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Carlow Entertainment

Rolling Back the Years

The Nationalist

Friday, April 21, 2000

Rolling Back the Years by Paul Donaghy

JUST two years ago a collection of the best local musicians of the ‘50s ‘60s and ‘70s when on stage in Carlow for a one-night stand of nostalgia.

It was a show of support for the local People in Need effort, but for many of the veteran rockers it represented a marvellous opportunity to relive the era which produced so many bands, so many memories, and join with many with whom they did not have the occasion to play with during the vintage era for music internationally.

So much for history - the good news is that most of them, and others besides, are tuning up the brass, sweeping the cobwebs of drums and tightening the strings on guitars to do it all again, and again for the same reasons, in the Seven Oaks Hotel on Thursday, April 27 (8pm).

For a fiver - at least some things just never change - the public is invited to join in the revelry, meet the local legends of the era and relive some of the best nights of their lives.

Memories of the Ritz in Carlow, Dreamland in Athy and many other halls, sadly no longer on the dance circuit, will be jogged as the line-up is led by then household names like Mick ‘Combo’ Foley, Mick Hennessy, father of arguably the most talented musical Irish family of all, Pa Joe Tierney, who does not play any more, while there is a threatened ‘drop-in’ from the ‘daddy of ‘em all’ T.J. Byrne, founder, promoter and manager of the internationally-renowned Royal Showband and later to be renamed the Big Eight, both of course fronted by Brendan Bowyer and led by Michael Coppinger.

Most of the local lads did not go on stage for the money, for with so many on the rounds, the fees had to be competitive and therefore relatively insignificant compared to what leading acts claim now.

Enjoy the limelight

Jimmy Byrne (Castlecomer) probably put the finger on the ‘urge’ when recalling “we did it as much for the applause. There wasn’t one of us who didn’t enjoy the limelight”.

Jimmy - one of the few who can recalls the myriad of musical permutations over 25 years - will again be to the fore on April 27 and looking forward to the gig with the youthful enthusiasm experienced approaching his first big step on stage in ‘56 with the Rhythm Kings in Conahy Hall, only a stone’s throw from his home.

The man who started Jimmy on the road will be by his side on Thursday too - the inimitable Paddy ‘Speedy’ Delaney, very much a ‘live’ act still, and without loss of the touch of a quarter of a century ago either.

“I played with most of them over the years, many who are no longer with us” recalls Jimmy, a noted guitarist, who spends much of his time these days teaching music to schoolchildren and assisting in the productions of musicals.

“It was all halls and marquees in those days; there was no playing in pubs like now. Every village had a band then; the whole scene opening up with the publicity surrounding the Clipper Carlton and the Royal Showband” he remembers. “In fact, the Clippers’ Hugo Quinn managed a band I played in after he had quit the stage himself”.

Since the early days of the Rhythm Kings Jimmy has played with at least ten bands and more than fifty musicians, Indeed many of the lads who will go before the public on Thursday will hardly recall all the players they performed beside because of the fleeting nature of the business then, and indeed, now.

Jimmy also played with Art Supple and the Victors, a band which has threatened to make a one-night come-back. “Art would fill three stages with all the musicians who went though his band” recalls Jimmy who played the Albert Hall in London and New York’s Carnegie Hall.

There was the lighter side to showbiz then; one ‘mandatory’ function, to line-out with Jimmy Magee’s All Stars for various charities around the county -and once in Shea Stadium in New York - and then play the night away afterwards in a local hall.

“There were many noted ‘players’ on those teams, but T.J. (Byrne) was the ‘daddy’, always featuring at full-back, and against many an all-Ireland player too”.

Commercialism was far from the driving force then. “It certainly wasn’t the money. We only got paid a pittance. It was as much trying to establish ourselves for something bigger, but then not too many made it to the top. All most of us were doing was copying what we were hearing on the radio”.

