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
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
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
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
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
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
Source: The Nationalist April
P.J. TIERNEY & ORCHESTRA