The Story of The Donie Collins Showband

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Spanning three decades from the ‘50s to the ‘70s, the familiar sound of Donie Collins’ signature tune, “Be My Guest” introduced dancers all over Ireland to a great night’s dancing, be that in a ballroom, a marquee or a parish-hall. Donie himself was a native of Askeaton, Co. Limerick, and surrounded himself with some of the finest musicians in the country, first in his dance-band, then in his showband which eventually evolved into a big band.

In the early days, multi-instrumentalist Donie, flanked by musicians such as Michael Collins and Ronnie Fox, trumpeter Tommy Rooney, Mick Falahee and Joe Costello on saxes and Don Long on trombone, would play a sit-down dixieland set before the main dancing programme. In the early ‘60s, though showbands normally had seven members, Donie almost always went on stage with an eight or nine-piece band. Musicians such as trumpeters Harvey Roche, Dave Coady and Mick Guinnane, saxophonists Charlie Cheevers and Pat McDonald, drummers Frankie Burke, Henry Kiely and Steve Donoghue, bassists Eddie Sheehan and Austin Graham, guitarists Liam Foley and Martin Roe, keyboardist Brian O’Grady and vocalists Johnny Grant, Chris Grace, Seán O’Dowd and Terri Fitzgerald all spent some time with Donie’s band.

While many showbands rushed into recording and releasing a record, Donie was slow to do so. However, in January 1966, the band released their first single, a revival of the old Tab Hunter hit, “Young Love” featuring Chris Grace on vocals. A couple of years passed before the band released an L.P. record, aptly titled “Be My Guest” on the EMI Talisman label, which featured popular instrumentals from his dancing programme such as “Slievenamon” and “Peanut Vendor” along with vocal numbers  “Legend In My Time”, “White Rose Of Athens” and “It Makes No Difference Now” featuring Austin Graham and Charlie Cheevers.

The story is told that one night in the early ‘60s, Donie and his band were on their way to an engagement at the Granada Ballroom in Granard, Co. Longford, when the bandwagon broke down. Donie contacted the proprietor Tommy Quinn, and advised him that they would be late arriving. When the band eventually arrived, the ballroom was already thronged. Donie and the lads unpacked their instruments and played their way up through the cheering crowd to the bandstand, where they quickly set up their equipment and played for an hour before taking a short break to change into their band suits!

Donie Collins died in 1987 and some of the band-members have also passed away.  Some others like Charlie Cheevers, Austin Graham, Dave Coady and Mick Guinnane are still involved in the business, entertaining a new generation. I’m sure that there are many people in Ireland today who can close their eyes for a moment and recall the up-tempo brass introduction to the tune that will always be associated with the Donie Collins Showband, “Be My Guest”.

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Based in Askeaton, Co. Limerick

Vocals: Austin Graham / Johnny Grant / Chris Grace / Seán O'Dowd
Lead Guitar: Liam Foley
2nd Guitar: Martin Roe
Bass: Austin Graham
Trumpet: Tommy Rooney / Harvey Roche / Dave Coady
Sax/Clarinet: Mick Fallahee / Charlie Cheevers
Trombone: Don Long
Drums: Terry Brady


Selected Discography

1966: Young Love / Mexican Boy - Pye 7N 17004 (Vocals: Chris Grace)
1967: Agricultural Irish Girl / Today’s Teardrops - Pye 7N 17329 (Vocals: Austin Graham)
1969: Get Down With It / I Can’t Help Myself - Target 7N 17682 (Vocals Shaun O'Dowd)
1971: Be My Guest (LP) Talisman STAL(I)1009
1972: Where Is My Castle / Everybody’s Fool - Release RL 622 (Vocals: Terri Fitzgerald)

'Young Love' on CD - The Irish Showband Collection - Pulse PBXCD323
'Get Down With It' and 'I Can’t Help Myself' on CD - Irish Showbands Get Down With It - Sequel NEXCD261

with thanks to Eddie Kelly

And now a word from the chairman of the comm-it-tee! Donie Collins Band onstage at the Temperance Hall, Loughrea. Austin Graham on left, Shaun O'Dowd and either Liam Foley or Martin Roe.
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