desired effect. It worked, the man was a genius. Billy's pal Rod
Thear, who had
engineered on some Rolling Stones albums, he had microphones in
there. We spent quite a few hours and days there as Billy was a
perfectionist and we were all happy with the result.
BILLY BROWN JOINS FLASH!
Meanwhile we were gigging away as a 5-piece
and he came to see us a few times. After a gig in Bray one night he
told us he would like to join the band and of course we were
delighted and we organised the release of "Buttercup" to coincide
with him joining us. Billy's friend Kevin Haugh gave us plenty of
airplay on his RTE radio afternoon show and we were on the road.
Some crack with that man I'm telling you, some stories although he
could lay it on a bit! Sometimes we would rehearse before gigs and
others he would come up to Newry where we were based and he would
stay in my mother's house. We became close friends with me sometimes
staying at his place in Johnstown a few miles north of Naas.
A NEW LEASE OF LIFE
'Twas a new lease of life on the road for
Billy and a real lift for us too. He added so much from his sax and
piano input. He had one of those old battered Wurlitzers its unique
sound reminiscent of Supertramp's "Dreamer" from "Crime of the
Century" in the '70s. Then there was his range of harmonies which we
fitted in easily with (former choir boys) - steady now lads
musically wise! No bother to him from that deep down low baritone to
falsetto. Billy had no problem being in the background as he loved
to be part of the unit and besides he knew Harry was a proper lead
singer and front man.
This was around 1981/'82 and an example of
some of our programme was - Smokey Robinson's "Being With You", "Eye
of the Tiger (Survivor); Foreigner's 'Waiting For A Girl Like You'
(Foreigner); 'Young Turks' (Rod Stewart); 'Poison Arrow' (ABC);
'Can't Go For That (No Can Do)' by Hall and Oates; 'Abracadabra'
(Steve Millar Band) and of course our single 'Build Me Up Buttercup'
together with a few Freshmen songs especially 'Carpet Man'. What a
buzz to be singing harmonies in that one as Billy had been an
musical idol of ours and now we were performing together and were
Time meanders on like an autumn day! I haven't
lifted up an instrument for 37 years unlike my brother Harry who
until the pandemic has been playing a few gigs a week with his band
Taxi. They won the top UTV talent show Entertainer of the Year a
year or so after Flash broke up. Taxi toured for many years in Qatar
and Bahrain in the Middle East. In 1982, Harry with a young family
was offered a job with Dunnes Stores as a haulage contractor
(hardware and clothes) eventually being their main man in the North
of Ireland with 20 lorries on the road.
I went into bar and
nightclub management in Jersey in the Channel Islands ending up
running The Inn on The Park, the biggest entertainment complex on
the Island. But like many, I hark back to the days of learning the
banjo mandolin, the G Banjo, the guitar and eventually the bass with
which I earned my living for quite a few years. There are regrets
like not having appreciated the beautiful scenery as we travelled
throughout Ireland - we were young lads making a living never
looking out the window really or taking it in more like but on a
more positive note there were all those fantastic people we met
along the way especially the characters who kept you amused on the
long journeys home.
And to finish off, through my connection with
Louis Walsh, in The Inn on the Park in Jersey, I gave Boyzone their
first big international gig just after they had a hit with the
Osmonds' "Love Me For A Reason".