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Old Cross Bandshow / Country Flavour Story (1959-1985)

Photo Gallery - Band Lineups - Discography - Audio samples - Where Are They Now?

The Story

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 band contest.

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 new label, 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.....

Photo Gallery

click on thumbnails for full image

Old Cross - 1963 Old Cross - 1963 Old Cross - 1967 Country Flavour - 1971 Country Flavour - 1972
Country Flavour-1970 Country Flavour - 1973 Philomena Begley Eileen King's first photo Country Flavour - 1978
Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF)
Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF)
Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF)
Country Flavour (RF) Country Flavour (RF)

Ramblin' Men 1974

Country Flavour - 1974 Country Flavour - 1974
Country Flavour - 1975 Country Flavour - 1975 Country Flavour - 1975 Country Flavour - 1979 Country Flavour - 1980
Country Flavour - 1980 Country Flavour - 1975 Country Flavour - 1976 Country Flavour - 1974 Country Flavour - 1975
Old Cross (RF) Old Cross (RF) Old Cross (RF) Old Cross (RF) Old Cross (RF)
 
Old Cross (RF) Old Cross (RF) Old Cross (RF) Old Cross (RF)

Coming Soon

Years Vocals Guitar Bass Drums Keyboards Accordion Fiddle Guitar
1959           John
O'Neill
   
Dec
1962
Philomena
Begley
        John
O'Neill
   
Feb
1965
Philomena
Begley
Mike
McNally
      John
O'Neill
   
Feb
1967
Philomena
Begley
Mike
McNally
Brian
McNally
Kevin
Casey
Tom
Quinn
John
O'Neill
Pat
Hamill
 
1970 Philomena
Begley
Dan
O'Hara
Brian
McNally
Kevin
Casey
Tom
Quinn
John
O'Neill
Pat
Hamill
Mike
McNally
May
1974
Marlena Mike
McNally
Brian
McNally
Kevin
Casey
Unknown John
O'Neill
Pat
Hamill
 
Dec
1974
Eileen
King
Mike
McNally
Brian
McNally
Kevin
Casey
Unknown John
O'Neill
Pat
Hamill
 
Nov
1978
Dan
O'Hara
Frank
Smith
Kieran
Doherty
Kevin
Casey
Pat
Quinn
John
O'Neill
Pat
Hamill
Aloysious
Quinn (Steel)
Nov
1979
Jolene Frank
Smith
Kieran
Doherty
Kevin
Casey
Pat
Quinn
John
O'Neill
Pat
Hamill
Aloysious
Quinn (Steel)

Discography

Philomena Begley and the Old Cross Bandshow
My Little Son / Heartaches for a Dime
Dolphin Records - DOS 11 - September, 1968
Old Ardboe / The Wild Side of Life
Dolphin Records - DOS 38 - May, 1969
The Box It Came In / Greener Pastures
Dolphin Records - DOS 50 - December, 1969

Philomena Begley and the Country Flavour
Here Today Gone Tomorrow / Cabin Home
- #7 Irish Charts
Release Records - RL.588 - May, 1971
Never Again (Will I Knock On Your Door) / Truck Driving Woman
- #15 Irish Charts
Release Records - RL.616 - February, 1972
Ramblin' Man /
 - #9 Irish Charts
Release Records - RL.640 - September, 1972
The Light In The Window / Husband Hunting
- #7 Irish Charts
Release Records - RL.690 - September, 1973

Marlena and the Country Flavour
Happy Heart
Unknown - October, 1974

Dan O'Hara and the Country Flavour
Till You Can Make It On Your Own / Everybody's Woman
Release Records - December, 1978

Albums
Truck Driving Woman (Philomena Begley)
Release Records - BRL.4030 - November, 1972

Audio Clips

Coming Soon

Where Are They Now?  

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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006