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Showband stories… June 26, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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On EamonnCorks recommendation I’m reading Send ‘Em Home Sweating, The Show band’s Story by Vincent Power. Written in 1990 it’s a remarkably evocative book which outlines the rise and fall of that oddly likeable phenomenon.

What I hadn’t realised before reading it was how relatively short the Showbands period was. Late 1950s at a stretch, through the 60s and then on for a while into the 1970s. Okay, that’s the guts of twenty years but for some reason I had thought of them almost as an outgrowth of the 40s.

What is also fascinating is how they supplanted dances at parochial halls (Power notes how the drop in the latters finances was in no small way a dynamic in the antipathy towards them from the religious). And yet empires were built on them – Albert Reynolds testifies to that. Ballrooms opened (and most were dry – amazingly). The Showbands were – well, kings. Social and sexual mores were changed by them. And they could be extremely good at what they did. They have, for some, an almost hokey image and reputation, and Rory Gallagher, who started out his days with one, made the oddly double edged point that:

I have mixed feelings about show bands. I learned a lot and had good fun, but ultimately, whats the point in being a ‘copy band’?

True. True. To a point. But then again, better a copy band than no band at all, some might say. And there’s always a different resonance to a cover version played live than to a record (that said the ballroom owners controlled the scene to a considerable degree). Of course I lived in Dublin, so it was different from the word go. Except it wasn’t. Power notes ‘Dublin was the dancing capital’. And yet how rapidly it changed. The peak was ’61 to ’66. … Fourteen years later I remember going to the Grove in Raheny (it has its own constellation of websites these days) and the Summit in Howth later before giving up on discos and such like except at college in favour of live music or pubs. At that stage we were dancing to records. The middleman had, as it were, been cut out entirely, at least for the generation coming up.

Power has a neat turn of phrase. For example he writes:

‘De Valera’s pastoral vision was taking one hell of a battering; his “comely maidens” were fleeing the fields and villages for Brendan Bowyer in the nearest ballroom and the “athletic youths” were chasing them chasing him.

An enjoyable and educative read.

Comments»

1. sonofstan - June 26, 2016

It is a fascinating story isn’t it?

Thing is, in both the US and the UK, copy bands were as much the norm up to at least the early 60s as in Ireland – the Beatles and many, many others in Hamburg were just as much showbands, and if you read Guralnick’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’, the likes of the proto- MGs, Dann Penn, Spooner Oldham, Chips Moman and many others started a white musicians bringing an essentially showband version of Rn’B to places Black musicians often couldn’t go. The same is as true of most of Africa through the ’60s and ’70s.

What maybe distinguished Ireland was that the industry, such as it was, didn’t have the self- confidence to nurture songwriting and production talent from within the showband scene – Billy Brown is an obvious example. Equally though, while we suffer badly by comparison with the creativity and originality of British music during the same period, our industry was pretty similar in a lot of ways to the light entertainment/ mainstreaming logic that dominated elsewhere in Europe.

Weirdly, maybe, the ‘copy band’ has returned in a big way with the tribute band, and, here in Wycombe, a towm which once had a few decent venues and was on the ‘circuit’ they are almost the only live offerings

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WorldbyStorm - June 26, 2016

I was thinking that about Tribute bands being the contemporary version. Amazing and kind of weirdly fun. That’s a great point re the lack of confidence – and I think that’s key the way it merged into or ran closely parallel to light entertainment.

When I was growing up the show bands were almost a memory – too distant even to be figures of fun, I literally knew no one of my age who expressed any interest in them or had any knowledge of them, and yet reading about them I’d have enormous respect for them and what they achieved. They were, at least by the accounts in that book a manifestation of change, modernity, and a space where it was possible to begin to move away from religious dominated entertainments. They weren’t the only one by a long chalk, but perhaps they were the most popular?

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sonofstan - June 26, 2016

I’m a bit older than you and lived outside Dublin for a bit as a kid so caught the end of it. The New Spotlight split down the middle between the showbands and the ‘Groups’ etc.
Our next door neighbour in Athlone where we lived for a bit was the guitar player in a SB (part time) a teacher during the day, up and down the roads of Ireland a few nights a week (and remember what those roads were like!) He had the first proper guitar i ever held and a store of great R n’B records but saw no prospect of playing music he liked.

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2. roddy - June 26, 2016

With regard to “copying” what about the really big names that “copied” us? Bob Dylan no less cited the Clancy brothers as an influence ( much to the annoyance of many who regarded themselves as “cool”!).Also on Friday night I saw musical genius Shane McGowan pay tribute to Big Tom as “a great singer of great songs”!

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3. Jim Monaghan - June 26, 2016

Interesting exhibit on this in the Waterford City Museum http://www.waterfordtreasures.com/bishops-palace/whats-inside/hucklebuck-shoes

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WorldbyStorm - June 26, 2016

Brilliant.

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4. oliverbohs - June 26, 2016

Notions of cool were ruthless in the 60s- the Everly Brothers were recording good music throughout the decade but were considered passé for most of it.
Most successful showband leader? Step forward James Last

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sonofstan - June 26, 2016

+1

the Everlys run through the 60s – and even into the early 70s with Stories we Could Tell – is solid gold.

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