The Duane Family Band

From Newbridge in County Kildare, The Duane Family had a successful run on 'Opportunity Knocks' having won at their first attempt in 1977 with their performance of the gospel classic ' Operator, Information, Long Distance, Give me Jesus on the Line'. Their niece Caoimhe Duane is a very talented blues singer.

Town/Village/County: Newbridge, Kildare

Vocals: Phyllis Duane
Lead Guitar:
Brian Duane
Orla Duane
Paddy Jones
Majella Duane
Vocals: Marion Duane
Sheila Duane
Davy Usher
Before ‘X-Factor’, before ‘America’s Got Talent’, before ‘Pop Idol’, before most of the competitors of those shows were even born, there was ‘Opportunity Knocks’. Just a little over 30 years ago, in 1978 to be precise, a group of singers who travelled to Dublin from Newbridge to audition for the then popular television talent show, a fore-runner of the X-Factor’s of its day.

Auditions were held at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf course, and were attended by hundreds of acts, including members of the Duane Family. This group of young singers from Newbridge performed for Hughie Green, the host of the show, and his executive producer Peter Dulay, both of whom were so impressed by what they heard that they choose the group to appear on the live television show.

The show was broadcast from Thames Television Studios in Teddington the following year. And so began an adventure for this unknown group of musicians and singers. The name of this young group was the ‘Duane Family’, although that later changed to the ‘Duane Sisters’. The original group line up was Majella, Phyllis, Marion, Sheila, Orla and Brian Duane, along with two school friends of Brian’s, Paddy Jones and Davy Usher.

The group flew to London each week for rehearsals. This involved learning a new song and dance routine, and fitting for new costumes in time for the live show later on in the week. In 1978, with no e-mail or mobile technology as there is today, the group depended on postal votes. And thousands of votes poured into the studios of Thames Television for the various acts every week.

When the ‘Duane Family’ appeared on the show, all of Ireland tuned in with the result that they went on to win the show six times, and put Newbridge and the county of Kildare on the map. Later the group were awarded the coveted ‘Variety Shield of Great Britain’, in recognition of their talent and for winning ‘Opportunity Knocks’ six times.

The group released their first single ‘Down by the River’ with ‘It might as well rain until September’ on the B-side. In 1978-9 the group were voted the Best New Act in the Jacobs Awards, presented by Larry Gogan. Following their success on ‘Opportunity Knocks’, the group toured Ireland from Donegal to Cork and Galway to Dublin and almost all the towns in between.

Around 1980, the line-up changed from the “Duane Family” and became the “Duane Sisters”, and headed to the bright lights of London. During that time they appeared on numerous television shows, including the Tommy Cooper Show, the Big Top with Bernie Winters and Snorbet his dog, Keith Harris and Orville Show, Music Lauden (a Top of the Pops equivalent in Germany), Music Show on Dutch television, Bibi Baskin on RTE, the Shay Healy Show, the Late Late Show and at summer cabaret in Bournemouth, Hastings, Western Supermare and elsewhere throughout Britain.

There are many wonderful memories over the years, although two performances that they were particularly proud to be a part of was when they travelled to the Lebanon to entertain the Irish Troops at Camp Shamrock and their performance in the Royal Command Performance in Leeds attended by Prince Phillip. After some 13 years in the entertaining business, the group decided it was time to end their involvement with the world of entertainment, and pursue their individual lives and careers.

Today, the Duane Sisters are based in Kildare and London. Majella is married and living in Newbridge, Phyllis is married and living in Robertstown, Marion is pursuing a career in medicine, while Sheila, Orla and Brian are married and living in London.

Article by Conor McHugh courtesy of The Leinster Leader (2009)

"I was a huge fan of the Duane Sisters. I came across an old postcard with their picture from when they were in Killarney at the Gleneagle around 1979 tonight. It prompted me to do a search. I would love to hear one of their pieces or see a video of them. I was so mesmerized by them as a young girl!"

Eileen O'Shea

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