Trumpet-player and entertainer extraordinaire Johnny Carroll recently celebrated sixty-five years in showbusiness, having started playing in a local band whilst still a schoolboy. Here he talks about his amazing career to Henry Wymbs.


Johnny Carroll has literally been blowing his own trumpet for a long time and has recently celebrated sixty-five years in showbusiness, the longest stretch by any musician in the history of Irish music. He started his career in 1957 with the Roscommon-based Pioneer Showband (so named because all the band were non-drinking Pioneers).

Over the years, Johnny and myself became good friends and many a chat took place at music functions or in my home in Oxfordshire, when he was always full of praise for his father Joe:
“I owe it all to my father who introduced me to the music scene in 1955 when I was only 12 years old. He took me to a practice session with the Castlerea Brass and Reed Band where I started off with the cornet. I was the youngest person there and I suppose I never looked back since.

“Times were hard when I was growing up and we experienced real poverty. It was a difficult time for the country, with economic struggles and the start of a long period of emigration, but people pulled together as a community and my parents worked hard to give us a decent upbringing. My father’s greatest love was music and he was a regular listener to Radio Éireann. Although never getting the chance to play instruments, he was able to whistle a tune in perfect pitch, and wanted perfection at all times. His love for brass and big band sounds was paramount.”
Life was never going to be the same again for the small ginger haired 13-year-old when a precious cargo arrived all the way from Dublin.

“It was Christmas Eve and I could barely contain my excitement. My father took me to the railway station in Castlerea on the bar of his bike and there it was, a brand-new trumpet all the way from Walton’s music shop in Dublin. It was going to take the best part of two years for my father to pay for the trumpet by hire purchase agreement but that investment secured my future in show business.

“In fact, my first instrument was a tin whistle and after some lessons I could play it. On receiving my trumpet, I practiced religiously every second, day and night. I never saw anything so wonderful when I took the wrappers off. I blew into it and this unique sound came out and it was during one of those practice sessions that my musical career would take off, and change my life forever.

“We lived across from a garage in Castlerea, and at the time a van belonging to the Premier Aces big band was having repairs done. I was blowing my trumpet as usual when a knock came to the door and the band leader, Paddy Malone, stood there and asked my parents if they would let me play with them. I know my father was rather reluctant to let me go because of my age, but he eventually agreed to let me play on a trial basis for a couple of months.
“My first gig was in the Maple Ballroom in Ballinrobe. I was wearing short pants and got paid for something I loved. My parents were worried about me, due to the culture of drinking alcohol by band members, but there was no need to worry as all belonged to the total abstinence society and wore the Pioneer badges to prove it.

“I worried about my age and was keen to fit in and not be a burden on the others. I remember we played three dances that weekend and I had to get up for school on Monday morning. The band’s image was important and on one occasion, we were photographed in front of a low white board with the words ‘Premier Aces Showband’ blazoned across it. I was delighted as the boards covered all our legs and no one could see my short pants! I got good money and very soon paid my father for the cost of my trumpet.”

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