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Sunday 21 March 2010

Showband Sunday

Better late than never, this is to mark St. Patrick's Day.

From the late 1950s to the mid 1970s the Irish live music scene was dominated by the showbands who toured the dancehalls playing the hits of the day, the occasional traditional song and - to paraphrase Donny and Marie - a little bit of country and a little bit of rock and roll. Well, quite a lot of country actually.

At the peak of the showband phenomenon in the mid 1960s it is estimated there were as many as 600 of them touring the country. The total population of Ireland in 1970 was just under three million, so that is roughly one showband for every five thousand people. Every small town had a dancehall. I imagine they looked a bit like this but with more hair and wider collars:

There is a three CD compilation called "The Irish Showband Collection", released on Pulse in 1998 and currently available for next to nothing on Amazon. It features all the big names - Joe Dolan and the Drifters, Dickie Rock and the Miami, The Capitol Showband, The Royal Blues and so on.

To properly appreciate the showbands I suppose you really had to be there, and to be honest a lot of the recordings haven't worn well. But in amongst the dull ballads and pedestrian country tunes there are some real pop gems:

"I Get So Excited" - The Real McCoy (1968)

"Our Love Will Go On" - Butch Moore & The Capitol Showband (1965)

"Land Of Gingerbread" - Gregory & The Cadets (1967)

And there are some that are just bizarre, like this rendition of "Football Crazy" in which the renowned Irish commentator Michael O'Hehir pretends to commentate on a Gaelic football match between the stars of the showband scene.

"Showball Crazy" - The Hoedowners (1966)

Some of the showbands struggled on into the 1980s and beyond, but judging by this clip of the once mighty Miami Showband it would really have been a kindness if someone had stopped them. It is embarrassing for them and embarrassing for us. And you would never have seen Dickie Rock with a mullet and a keytar.

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