All About The Mainliners (1963-1982
Photo Gallery -
Band Lineups -
- Audio samples -
Where Are They Now?
© GSM Productions
The history of Irish country music (or maybe more accurately, "Country and Irish") has been much maligned over the years, and no band more so than The Mainliners.
Although the band did not gain prominence until the mid to late
1960's, in an article in Spotlight in May, 1970, Tom McBride told
reporter Donal Corvin that he formed the band with Henry McMahon
when Tom returned to Ireland in 1963 after working in England for
two years. Henry had also been in England.
Born in Oram, near Castleblaney, Tom
McBride was one of four siblings. Reared on a farm, he left school
in his teens to help out at home. In the September 30, 1976 issue of
Starlight magazine, Tom told his story in his own words.
"I suppose it must have been five
years that I remained working on the local farm because I was about
19 when a pal and myself headed for Scotland. Actually it was the
friend who took the notion and I fell in with the idea." Tom and his
pal stayed in the Scottish highlands for about four months before
returning home to Castleblaney. He was only back for two months when
he started traveling again, this time to England.
"I got fixed up with Walls, the ice
cream factory and there I remained for a year and a half working the
night shift all the time." Tom continued, "it was around that time
that I started fiddling around with a guitar, playing it at parties,
things like that." Soon after, Tom headed for the Channel Islands
where he got work picking tomatoes, a job that lasted another year
and a half. "I liked it there," said Tom. "They had this country
group whom I grew to like. They called themselves the Mainliners."
Tragedy struck when Tom's 17 year old brother
contracted meningitis and died. Tom came home to stay this time. A
couple of local lads asked him to sit in with them. The lads played
mostly Ceili and called themselves the Fincarn Band, more
importantly, the lineup included Henry McMahon and brother Seamus on guitar. After
the band broke up Henry went off to England for a spell, but
when he returned the boys reformed, adding more local lads to fill
out their numbers.
The original lineup of the band
was: Tom McBride (vocals), Henry McMahon (sax), Seamus McMahon
(guitar), Ginger Morgan (bass), Ronnie Duffy (drums), John Beattie
(keyboards), and Cyril McKevitt (trombone). The
Mighty Mainliners were born and for the next three plus years the
band laboured away in obscurity making
as little as £30 a night or just £5 a man!
In an Spotlight article in 1975 Henry told of their early struggles
playing for £30 a night, but they got their first
"big" gig in the Maple Ballroom in Rockcorry. The owner of the
ballroom, John McCormack, was so impressed with the lads, he offered
to manage them, an offer they gladly accepted. "After all,"
recounted Henry, "if this guy owns a big ballroom and has a
traveling shop that takes him around the country, maybe we might
pick up a few extra dates."
True to form at the time, most of the 60's showbands didn't have
official "front men" and the
Mainliners were no different. In the early days Ginger Morgan was considered the
lead singer with the band, and although Tom also sang, he was mainly the
band's sax player. Neither were featured in the band's name.
A new RTE TV series provided the band with their first break. They
featured an unknown artist every week and producer Adrian Cronin,
selected the Mainliners.
John McCormack took up the story. "We had
recorded a couple of songs for Phil Solomon's Emerald label, one
featuring Ginger which was to be the "A" side and the flip featuring
Tom. Ginger naturally was to be given the TV slot to plug the
single, but Adrian Cronin told us that he had a extra few minutes
and could we come up with another number from the band." McCormack
went on, "The obvious choice was the B side featuring Big Tom so
that's what went out on TV. Neither the Mainliners or RTE were
prepared for the result. Literally thousands of letters poured into
RTE asking for details about the Big Tom song."
Although originally slated to be the B side, in late 1966 Emerald
flipped the disc to feature "Big" Tom McBride's recording of
"Gentle Mother" and it hit the Irish charts for the first time
in January, 1967. The single, which reached number seven in the
was the first in a long line of hit records that firmly established
Big Tom and the Mainliners at the forefront of the Irish country scene. They
followed it up in late 1967 with yet another hit, "Old Log Cabin
For Sale," which reached number 4 in the Irish charts and firmly
cemented their place as a top draw on the ballroom circuit.
