Showband nostalgia reigned supreme in the Royal Hotel in Roscommon town last Friday night when three members of the original Melody Aces from Newtownstewart in the county Tyrone travelled down for what was a truly memorable occasion.
Shay Hutchinson, regarded by many as one of the great original pioneers of country music here in Ireland, was joined by Gene Turbett and Edward McNamee for a night that will long be cherished by those who were privileged to see some of the great ‘masters’ of the showband scene.
I had heard much about the Melody Aces over the years and the huge popularity they enjoyed around the country. So when the chance came to see some members of the band for the very first time, I was not going to let it pass by.
You could sense the star quality associated with this band in their heyday. Shay, for all the world like an actor from an old western film, performed country songs from the “roots” tradition and there was no need for hype or cover-up. This was the real thing. His versions of Gypsy Woman and You’re My Best Friend had admirers standing in front of the stage showing their appreciation.
Those who danced to the Melody Aces in days gone by tell me that Gene Turbett was recognised as one of the greatest comperes ever in the showband era. After all the years he still retains a commanding magic behind the mike and each introduction in Roscommon was a performance in itself. Sheer magic from a gentleman who still brings a touch of class to everything he does on stage. And Gene is also a superb singer as he displayed on the night.
And then there was the genial Edward McNamee who delighted patrons with selections of great music on a number of instruments. A veteran of many a stage performance, he carries a fondness for the music in his heart and it is reflected in the glint in the eye and the light of the soul.
Michael Slyman from the Premier Aces was also featured on the show and was well supported by his friends from the Roscommon area. The Wild Side of Life, Walk on By, This World Is Not My Home, and I Miss You How I Miss You were Mickey’s contribution to the show. He has always had a liking for the songs of Jim Reeves.
Former Mighty Avons man Jimmy Smith also rendered a few numbers and he was delighted to meet some old friends from the business as well as some folk who had followed the Avons during their glory days. We had a good chat about radio matters after the show. Johnny Lee of Tipperary and Manchester background performed a few songs too.
Full marks to the Brose Walsh Band for the way they provided such fine support for all the performers. Indeed, the three gentlemen from the Melody Aces were very loud in their praise of the Belcarra-based band and were delighted with the success of the night.
The fact that the Brose Walsh Band is steeped in the traditions of the band circuit provided a marvellous rapport between them and their guests on the night. James, Tomas and John Walsh, together with Jimmy Deacy and Phil Munnelly certainly rose to the occasion in style. And Phil blended in superbly with Shay Hutchinson with some delightful harmonica playing on ‘Gypsy Woman’ which certainly had shades of the original production of Don Williams famous recording of this country standard.
Few people present were aware that Shay Hutchinson had a major hospital appointment to attend to the following Monday. Such is the professionalism of the veterans of the business who still live by the old adage .... “the show must go on”.
Seamus and Mary Mulrennan from Ballyhaunis were among the first we met on arrival at the beautiful new ballroom at the Royal Hotel in Roscommon and they were very much looking forward to the big show. Jimmy and Mary Walsh had also made the journey from Ballyhaunis while Phil and Leo Reilly travelled from Murneen, Claremorris to dance the night away.
I had a long chat with Tom and Rita Roughneen from Roscommon town. Tom was formerly from Kilcun between Kiltimagh and Knock and has wonderful memories of his young years in the area and the people he knew around Kilcun, Cloonlavish, Cloonmore and Cuiltybo. Tom says hello all who knows him back home.
Among those we met in Roscommon were Mary Moran and Teresa Monaghan from Glencorrib and Headford, Margaret Grennan from Lisacul, Joe and Nell Mannion and John Joe Cunningham from Kiltoom (Roscommon), Philip Greene from Ballydangan, and Patricia and Seamus Kelly from Drumdaff, Roscommon. Tom Keville from Swinford and Alo Deeley from Ballaghaderreen were pleased to see the Tyrone men back in the West again.
From Newport came Tony and Bridie McHale and Bridie told me this was one of the most enjoyable music nights she had attended in years. Bernard Gormley from Granlahan, no stranger to the band scene, was there to lend his support. He returned from New York in recent weeks. Nice to meet Seamus Ward from Creggs who was delighted to get this chance to see some of the former ‘greats’ of the business. Seamus is also a member of the Castlerea Brass Band.
Mickey Slyman and friends were in fine form when we met them after the show and a special hello to Dolores (the regular MId-West listener!) and also Phil Murray, Catriona Lohan, Tina Flynn and Maggie Leydon, all from the Fourmilehouse area near Roscommon town.
Loughglynn couple Paul and Cait Lynch were thrilled to meet up with the former Melody Aces stars. “They were always my special favourites,” said Paul. “They were huge in Tooreen and wherever they played around the west. They were a fabulous bunch of musicians and singers and it is such a pleasure and privilege to meet three of the original band here tonight.”
Tom and Ann Meehan travelled from Charlestown and Tom was also celebrating his birthday. Good man, Tom! We met Frank and Ita Daly from Gorthaganny and Michael and Kathleen Finan from Roscommon. Michael was formerly from nearby Ballintubber. Geraldine McDonagh was over from Ballinlough and hello also to Noreen Goode from Tuam.
A mention too for J. J. O’Connor from Castlerea, John Mulkeen from Tubbercurry, Pat Clavin from Ballymore (Westmeath) who worked with Albert and Jim Reynolds and their ballroom chain for many years, and Jimmy and Pauline Rabbitte from Moyvore. Also nice to meet J.J. and Myra Killeen from Ahascragh in Co. Galway who came along for the big night.
T.R Dallas and Frank Nelson were among those from the current showbiz scene who rambled along to enjoy the show. John Hagan, a former member of Margo’s band, came all the way from Lisnaskea in Fermanagh to see Shay, Gene and Eddie on stage. The event was organised by Gerry Carroll who hails from Rooskey (Roscommon) and he was very pleased with the success of the night.
It would be lovely to see a similar show featuring the former members of the Melody Aces, together with the Brose Walsh Band and friends, at a Mayo venue over the coming months. No doubt, it would be a real winner.

Susan McCann heads west to Digger Jays

Susan McCann has seen a lot of the world since she launched her singing career back in the ‘seventies. She made her recording debut in 1977 with “Santa and the Kids” but it was her second release “Big Tom Is Still The King” that catapulted her to national fame in 1978. The song spent two weeks at No. I in Ireland’s Top 20 and opened many doors for the young singer from Newry.
In October 1979, she made her first appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and this was to be the first of many visits to the ‘home’ of country music.
Over the years she has guested at various shows in America including six appearances at the Florida Strawberry Festival which attracts many thousands over an eleven day period. She performed for President George Bush (Snr) in the late 1980s and his son President George W. Bush was present for one of her Florida shows and met her after the event.
Various accolades have come her way over the past 25 years including the European Gold Star award and further honours at the International Country and Western Music Association in Fort Worth, Texas.
The White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia was another highlight for the Down lady in 1994. She has toured on three occasions in South Africa and her records and videos are widely available on the international market since she signed a marketing deal with the English-based label Prism Leisure company.
Susan McCann makes her first appearance in Digger Jays in Ayle on this Friday, St. Valentine’s Night.