IN THE early 50s and 60s, most of Ireland’s entertainment was provided by “orchestras,” which were really just dance bands with between 10-12 musicians. They usually featured piano, brass, guitar, drums and sometimes two or three vocalists.
The musicians sat on chairs and read sheet music and names like Brose Walsh, Mick Delahunty, and Maurice Mulcahy dominated the scene playing a mix of standard tunes and the popular hits of the day.
It wasn’t long before someone got the idea (legend says it was the Clipper Carlton) to stand up and move to the music, and the showband was born!
Soon, most showbands featured seven or right members, a full complement of brass, and a lead singer out front instead of a band leader. Names like the Royal Showband featuring Brendan Bowyer, the Miami featuring Dickie Rock, and the Capitol Showband featuring Butch Moore took the country by storm and at its peak, it is estimated that 700 to 800 showbands toured Ireland continuously.
In the early years, Lent was regarded as a time for reflection and not going out – it was practically forbidden. As a result, the showbands of the day spent the best part of the six weeks touring England playing such popular venues as the Galtymore, the Irish Club and many more.
Today, things are very different – there has been a resurgence in live music and in particular, Country and Irish – and just last week the cream of Irish talent spent the first week of Lent performing on the calm seas of the Caribbean to up on 1,000 Irish fans.
The entertainers included Daniel, Jimmy Buckley, Dominic Kirwan and Declan Nerney to name just a fraction of this talented group – it was indeed a far cry from the cold dressing rooms of England.
Today the Irish showbands are performing in some of the best venues in the world and have now all returned to their native shores suitably refreshed after a truly great tour.