A new book looks at the phenomenon that was the era of the Irish Showband, when at one point it was estimated some 800 bands criss-crossed the country to perform in everything from parochial halls to marquees, supplying the sounds for music hungry audiences, writes Joe Kearney.
Throughout the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s Ireland experienced a unique musical phenomenon, the Showband era. Those of us who lived, loved and danced through this great time have been gifted with a store of memories that remain everlasting and rich. Mention the word Showband or the names Dickie Rock, Joe Dolan or Brendan Bowyer and the floodgates of story open. We happily relive those times of excitement, romance and music.
In September 1969 I walked out the door of the Mayfair Ballroom in Kilkenny. My ears were ringing from the amplified sounds of Frankie McBride and The Polka Dots but my heart was heavy. In my inside pocket was a ticket for the mailboat.
I was eighteen years old and about to depart my county, family and friends and start a life in another country. The place to where I was headed seemed as remote as the dark side of the moon. I knew no one there. Also in my pocket was a letter of introduction to a landlady in a place called Cricklewood, London.
With nothing more than blind faith and a borrowed suitcase, I embarked upon that journey. Odysseus’s travels might not have seemed so lonesome and tiresome as mine during that boat and train crossing.
In my landlady’s establishment, I shared a room with a Dominic, a Limerick lad, who confided that he had been in the ‘smoke’ a few months now, and promised to show me the sights of London the following weekend. However, it seemed he had never ventured too far beyond his cultural comfort zone. We never got further then Kilburn High Road.
The following Saturday evening, true to his word Dominic brought me to the public bar of the Cricklewood Hotel and introduced me to all and sundry. I attracted a small group of informal tour guides hell bent on taking me in hand.
From the Hotel, my new acquaintances merrily escorted me along Cricklewood Broadway to the Crown public house and from that establishment through the front doors of a dancehall proclaiming its name in emerald green neon – the Galtymore.
Throughout that evening and night, I believe that I heard fewer than a half-dozen English voices. It was as if I was back home amongst my own and that the seasick crossing was but a bad dream. Jim Tobin and the Firehouse were on stage and it seemed as if I walked out one dancehall door in Kilkenny and seamlessly into another in London. I had found a home from home and like some prodigal son, I kept returning to the Galty each weekend for the next three years.