By Colm Lambert
Fifty years ago this month, a song went straight to number one in the Irish charts, and its opening few notes are still guaranteed even now – half a century later – to get a crowd to its feet on the dancefloor at a wedding or cabaret or anywhere else it’s played.
Brendan Bowyer and The Royal Showband had just struck gold with The Hucklebuck, which remains Brendan’s signature tune all these years later. But believe it or not, it was recorded almost as an afterthought in just one take, it was only ever intended by Brendan and the band to be a B-side for another number, and instead it was their producer who spotted its potential and helped make it the massive hit it became.
‘I remember we recorded it towards the end of 1964,’ Brendan recalls. ‘We were playing at The Galtymore in Cricklewood in London at the time, and recording in Abbey Road (the Beatles studio). We had a three-hour slot and we were recording I Ran All The Way Home as what was to be the A-side of a new single. We spent two and a half hours on it, doing bits of it over and over again to get it right, so by the time we then had a bit of a break, we only had about twenty minutes left.
‘We decided we’d better not waste that time, and since we still needed a B-side for the single and since we’d actually been doing The Hucklebuck as part of our live show for about two years, we decided we’d do it because we knew it so well, we could nearly sing and play it in our sleep. We rattled it off in one take, and still didn’t think that highly of it, to be honest – but our producer, Wally Ridley, said ‘there’s your A-side, you should put out the other as the B’.
‘We said no, and I remember I said look, it’s only a simple three-chord song, but he said that a song doesn’t have to be complicated to be great. So that’s the way it went out, and it’s amazing the impact it had and that it still has – it’s played in discos and all sorts of other functions all the time, and young people even today still get up to dance to it.’
Brendan has no idea how many thousands of times he must have sung the song to date, but says he never tires of it.
‘It’s a song that I’ve always very much appreciated, and it’s the one that people here always ask for,’ he says. ‘When I play in Las Vegas (where he has lived since the 1970s), they want Danny Boy because of the Irish connection, and I’ve no objection to that because it’s a great song, but back home, it’s always The Hucklebuck.’