Joe Cushnan recalls when the ‘Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll played in Ireland in 1957


On Wednesday, 27 February, 1957, Dublin’s Evening Herald carried a front-page photograph of Bill Haley and His Comets descending the steps of an Aer Lingus Viscount at Dublin Airport. “Bill Haley Flies In: “Proud of Irish name,” he says”. The report began: “Haley’s here! The blond, blue-eyed Bill, too shy to be a member of his school choir but now uncrowned king of the rock ‘n’ roll fraternity, flew into Dublin today with his wife Cuppy and the Comets.” They were scheduled to appear in several concerts at the Theatre Royal.

This was a big deal at the time because the band was firmly associated with the pioneering global record, Rock Around the Clock. Three years earlier, they had recorded the song and whilst its beat and pace rattled the easy listening crooners like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Perry Como, it caught the attention of excited teenagers.

First time round, in 1954, 70 years ago, Rock Around the Clock could be described as a relatively fleeting hit, it was only when it was incorporated into the Glenn Ford film Blackboard Jungle in 1955 that it ignited a frenzy amongst young people.

The film was about student rebelliousness and juvenile delinquency. Up to that point, cinema audiences were sedate and well-behaved moviegoers.

But Rock Around the Clock played during the opening credits of the controversial film prompted dancing in the aisles of picture houses all over the US and beyond, ensuing bad behaviour that shocked the authorities, the police and older folks.

Writer Bernard Neary recalled: “When the film Rock Around the Clock (a cash-in scrapbook compilation of rock acts), commenced showing in Dublin cinemas, it hit the headlines and remained there during much of 1957, not the film itself, but the antics of the Teddy Boys, who flocked, en-masse to see their very own movie.

The Teddy Boys would riot in the cinemas, ripping up seats with flick knives, throwing bottles and other missiles from the balconies and engaging in fist and sometimes chain fights, causing great consternation.”
The record became famous as, probably, the first truly impactful rock song.

Haley and his bands had evolved through western swing, jazz and pop, and they had had a number of hits already in the bag, including Crazy Man, Crazy and Shake, Rattle and Roll. But Rock Around the Clock stoked mania amongst fans and Haley, acutely aware of the opportunities ahead, took his band on the road, touring extensively.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own