Friday, March 16, 2012

Take A Man in a Van

Take a man in a van. (Please note a late 1950s Commer seems to work best). Add 7 to 8 musicians; various musical instruments - selected carefully to suit personal taste; an assortment of equipment, and (here comes the important bit) a Binson Echo Unit, which is the key ingredient in the mix. Instruments and equipment all need to be packed carefully and tightly in the rear of the vehicle. Next add some cushions, a few makeshift seats and a keen sense of humour (both good and bad are recommended). Pepper the above mixture with benlang and flavour with several bottles of lemonade, Jacobs’ biscuits, Tayto Crisps and chocolate bars. Leave to stew for 4 hours (or 120 miles whichever is the quicker) and you’ll have yourself a prize winning Irish Showband. Before you deliver you should garnish with a neon light proudly spelling out the band’s name atop the van. The above mix serves 2000 people four or possibly even five nights a week.

The Irish Showbands - with their high musicianmanship and ability to perform note-perfect the current hits from England and America - were a genuine phenomenon. They were so named in the late 1950s when the Clipper Carlton became the first band of travelling musicians to dump their seats and their music stands and start to move around the stage putting on a show. At one point in the early 1960’s at the peak of the showband phenomenon, there were as many as 760 such bands criss-crossing the length and breadth of the land, putting on shows for the new generation.

The perfect timing of this phenomenally successful trend could have had something to do with the fact that it was started by the first post-Second World War generation – encouraged perhaps by the new infectious sounds they were hearing on the wireless. Equally, the dancing craze might have lifted off because the teenagers who came of age after WW2 sensed that The Troubles were just around the corner. Anyway it didn’t really matter what the reason was; no, not even in the slightest. This particular generation just wanted to get out of their houses, let their hair down and dance. They worked hard, were paid little and so they needed to enjoy themselves. And enjoy themselves they did!

The All Time Top 10 Irish Showbands.

1. The Freshmen
2. The Dixies
3. The Clipper Carlton
4. The Drifters
5. The Royal
6. The Sounds
7. The Miami
8. The Capitol
9. The Breakaways
10. The Mighty Avons

The All Time Top 10 Irish Showband Singles.

1. The Hucklebuck - Brendan Boyer & The Royal
2. And God Created Woman - The Freshmen
3. Together Again - Brendan O’Brien & The Dixies
4. Walking The Streets in The Rain - Butch Moore & The Capitol
5. Pretty Brown Eyes - Joe Dolan & The Drifters
6. It Doesn’t Matter Anymore - Brendan O’Brien & The Dixies
7. Every Step Of The Way - Dickie Rock & The Miami
8. The Haunted House - The Wittnessess
9. Tribute to Jim Reeves - Larry Cunningham & The Mighty Avons
10. Buck’s Polka - Clem Quinn & The Miami

The All Time Top 10 Irish Showband Guitarists

1. Rory Gallagher (Fontana)
2. Henry McCullough (Walter Lewis)
3. Tiger Taylor (Billy Brown)
4. Clem Quinn (Miami)
5. Jim Conlon (Royal)
6. Barney Skillen (Clippers)
7. Victor McCullough (Walter Lewis)
8. Steve Lynch (Dixies)
9. Brendan Quinn (Breakaways)
10 Arty McGlynn (Plattermen)

The All Time Top 10 Irish Showband Singers.

1. Billy Brown
2. Brendan O’Brien
3. Brendan Boyer
4. Joe Dolan
5. Brendan Quinn
6. Derrick Mehaffey
7. Cahir O’Doherty
8. Dickie Rock
9. Martin Dean
10. Red Hurley

I hear you ask who is this guy Martin Dean in the All Time Top 10 Irish Showband singers’ list at number nine?

Funny you should ask that.

He was the lead singer with the Playboys Showband from Castlemartin. The Playboys sadly didn’t quite make the All-Time Top 10 Showbands’ list - they were number 11 in fact. The very same Martin Dean (we’re discussing both his professional and romantic life here) and his band the Playboys Showband from Castlemartin and the story about why history hasn’t been particularly kind to them is the subject of my new novel, which is called THE LAST DANCE and is published by New Island in May.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that it’s a work of total fiction?

All the best until the next time,




  1. Paul, still waiting for a more extensive piece on Rory Gallagher. Any Eddie Kennedy barbs would be greatly appreciated too!

  2. I throw my hat in for some Brendan Quinn!