Francis Kaye pays tribute to the late Jim Conlon of The Royal Showband, Waterford, who was acknowledged among his peers as one of the great guitar players of his generation.

Though Brendan Bowyer and the late Tom Dunphy took most of the spotlight on Waterford’s Royal Showband during the 1960s when the band dominated the showbands’ scene, the quiet, slight young man who stood on stage-right playing his Fender Stratocaster had a huge part to play in the band’s success.

Jim Conlon passed away at his home in The Hamptons, Long Island, New York on 8th December last. He had settled there four decades ago having left the Royal Showband and taken up a position as an accountant with BMI Music, one of the world’s biggest music licensing companies.

As a youngster at Mount Sion C.B.S., Jim started playing guitar. His mother, a native of Sligo, was an accomplished singer and had taken first prize for solo singing at Sligo Feis Ceoil. Jim once gave me a copy of a letter from Howard’s Music Shop, The Quay, Waterford dated 1954.

Part of it read: “Dear James, Thank you for your letter about the guitar in our window. It costs £7 pounds 10 shillings. Being a schoolboy, you could not get it by instalments, your father would have to get it for you. Do you think you would be able to play it? We have quite a number of people who have bought them and found they were not able to play the guitar. You would have to get someone to teach you.”

Jim could play alright and as a teenager, he teamed up with Harry Boland as the Harry Boland Band, a semi-professional local band which included Tom Dunphy, Michael Coppinger and Charlie Mathews. Brendan Bowyer then joined the band on trombone and those five broke away and formed the Royal Showband with pianist Gerry Cullen.

Jim takes up the story: “At the time, I felt that the band needed a name that would command respect. So, I used the ‘Royal’ (from the Theatre Royal) because it suggested royalty (a stretch of course!) and because Ireland had its own royalty long before our neighbours across the Irish sea.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own