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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Showbands first movers on stage

Ask anyone who did their dancing in the 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s and they’ll tell you it was the golden era of live music in Ireland, when hundreds of bands toured the country playing venues in every town and village along the way. And, although we have moved on from the showband era, we can look back at those four decades with a sense of pride and identity.

Gerry Gallagher, the man behind the superb Sligo showband website featured in our Januar 4 issue, has another music site with even more information. features hundreds of bands, of photographs, of memories and much more.

As Gerry himself says: “Our website is dedicated to all the bands that played Ireland’s ballrooms, hotels, dancehalls, marquees, and parochial halls between 1950 and 1990. “With apologies to those bands who never considered themselves a part of the “showband scene,” we feel this is the only unique term that aptly describes the industry which flourished in Ireland for over forty years.”

The term, “Irish Showbands,” generally refers to a particular type of musical act popular in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s. Irish showbands like The Clipper Carlton, The Dixies, The Royal, and hundreds more traveled the length and breadth of Ireland playing to packed houses every night. The goal of the website’s founders is simple, to build the most comprehensive collection on information on this era of Irish entertainment. And in order to do that the help of readers and music lovers throughout Ireland is needed.

If you have photos, memories, information or updates on the bands/performers featured, then visit the site and contact Gerry with the details. The history of most Irish popular music traces its roots back to Ireland’s “showband era” that swept the country in the 1950s and 60s. Prior to the showbands, most “bands” in Ireland in the early 50s were similar to the “big bands” of the 1940s or orchestras.

They usually had ten or twelve musicians who sat behind music stands while a band leader, such as Mick Delahunty or Maurice Mulcahy, took center stage. They played the extensive Irish Ballroom circuit. Ireland must be unique in the world, because at its high point, there were hundreds of ballrooms, not only located in the cities, but spread across the country, often located in the middle of nowhere or perhaps where two country roads crossed.

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! Names like the 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 it’s peak, it is estimated that 600 to 700 showbands toured Ireland continuously.

As the turbulent 60s gave way to the swinging seventies, Irish showbands began changing, specialising in pop or country and the original showbands were forced to adapt to the changes. In the 70s and 80s, Ireland’s entertainment landscape was divided into four basic types of music: Pop, Country & Western, Rock, and Folk.

The emergence of discos in the mid 1970s gave promoters a new money making opportunity, they could pay a single DJ to play, as opposed to a six or seven piece band. Hotels started converting ballrooms to nightclubs and there were fewer and fewer gigs available to the bands.

As competition heated up for an ever dwindling number of venues, lesser known bands started to pack it in, and only bands with the strongest followings could still making a living on the road. As the 80s came to a close, the “showband era” was all but over. Even though many of the top names of the era still perform today, the pre-eminence of the Irish dancehall scene is now just a memory.

Most of the remaining bands play regularly in theatres, in cabaret, at weddings and corporate functions. Most of the ballrooms have been closed down, or converted into warehouses while others were simply demolished to make room for new development.

Since the early 1990s there has been a renewed interest in the showbands, but this has been focused almost exclusively on the big name showbands of the 60s. There has been little written or said about the hundreds of bands that followed the showbands into the ballrooms, dancehalls, hotels, and marquees of Ireland in the 70s and 80s.

This website aims to address that by offering the most comprehensive collection of facts and faces from the golden age of live music in Ireland. Visit




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