The Millionaires

Related: Times, Raindrops, International, Woodpeckers

Lead Vocals:
Lead Guitar:
Michael Conn
2nd Guitar: 
Joe Doherty
Gene Bannon
Trumpet: Jimmy Higgins
Michael O'Brien

The Millionaires made their debut in Dublin’s Cystal Ballroom on St. Stephen’s night 1964. Pat O’Flynn, manager of The Crystal had decided to put a showband on the road to rival some of the big names with whom he was dealing, and so, under the direction of well-known drummer Johnny Devitt, seven young musicians were handpicked to make up the new band.  

Guitarist Michael Conn from Coalisland and bassist Joe Doherty from Belfast came from The Grafton Showband. They were already established as “The Yodelling Twins” and later secured a residency on RTE’s weekly country music show, “Hoedown”, where they built up a huge following. Vocalist Penny Trent also came from The Grafton and saxophonist Gene Bannon from Cootehill, Co. Cavan joined from Pat Campbell’s Showband.  Trumpeter Tommy Walsh started with the band but in Easter 1965 he left and was replaced by Jimmy Higgins who decided to return home from Manchester where he had been a member of the International Showband, the resident band in the city’s Carousel Club. Trombonist Billy Doyle and drummer Mick O’Brien completed the line-up.  

Buoyed on by the success of Conn and Doherty on television and carefully managed by Devitt, The Millionaires made an immediate impact on the dancing scene. They appeared on RTE’s “Showband Show” and “Go 2 Show” and made four successful trips to the U.S.A. where they played in the famous City Centre in Chicago and the New State Ballroom in New York. On the home front, their first single “Winter Winds” reached No.9 in the Irish charts and their second single, “The Natural Thing To Do”, an original composition by Tommy Swarbrigg also proved extremely popular.  

Drummer Mick O’Brien, who had trained as a pilot while he was in the band, left to take up a position with Aer Lingus and was replaced by Alfie Merrigan. Penny Trent left to join The Skyrockets (as Penny Starr) and was replaced by Terry Cash who in turn was replaced by Fergus Burke.  

In 1966, a publicity stunt almost went wrong for The Millionaires. As a novel handout for fans, they had photos of the band printed on imitation $100 notes and with Spotlight’s photographer Roy Esmonde in tow, decided to stage a mock bank robbery in Duke Street. Shocked onlookers dialled 999 when a van pulled up outside the bank and seven men with handkerchiefs over their faces jumped out! Order was restored however and the photographs duly appeared in the next issue of Spotlight!  

Jimmy Higgins still plays in the Galway area and presents a weekly “Those Were The Days” programme on Galway Bay FM.

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This photo of The Millionaires was used by Volkswagen in a print advertisement
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