Mick Foley, now one of the biggest suppliers of musical equipment in the industry, was THE local band for years. The Tropical was as well known in England as in their home town of Carlow - lads like Tony Parker Mick Hayden John Payne and Jimmy himself going through Foley’s ‘books’. Indeed, this writer recalls taking photographs for the flyers before one of the band’s English tours.

But even before the Foley era, the path had been cut by Mick Hennessy and Pa Joe Tierney - Mick looking forward to going on stage on Thursday too- singer Bobby Kearns “he had a marvellous voice”, the late Percy McEvoy, “he could play any instrument he laid hands on”, Frankie Becker “a great rock and roller” (who shared the stage with Martin Lacey and Laz Murphy for the Carlow Granathon in the Seven Oaks recently) and Pascal Tomlinson, who unfortunately will not be available for Thursday.

One of his colleagues tell a humorous tale about Pascal who turned up for the ‘98 People in Need gig and asked a stage neighbour what key he was in. “I was in B” was the reply, to which Pascal quipped “I was in A, but with a few more pints, it won’t matter what key I’m in”.

The era would not be properly recorded without mention of Jimmy Dempsey who was ‘party’ to many of those early bands, but alas, due to a road accident almost two years ago, fractured 14 bones in various parts of his body, including his hand, and will instead just enjoy Thursday week’s craic.

Gave a lot to local scene

Pa Joe and Mick Hennessy gave a lot to the local music scene - Mick assembling one of the ‘big’ bands of the time which included one of the Lacey brothers on trumpet and Dermot Hennessy on bass.

“T.J. Byrne was one of the big-leaguers then, and very generous to the likes of me, even though he was way at the top of the ladder then. He’d never forget you and make a fuss of you if given the opportunity” remembers Jimmy. “The people of Carlow don’t realise just how big he was in England and America”

This writer, and friends, in Los Angeles in the early ‘80s, were invited to Las Vegas by T.J. who was managing the Big Eight. It was obvious to any blind Paddy the image he cut in the Nevada tinseltown on our tour of the casinos and theatres.

Not all with roots in 60’s

But the April 27 assembly do not all have roots in the ‘50 and early ‘60 when the Stones dominated the global scene with their smash hit album Route 66. On stage will be Jimmy Byrne’s current playing partners Ina Finn-Burke and Christy McNamara who form Fascinating Rhythm, Gerry Corcoran Vesty McGrath Paddy Fitzpatrick and Dermot Dwyer who form The Graduates Dermot Shaughnessy and Co. who play as Country Cousins, The Country Blues with Martin Lacey Paudge Cody Seamus Hayden and Frankie Becker while others who will share the stage include Johnny Lawlor of Midnight Express Joe Rooney, Bertie Whelan on drums Johnny Gleeson, former T.R. Dallas bandsman Padraig Whelan “brilliant on keyboards”, and Pat Reid “a bass player with a lovely voice” says Jimmy.

“Several of the musicians we have spoken about were among the best in the business, but there are lads who need pushing. It’s not just enough to be good with the instrument to reach the top. Communication is very important; you can’t be shy about coming forward”.

The scene has changed dramatically since the likes of Jimmy took their first tentative steps on stage. “Managers now just pick one name and promote them, which means that the musicians are merely hardly-recognisable faces in the background. In the ‘60s if anyone left a band, big or small, it would make big news all over the country. Not any more. The names of the backing musicians now are not even known”.

Most of the names in this article have expressed delight at the opportunity to join in what should be a night spiced with memory and craic, but a few are not absolutely certain if available.

And there are others out there who cannot be contacted, both on the road and in retirement, but organiser-in-chief, guitarist Laz Murphy (0503-51316) is issuing an open invitation to be part of the occasion.

People in Need is very grateful to the volunteers to will charge the night with some of the greatest hits every on vinyl and urge the public not to miss the 27th. It could be at least two years before it happens again.

l Blast from the past . . . The Rolettes from Bagenalstown who were very popular on the local circuit in the ‘50 and ‘60s . . . another photograph from Mick O’Toole’s extensive collection.

Source: The Nationalist April 2000



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