The Story of The Drifters Showband, Mullingar

Related: Times, Madisons

Band-members (through the years)

Lead Vocals: Joe Dolan
Lead Guitar:
Gordon Coleman
Jimmy Horan, Pat Hoye, Mick Bagnall
Ben Dolan
Accordion: Seamus Shannon
Trumpet: Sean Connolly, Tommy Swarbrigg, Frankie McDonald
John Kelly, Joey Gilheaney, Seamus Shannon, Liam Meade
Eddie Deihy, Donal Aughey, Maurice Walsh
Charlie McMorrow, Frank Melia, Des Doherty, Ciaran McDonald, Kevin Cowley
Seamus Casey
The first known photograph of The Drifters Showband. Trombonist John Kelly left to form The Madisons

Soon after a fresh-faced Mullingar teenager named Joe Dolan won a heat of the RTE Radio talent competition “Beginners Please” in the late ‘50s, he and his brother Ben formed a quartet and began playing at variety shows and concert in and around his hometown. They were joined by two local musicians, drummer Eddie Deihy and trumpeter Seán Connolly, and as they built up a following, pianist Charlie McMorrow (later replaced by Frank Melia), trombonist John Kelly and bassist Jimmy Horan were added to the line-up. Resplendent in red suits, white shirts and yellow ties, The Drifters Showband were on the road!

The Drifters were just another middle-of-the-road showband, travelling for long hours for little remuneration, until 1964 when they found a catchy Del Shannon song called “The Answer To Everything”, which truly lived up to its title! By now there had been some changes in the line-up, as some of the lads had left to form The Madisons, and Tommy Swarbrigg (trumpet), Joey Gilheaney (trombone), Des Doherty (piano) and Donal “Sid” Aughey had come in. Des Doherty’s melodic pianet introduction to Joe’s slightly hoarse, throaty vocals combined to make their debut single the most-requested song on Irish radio and the dates came rolling in. In a matter of a few weeks, The Drifters had climbed into the top ten showbands in the country.

Their follow-up, a few months later, a catchy ballad taken from an Al Martino album, “I Love You More And More Every Day” proved just as successful and The Drifters adopted a policy of releasing a new single every four months. Songs such as Willie Nelson’s “In My Own Peculiar Way”, “Aching Breaking Heart”, “The House With The Whitewashed Gable”, “Tar And Cement”, “Love Of The Common People” all proved very popular and all the time, original compositions such as “When You Say I Love You”, “Does It Always Have To Be This Way?”, “The Wrong Impression”, “Workday Blues”, “The World Is Going Mad”, by band-member Tommy Swarbrigg were being recorded and included on the B-sides of their singles. An E.P. was also released which included two Tommy Swarbrigg songs “Minutes To Midnight” and “I’ll Sit On Your Doorstep” and a vocal offering from Ben Dolan, “I’ve Got Five Dollars And It’s Saturday Night”.

Their careful choice of suitable material resulted in hit after hit, with all their records being played regularly on the national airwaves, but while The Royal, The Cadets, The Miami, The Capitol, The Royal Blues, The Mighty Avons and the Johnny Flynn Showband all topped the charts between 1963 and 1966, Joe Dolan & The Drifters’ first No.1 didn’t come until September 1966 when they topped the Irish charts with an infectious ballad, “Pretty Brown Eyes”. Incidentally, the arrangement was very similar to their debut single, “The Answer To Everything”. (all text is strictly copyright)

It 1967 however, it seemed like the bubble had burst, when all the musicians apart from Joe and brother Ben, decided to leave and form a new band called The Times. Within weeks the Dolan brothers and manager Seamus Casey had signed up six brilliant musicians and The New Drifters were back on the road, drawing bigger crowds than ever before! Corkman Gordon Coleman came in on lead guitar, Mullingar native Pat Hoye returned from Athenry where he had been with The Swingtime Aces on bass, drummer/vocalist Maurice Walsh joined from one of Dublin’s top beat-groups, The Bye-Laws. Champion Roscommon accordionist Seamus Shannon who doubled on trombone, Ciaran McDonald on keyboards and trumpeter Frankie McDonald from Athlone completed the line-up.

Joe Dolan’s biggest success came in 1969, when his single “Make Me An Island”, a Hammond/Hazelwood song, burst into the British charts and stayed there for eighteen weeks, peaking at No.3. This success opened many new doors for the Mullingar band and the song was a massive hit in many countries. His next record “Teresa” reached No.20 in November 1969 and “Good Looking Woman” stayed in the charts for thirteen weeks in 1970, reaching No.17.

Some of the original Drifters have now retired from the music business, some others continue to perform locally. Joe Dolan passed away on St. Stephen's Day (26th December) 2007.  A compilation of twenty of The Drifters’ hits, B-sides, E.P. and L.P. tracks is available on a CD called “The Answer To Everything” on the Pulse label.

text is strictly copyright and should not be copied, whole or in part, without written permission

Discography (to 1973)

Singles (7” vinyl)
Answer To Everything / When You Say I Love You (Pye 7N.15681)
I Love You More And More Everyday / Does It Always Have To Be This Way? (Pye 7N.15760)
My Own Peculiar Way / Don't Ever Let That Little Chance Go By (Pye 7N.15902)
Aching Breaking Heart / The Wrong Impression (Pye 7N.17003)
Pretty Brown Eyes / But I Do (Pye 7N.17152)
House With The Whitewashed Gable / Workday Blues (Pye 7N.17265)
Tar And Cement / Time Of My Life (Pye 7N.17354)
Love Of The Common People / The World Is Going Mad (Pye 7N.17484)
Make Me An Island / If You Care A Little About Me (Pye 7N.17738)
Teresa / My First Love (Pye 7N.17833)
You're Such A Good Looking Woman / Something Happens -(Pye 7N.17891)
It Makes No Difference / I'll Be Home In About A Day Or So (Pye 7N.17978)
Boola Boola / Make Me Smile (Pye 7N.45025)
Sometimes A Man Just Has To Cry / Friend In A Bottle (Pye 7N.45060)
You and the Looking Glass / One Way Woman (Pye 7N.45101)
Take The Money and Run / Home Isn't Home Anymore (Pye 7N.45145)
Sweet Little Rock 'n' Roller / What Have You Done? (Pye 7N.45330)
Joe Dolan (sans Drifters) released many singles between 1974 and 2004

Extended Play (7” vinyl)
1966: Two Of A Kind / I've Got Five Dollars And It's Saturday Night / I'll Sit On Your Doorstep / Minutes to Midnight / The Jolly Tinker (Pye NEP.24250)

Albums (12” vinyl)
The Answer To Everything ‎(Pye Golden Guinea GGL 0424)
Joe Dolan & The Drifters (Hallmark/Marble Arch MAL.1143)
Make Me An Island ‎(Pye NSPL 18319)
You're Such A Good Looking Woman ‎(Pye NSPL 18340)
Joe Dolan (sans Drifters) released many albums between 1974 and 2007

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