The Story of The Blue Aces

Related: Donie Collins, Paragon 7

The Blue Aces are almost certainly the only Irish showband to play in London's legendary Marquee Club on Wardour Street.

Poster courtesy of Ron Ryan & Charlie Cheevers >>>

When the words “showband” and “Waterford” are mentioned in the same sentence, one immediately thinks “Royal”, but Waterford’s Blue Aces hold the attendance record at the Atlantic Ballroom in Tramore, when they drew a crowd of 1,191 on a Tuesday night in 1960! The Blue Aces are also unique among Irish showbands in that they based themselves in London for two years.

Formed in 1958 and managed by Billy Mulcahy, like most showbands at that time, they travelled all over Ireland playing in ballrooms, marquees and parish-halls. The line-up included Charlie Cheevers (tenor saxophone), Larry Barry (trumpet),  John Cooney (piano), Michael Gilligan (guitar), Seamus Carew (bass), Tony Dalton (trombone), Jerry O’Shea (drums) and Michael O’Meara (trombone). In the early years of their existence, Barry and Gilligan, (who incidentally spent some time with The Royal Showband), were replaced by Tony Condon and Tony Walsh.  Sometime later, Walsh moved to trombone and Jimmy Phelan came in on guitar. Saxophonist Neil McMahon also joined around this time and later Condon joined The Paragon 7 and was replaced by Ron Carthy.

In 1964 however, the band made a decision to move to London and base themselves there in the hope of making a breakthrough into the British charts. Things went well for them at first, they appeared on a few BBC television shows, they were featured in pop magazines such as “Fabulous”, “Record Song Book” and “Boyfriend” and their first single on the Pye label, “Land Of Love”, featuring Charlie Cheevers on vocals, was played on all the pop stations. This was followed by some other singles including “You Don’t Care”, “All I Want” and “That’s Alright”, all original numbers written by members of the band. During their time in London however, original members Cooney, Carew and Phelan decided to return to Ireland, but the band continued with British-based replacements, Ron Ryan, Geoff Foote, Mike Kelleher and Keith Field.

While in London, The Blue Aces played in prestigious venues such as the London Palladium, the Lyceum, the Marquee Club and the Victoria Palace, and shared the bill with international stars such as Lulu, Val Doonican, The Applejacks, Mike Preston, Bob Monkhouse, Ronnie Carroll, Julie Rogers, Mike Sarne, Roy Castle, Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, Sounds Incorporated and The Vernons Girls. The band also had a small part in a film about band-leader Joe Loss, where they performed an Irish ballad, “The Bould O’Donoghue”.

Unfortunately, the big breakthrough never came, and in 1966, the band returned to Waterford, some of them joining other showbands. Tony Condon, Ron Carthy and Tony Walsh are now deceased while some of the band-members are still involved in the music business.

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These three photos are The Blue Aces Mark II. Some members of the original band wanted to return to Ireland in 1966 as success wasn't coming as easily or quickly as they had hoped. Only Charlie Cheevers (sax) and Jerry O'Shea (drums) remained and they were joined by singer/songwriter Ron Ryan, Ron Carthy, Keith Field and Mike Kelleher.

Selected Discography

1964: Land Of Love / Love Song Of The Waterfall - Pye 7N 15672
1964: I Beat You To It / I Just Can’t Help Lovin’ You Pye 7N 15713
1965: Ain’t What I Say / You Don’t Care Pye 7N 15821
1965: All I Want / Tell Me What You’re Gonna Do Columbia DB 7755
1966: That’s All Right / Talk About My Baby Columbia DB 7954

'Land Of Love' on CD - Irish Showbands Get Down With It - Sequel NEXCD261
'Love Song Of The waterfall' on CD - The Fabulous Irish Showbands - Castle Pulse PBXCD476
'I Beat You To It' and 'I Just Can’t Help Lovin’ You' on CD - Beat, Beat, Beat - Castle CMDDD728
'You Don’t Care' on CD - Sham Rock Irish Showbands Go Pop - Castle CMDDD798    

compiled by Francis Kennedy & Eddie Kelly

"Down through the years, many of my friends and acquaintances have asked the question, 'what was it really like being in a showband in the early days of the showband era?'. No matter how many times I have answered I have found it extremely difficult to put into words just how utterly fantastic it really was. For seven young, eager, energetic, enthusiastic musicians with a love of music, the thrill of performing on stage, dressed in style, playing to thousands of dancers all over the country and later other countries, was simply incredible. It was a time of packed dance-halls, travelling in custom-built wagons, playing a programme of Top 20 hits by artistes such as Elvis, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Fats Domino, The Beatles, Little Richard . . . the list goes on. It was also a time of doing TV shows, radio, recording and filming. We got to see places and meet so many new friends, that every day brought something new and exciting. It was a magical experience for me, playing music that I loved, with friends that I still consider very special today and an era that I look back on with very fond memories and am proud to have been a part of."

by Charlie Cheevers 2005 (Blue Aces)

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