The band soon dropped the "Mighty" moniker and became just the Mainliners. It was around this time that everything changed in the showband scene.
Stars like Brendan Bowyer, Dickie Rock, and Butch Moore stepped forward and took center stage. The Mainliners
followed suit and became known as Big Tom and The Mainliners.
In May, 1968, the Mainliner undertook their
first tour of England, and their fame and fortunes continued to
grow. Throughout the next seven years the band would be one of the
top drawing bands on the circuit in both countries.
In the late sixties and early seventies, the band defined "Country and Irish" music in Ireland,
taking over the mantle from Larry Cunningham and the Mighty Avons. They were huge stars and packed ballrooms and marquees from one end of
the country to the other. Castleblaney singer, Tom McBride, known to fans as
"Big Tom" became so popular, he was dubbed "The King" of Irish country music.
Although their popularity was staggering, their detractors were equally vocal in bashing the band and their brand of bastardised Irish
country and folk music in quick step or waltz time signatures. It
is possible that no band has ever polarized the Irish punters like Big
Tom and the Mainliners...folks either loved them or hated them, and there was
(and still is) no in between.
and the band had a string of hits, including Bunch of Violets Blue,
Sunset Years of Life and many others.
They also released a string of best selling albums as well. During this period the band
could do no wrong. Big Tom's records pulled at the heart strings of the older
generation, while the band's upbeat dance tempos kept the punters jiving all
night long. Young and old alike seemed to worship Tom, while others wondered
what was going on!
Then, in April, 1975, in what was then one of the all time
shocking events in Irish show business history, Big Tom announced he was leaving the band and
formed a new group, The Travellers. Big Tom
and the Mainliners played their "Farewell Dance" in the Lilac Ballroom,
Enniskean, Co. Cork on Sunday, 4th May, 1975.
To the dismay of their loyal fans, the
Mainliners and Tom went their separate ways. This triggered a series of lineup
changes that would plague the band for the next decade until Tom and
band reunited in 2004 for a short tour, enjoying the same success they did thirty years
With the departure of Tom, the band immediately drafted singer John Glenn
(real name-John Hanratty) to fill
the big man's shoes. The band made its debut at the Annadown Carnival on 8th
May, 1975. They rush released a single, Sunny Side of the Mountain, which reached
Number 5 in the Irish charts. Also around this time, original member John
Beattie left the band and was replaced by Barry McAllister on keyboards.
The band's fortunes continued to
grow and John also had a string of hit records. After several years, however, in
May, 1978, John left the Mainliners and formed his own band,
The Wranglers. In the aftermath of John's departure, there was a major
court case involving the Mainliners and their manager, John McCormack. It seems
there was a disagreement about existing dates for John and the Mainliners being
played by new band, The Wranglers. Top Rank Entertainments had taken
on the management of John's new band and had advised promoters to contact Robert
Irwin (John's new manager) to confirm future John Glenn dates.
In the meantime, the band landed on their feet as they lured country singer Tom Allen away from his band,
The Sailors. However, Tom Allen and the Mainliners had a
short stint as in January, 1979, long time vocalist Ginger Morgan left the band to form his own pop group,
Hot Fever. A few months later, Tom Allen was also gone, having changed his name to T.R.
Dallas to release Who Shot J.R. Ewing? which became a huge Irish hit and established him as a strong act in his own right
with his own band, the TR Dallas Band.
For a short time in the summer of 1979, the band toured as a six piece using the name
The Mainliners, but the lineup changed again in late 1979,
drafted Shelly (a.k.a. Jan Lynch), who had been touring with Hank Locklin and her band
Startime. Shelly reverted to her real name, and Jan and the Mainliners took to the road.
As of writing, we are unsure when exactly the
Mainliners finally called it quits. However, good news for die hard
fans is that they are back after
nearly 30 years as
Big Tom and the Mainliners. Sadly Cyril McKevitt, the band's
trombone player for all those years passed away suddenly on 15th
September, 2009, just two days after completing the band's 2009
The story of the Mainliners still continues as
of 2013. Although Tom has had some health scares in the past few
years, the band continues to tour, although on a sporadic basis and
remains one of Ireland's top drawing live acts still packing them
into dancehalls and hotel ballrooms across the country.
Click on thumbnails for full image