Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Through laughter and tears Seamus still has his music
Ask anyone about McLaughlin’s Bar in Market Street and if they’ve experienced its wonder a glazed look comes over their eyes. For 18 years the place was party central for anyone with a passion for live music or the ability to sing or play music.
And the focal point of all this was owner Seamus McLaughlin, who, although he sold the bar in 2002 for a quieter life, music was never going to be far from his first love.
“Music has been everything to me. I’ve laughed with it. I’ve cried with it. I’ve hated it and I’ve loved it. I’ve had fun with it and sometimes it drove me mad.
“It’s been my saviour more than once. I’ve travelled around the world with it. It’s been my friend and it’s been my enemy.”
This most enduring of relationships started for Seamus as child in St John’s National School in Temple Street where he sang with the award-winning school choir. At a tender age he caught the performing bug singing harmony at feiseanna throughout the North West and even performed with the choir on RTE.
At the age of 16, Seamus picked up a ukulele, a Christmas present, and began picking notes. His father, Jim, saw his son’s growing prowess and invested in a six-string guitar.
“I got this six-string from dad a year after I started with the ukulele. I bought a book in Keohanes on guitar chords and I started backing myself singing in the front room.” Now a Summerhill College student, Seamus formed a band aptly called The Students in 1966 and after a few week’s rehearsing they played a talent show in Father Flanagan Hall. “The crowd went mad, they wouldn’t let us off the stage,” recalls Seamus. “We were playing songs like “Satisfaction” from the Rolling Stones; heavy music and the whole college went mental. In the end they closed the curtains to get us off the stage.”
The Students may only have stayed together for that one concert, but Seamus was well and truly bitten by the performance bug. During the summer holidays he met three Sligo lads keen to play music, Vinnie Middleton, Frankie Langan and Noel “Flukey” Gorman. After some rehearsal, Generation Gap emerged to play local pubs and hops. They were considerably younger than many of the bands playing around the region, and were an instant fan favourite.
“We started off playing the hops, in Gillooly Hall, the Silver Slipper, Summerhill College, Mercy College. “We were the resident support band in the Astoria in Bundoran during the summer season and that’s where we really cut our teeth.
“We played seven nights a week in June, July and August. We played support to the best bands in the country.”
Performers of the calibre of Rob Strong, Edison Lighthouse, Status Quo, The Miami Showband, the Horslips and Thin Lizzy all played the Astoria and were all supported by Generation Gap. Indeed, Frankie Langan still has an autographed Phil Lynott photo on which the iconic Thin Lizzy frontman had scribbled “Best of luck lads, hope you make it.”
“We used to get £12 a night for the Astoria gig, and that was between us; £2.50 each and £2 for transport. That was the best fun I ever had though.”
From the Astoria, Generation Gap took up a full residency in the Marine Hotel for the summer, again sharing the bill with some big names, including Joe Lynch, Luke Kelly and The Dubliners.
The offer of full time performing saw Generation Gap go their separate ways in 1972. Seamus joined showband Dee Leydon and the Powermen, but it was far from the experience he had hoped. “We released two singles that got lost. They never did any good. I remember Gay Byrne played one of our songs and he said afterwards that he must have upset the director for him to be forced to play that song.
“I saw Ireland from the back of a van. It was tough. I remember leaving Sligo at 3pm and driving to Bunclody in Wexford. “We got there at 9pm and we had to wait for the pictures because we were playing in a cinema. We played from 12 to 2 and then we drove to Dublin to get something to eat because Wexford shut down completely, there wasn’t even street lights.
“We arrived in Dublin at 9am, had something to eat and travelled back to Sligo. We got home around 2pm. And what did I have in my pocket, a tenner. Ten quid for all that.” Two and a half years after Seamus joined, the Powermen split up and Seamus returned home “dejected and wrecked”.
Soon afterwards he joined with Mickey Feeney, Paddy Costello and former bandmate Frankie Langan to form Diamonds, so it was once more out on the road playing the pubs and lounges of the North West. In August 1975, England came calling and Seamus emigrated, like so many young Irish men, to Birmingham. There he found a thriving Irish scene and a chance to play music once more.
“I joined a band of Irish lads called The Huskies and within six months myself and the keyboard player broke away to form a new band, again called Diamonds. We stayed together playing Irish clubs around Birmingham for eight years.
“We were in the top five of bands playing the Birmingham Irish live circuit. I had a day job, but I was making more money from the gigs at night. I remember one Christmas we played 22 nights non-stop.” In 1984 Seamus decided to return home to Sligo and take over the family business, McLaughlin’s Bar in Market Street.
Soon the venue became known for its incredible music sessions. Local and visiting musicians and singers were always welcome and the music was informal, inviting and always entertaining.
In the 18 years that Seamus ran McLaughlin’s, it was the stomping ground for many of Sligo’s finest musicians, including Tommy Fleming, Jarlath McTiernan, Dervish, Kieran Goss and more. It has had its share of celebrities too, with Hollywood bad-boy Colin Farrell topping a list which includes Ronan Keating and Liam O’Maonlai.
Of course, Seamus was not finished with bands. In 1987 he helped out a friend by playing a gig with keyboard player John Fowley. Soon afterwards, The Tree Tops were born.
The Tree Tops have had a few different line-ups, but they are still going strong with John and Seamus at the helm, supported by Flukey Gorman and the most recent addition, singer Emma Maloney. Emma’s arrival has given the band new momentum and added impetus to perform. If you see them live you’ll understand.