The Freshmen (Ballymena)

Related: Billy Brown Band, Brown & O'Brien Band, Monarchs, Newmen

Lead Vocals: Barney McKeown, Tommy Drennan, Derek Dean
Guitar: Damian McIlroy, Tiger Taylor
Bass: Torry Magahey
Sax/Clarinet: Maurice Henry, Billy Brown, Ray Donnan
Trumpet/trombone: Seán Mahon
Drums: Davy McKnight, Lindsay Lunney
Organ/Piano: Billy Brown, Ivan Laybourne
Manager: Peter Dempsey


45 rpm / 7" Singles
1964: He's The One You Love / I Love My Little Girl (Six Of One)
1965: I Stand Alone / Gone Away - Oriole CD 305
1965: La Yenka / Don't Say Love Pye 7N15964
1966: So This Is Love / King Cole Yenka Pye 7N17037
1966: Cara Mia / Better Believe It - Pye 7N 17230
1967: Papa Oom Mow Mow / Let's Dance - Pye 7N 17432
1968: Go Granny Go / Look At The Sunshine - Target 7N 17592
1969: She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune / Mr. Beverly's Heavy Days - Target 7N 17757
1969: Just To See You Smile / Indian Lake - Pye 7N 17689
1970: Banquet For The World / Time Hasn't Changed Her - CBS S 5168
1970: Halfway To Where / Time Hasn't Changed Her - CBS 4842
1971: One Bad Thing / Everywhere There Is Love - CBS 7241
1972: Swanee River / Take The Time It Takes - CBS S 7694
1972: Le Linda / My Home Town CBS 8079
1973: All My Trials/Child Song / Hold On Dolphin DOS104
1973: I Found My Freedom / Listen To A Country Song - Dolphin DOS 106
1974: What Colour Is God's Skin / The Time Is Now Dolphin DOS126
1974: Longer Boats / Alabama Dolphin DOS122
1975: Papa Oom Mow Mow / Northwest Territory - Hawk HASP 375
1976: Go Granny Go / Carpet Man Dolphin DOS137
1979: You Never Heard Anything Like It / Bombing Run - Release RL 975

33.3 rpm / 12" Albums
1968 - Movin' On - Pye NPL 18263
1970 - Peace On Earth - CBS S 64099
1974 - Now And Then - Dolphin DOLB 7015

THE FRESHMEN By Francis Kaye © Ireland's Own

Though they featured the classic showband line-up and they played for dancers in ballrooms throughout Ireland, the “showband” tag didn’t sit lightly on the shoulders of The Freshmen from Ballymena. More than most bands, they epitomised the divide between urban and rural Ireland, drawing their biggest crowds in cities like Cork, Galway and Waterford. They wrote and performed their own original material, and were noted for their brilliant vocal harmonies. The Freshmen evolved from two bands in the Ballymena area, the Billy McFarland Showband and the John Mitchell Showband. Some of the younger members of both bands were unfulfilled, musically, and were getting restless. Billy Brown (keyboards/saxophone), Maurice Henry (saxophone), Torry McGahey (bass) and two others decided to leave McFarland and start their own band.

However, drummer Johnny Murphy was offered a job with an established band, The Plattermen, so Davy McKnight, a friend of Torry McGahey’s, was enlisted on drums. Meanwhile, guitarist Damien McIlroy and trombonist Sean Mahon had left the John Mitchell band to join the new outfit. A talented vocalist from Ballymena, Barney McKeown completed the line-up and The Freshmen were ready to rock ‘n’ roll! In August 1962, in the Plaza Ballroom in Larne, The Freshmen played their first gig on a journey which, within a few years, would take them to the very top of the showband heap. McKeown soon left the band however, and was replaced by a young singer from Limerick, who had a unique voice. Tommy Drennan, who had been known as a talented boy-soprano, travelled north and tried to settle in with The Freshmen. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, one of which was loneliness for his hometown, Drennan returned to Limerick after a short time and carved out a career for himself as frontman with The Monarchs.

For the third time in as many years, The Freshmen had to find a lead vocalist. This time they turned to Derek McMenamin, a young student teacher who looked like he could turn the girls’ heads! He also happened to have a powerful deep voice, which can be heard to great effect on the opening bars of their biggest hit, “Papa Oom Mow Mow”, which was their interpretation of a song which had been a hit in the U.S.A. for a black vocal group, The Rivingtons. Having adopted the stage-name Derek Dean, the new singer’s presence allowed Brown to concentrate on music and arrangements and The Freshmen went from strength to strength. By this time, Peter Dempsey, “a man from the motor-trade”, had taken over the reins as the band’s manager. Dempsey had numerous contacts all over Ireland, and his expertise opened new doors to The Freshmen. They released a single in 1964, “She’s The One You Love / I Love My Little Girl”. The B-side was an original written by Brown and McElroy. Because of the similarity of their name to a prominent American group, their record label Mercury suggested that they should use the name “Six Of One”. This only succeeded in confusion, and the record “bombed”.

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Appearances on RTE’s “Showband Show” and UTV’s “Pop Scene”, further raised the band’s profile and following minor success with their second single, an original written by Dean, “I Stand Alone” backed by “Gone Away”, they finally broke into the charts with the memorable “Papa Oom Mow Mow” followed by another single, “The Little Old Lady From Pasadena (Go Granny Go)” which had been a hit for surfers Jan & Dean in the U.S.A. Because of their vocal strength, the “surfing-sound” of Jan & Dean and The Beach Boys suited The Freshmen to a tee. They began to be known for their note-perfect renditions of Beach Boys songs more than anything else, and this in fact became a hindrance, overshadowing their excellent original numbers. They played support to The Beach Boys at their Dublin and Belfast concerts in 1967 and released a ground-breaking L.P. “Movin’ On” in 1968. This collection included three originals from the pens of Brown, McElroy and McKnight as well as a song by Danny Ellis and another by Phil Coulter and Bill Martin.

Always innovative, The Freshmen staged a “Peace Concert” in Dublin in 1970, a live performance of their second L.P. “Peace On Earth” on the CBS label. Narrator on both projects was the renowned actor Micheál MacLiammóir. Early in the ‘70s however, cracks began to show in what up to now had been an incredibly cohesive unit, and Brown decided to leave and form his own band. He was replaced by Ivan Laybourne from The Newmen, a young band managed by Damien McIlroy. The Newmen had recorded one of McElroy’s songs, “Holiday Girl”, and even today, it is regarded as one of the best Irish singles of that decade.

Guitarist Tiger Taylor, drummer Lindsay Lunney and saxophonist Ray Donnan joined The Freshmen for their final few years, and their third album "Now And Then" was released during this period. Musical genius, environmentalist, artist, writer and arranger Billy Brown (left) passed away in June 1999, aged just 56. His legacy, and that of his colleagues is one that Irish people can be very proud of ~ The Freshmen, a band that broke the showband mould.

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