Old Cross Bandshow / Country Flavour
Photo Gallery -
Band Lineups -
- Audio samples -
Where Are They Now?
The story of the Country Flavour starts in
1959, when the Old Cross Ceili Band placed fourth in the Ceili band
section of the All-Ireland Fleadh held in Thurles. Based in
Donaghmore, Co. Tyrone, they were being managed by Jim McQuaid of
Dungannon. The following year they were 1st place winners in the An
Tostal All-Ireland Senior Ceili band contest held in Drumshanbo in
May, 1960. That same year, the band's accordion player, John
O'Neill, won the Ulster Senior men's contest at the Fleadh Ceoil
held in Swinford, Co. May, however, they did not place in the Ceili
The early 1960's were a difficult time for most
Ceili bands in Ireland as they had been in great demand for many
decades, but found themselves struggling as the showbands took over
and Ceili dancing became less popular with young people. However,
there were still plenty of traditional sessions, Comhaltas Ceoltoiri
Eireann concerts and competitions for traditional music which kept
musicians busy, if not in the money. Most festivals across the
country would still feature one or two Ceili nights and the Old
Cross regularly appeared on RTE radio.
We think around December, 1962, the band added
a new vocalist, 20-year-old Philomena Begley from Pomeroy (at least
this was the first time we saw her name mentioned). By January,
1964, the band was being managed by John McNally from Dungannon and
had started to call itself the Old Cross Ceili Bandshow
("Bandshow" being one of the terms which was used by many bands in
run up to, and in the early years of, the showband era.) During this
period of the era, promoters would also modify band names (a little)
to suit their purposes and the Old Cross would also be advertised as
the Old Cross Ceili Showband.
During the mid-1960's the band continued to
grow its reputation and play further and further afield from their
native Tyrone and they were soon regulars on the ballroom circuit,
although mainly as a Ceili band still. They began to play regularly
in the Irish Club in Dublin and were soon playing all the Dublin
ballrooms on their "old time and Ceili" nights.
In 1968, the band released its first record,
My Little Son with Heartaches for a Dime on the Dolphin
label. Two more records were released under the Old Cross banner, Old
Ardboe and The Box It Came In, but neither made an
impression on the Irish Charts. However, the added exposure
increased the band's reputation and it soon became time to drop the
Ceili band mantle.
Around June, 1970, the band signed
with Dublin based promoter Nelius O'Connell and reflecting the increasing popularity of Country
music in Ireland, the bandís name was promptly changed to the Country Flavour.
The lineup included John O'Neill (accordion), Kevin Casey
(drums), Michael McNally (RIP-guitar), Philomena Begley (vocals), Pat Hamill (fiddle),
Dan O'Hara (RIP-guitar/vocals), Brian McNally (RIP-bass), Tom Quinn (keyboards).
Riding the crest of the new country wave in
Ireland, the band started having a greater impact. In 1971 Philomena and the band signed with
Release Records and made the switch from Irish music to country,
never looking back. Around May, 1971, they left Nelius and were
being managed by John Fitzsimons. The first record they released on their
Here Today Gone Tomorrow, climbed to number seven in the Irish
charts, giving Philomena the first of many top ten hits. They were
finally a name to be reckoned with on the country scene, rivaling
even Big Tom for popularity in some areas of the country.
Within a short two year period, Philomena was
crowned "Ireland's Queen of Country Music," having four massive
selling hit singles and an album, Truck Driving Woman
to her credit.
In March, 1974, Philomena shocked the country
world when she accepted an offer from Top Rank promotions to form a
new band, which would be called the Ramblin' Men. Also leaving the
country Flavour were Tom Quinn (Philomena's new husband and keyboard
player) and Dan O'Hara (guitar). The new band hit the road on Easter
Sunday, with a gig in Monaghan. Joining the trio were four
ex-members of Brian Coll's Buckaroos:
Liam Gibson (guitar), Kevin Farrelly (sax), Colm Keeley (drums), and
Kevin McGinty (bass/trumpet). In an interview with Tom Gilmore,
Philomena admitted she had been with the band for 12 years "and
that's a long time, I simply needed a change of scene," adding that
the offer from Top Rank was "one I could not easily refuse."
Meanwhile, Pascal Mooney reported in his
Jamboree column that a new vocalist, Marlena, was taking over as lead
singer with The Country Flavour. The 18 year old Tyrone lass was the
first of several singers who fronted the band in the mid seventies.
She had previously been singing cabaret around the North, but was
basically unknown by the dancing public.
Based on our research, for at least the next six months, the band
was still playing the same circuit it had with Philomena, but
obviously things were not going well.
In mid-December, 1974, (only six
months after Marlena's debut with the band), a full page advert in
Spotlight announced the
arrival of Eileen King as the band's new lead vocalist. From Co.
Armagh, Eileen was described as a "true country girl" by
band leader Mike
McNally. It appears that both Marlena and manager John Fitzsimons
quit the band which was taken over by Cecil Thompson as the new
manager. Eileen had previously been the lead singer with the
Kangaroos and the Hilton Showband.
In late 1978, Eileen recorded an
album called Country Gifts and in September she left the
Country Flavour and started a new band with the same name,
Country Gifts. At some point around this time, Dan O'Hara, who
had left the Ramblin' Men years earlier and started his own band
called Blue River, left that band to take over the lead
singer spot with the Country Flavour.
Dan would not stay long and for
the second time, left the band in November, 1979 to start his own
local band called Friends. At this point, the ability to
figure out what happened with the band is tough. On November 3rd,
1979 an advert announced the new band, Donna and the New Flavour
(photo below) which "featured several members of the Country
Flavour". At the same time, various newspapers carried adverts and
reports for Eileen King and Country Flavour which was obviously a
miss print as the names were so close (Flavour vs Gifts) and then in
mid December, Donal K. O'Boyle reported that the Country Flavour
added a new female vocalist called Collette.
When the dust settled, by early
1980, it appears the actual end result was a band called Jolene
and Country Flavour. Jolene had previously been the lead singer
with the Hollywood Stars. The last advert we can find for the band
was in March, 1985, after which time we assume the band called it
quits, although we have come across adverts for a pub groups playing
around the north called Country Flavour in 1990 with the
featured singer, Eamon Fitzsimons (a son of John?).
More to come.....
click on thumbnails for full image