Green Beat

Daragh O'Halloran - Brehon Books 2006

The Forgotten Era of Irish Rock


What exactly is this book supposed to be? An objective no-holds barred look at the ‘60s beat-scene in Ireland or simply a vehicle to document the pathetic musical snobbery that dominated the Irish music-scene during that decade? The more I read through this 224-page book by Daragh O’Halloran (published by Brehon Press), the more I realise, sadly, that the author walked in with his eyes closed and questioned almost nothing. Paragraphs and quotes from magazines such as ‘Spotlight’ and ‘Hitsville’ are quoted verbatim as fact when even the most naïve music fan is aware that they were little more than propaganda-sheets for bands and groups with healthy budgets. Quotes from Pat Egan and B.P. Fallon are treated with reverence when truly, they were only two non-musicians who used the pages of those magazines to publicise their own friends’ bands.

It was far more important to be ‘cool’ than to be a brilliant musician. B.P. saw to that. You had to be ‘cosmic’ and have a ‘vibe’ and if you had, you had it made. There’s an ongoing ‘sneer’ throughout the book about showbands with words like ‘agricultural’, ‘ageing’ and ‘haircuts’ liberally used. The true facts about showbands were that the vast majority of their members came from terraces or estates in small rural towns where unemployment was rife. They saved some money, bought an instrument and set out to make a decent living doing what musicians want to do -  play music. There was very little ‘agricultural’ or ‘ageing’ about showbands in the early ‘60s. Just because B.P. or Pat said so doesn’t mean that it was fact.

The pervading theme that runs throughout this book is that it was much ‘cooler’ to be in a beat-group (or a 4 or 5 piece 'covers-band) than to don a suit and be part of an outfit known as a 'showband'. Yet, The Black Eagles are described as ‘one of many groups at the time doing covers of Small Faces, Yardbirds and (Rolling) Stones material’. Drummer Dave Pennefether was criticised by Paul Brady as ‘taking the King’s shilling’ when he left the beat-scene to join Earl Gill’s band. Thankfully Paul, we haven’t had ‘the King’s shilling’ in our country for many a long year! Why was Brady not asked how his joining of The Johnstons (a folk/ballad group) differed so much to Pennefether joining Earl Gill's Band - having been quoted on page 205 "I didn't really have an awful lot of time for the ballads. Why are all these people singing all this shit from 200 years ago? It was all a bit fake to me". Paul Ashford speaks some sense when he recalls Philip Lynott calling him a ‘breadhead’ when he joined The Miami – but as Ashford says, ‘I was a musician and I wanted to play’. Slightly ironic that I just happened to see a clip of the same Phil Lynott on BBC last night singing a classic beat-song – ‘Jingle Bells’! 

A former member of Rootzgroop is quoted as saying that he ‘hated showbands’. That’s an incredibly sweeping, all-encompassing statement. He goes on to say ‘we looked down our noses at them, we thought they were crap’. I seriously wonder which showbands or how many different showbands he actually heard – live? The Freshmen? Crap? The Plattermen? Crap? Johnny Quigley, Dave Glover, The Skyrockets (with Henry McCullough)? Crap? Derrick and The Sounds (with two members of Taste in the line-up)? Crap? The Jokers with one of Europe's top drummers, Tommy McMenamin laying down the beat? Crap? The Witnesses with Colm Wilkinson out front? Crap? That particular musician's blanket put-down of showbands should have been questioned and analysed.

Two phrases in the book clearly illustrate the angle from which the author approaches his subject. In reference to The Dreams’ first single, he states that it was written for them by "safe, middle-aged favourites, The Tremeloes". In fact, Alan Blakely who wrote ‘I Will See You There’ was 26 in 1968 – hardly middle-aged! Yet, in 1970, Granny’s Intentions’ album ‘Honest Injun’ “showcase the talents of youthful singer Johnny Duhan”. In 1970, Johnny Duhan was only a couple of years younger than the ‘safe, middle-aged’ Alan Blakely!

The author should have embedded a few facts in his head before he started talking to people, some of whom have coloured and biased memories of a bygone era. There were two kinds of bands in ‘60s Ireland and no, I don’t mean beat-groups and showbands – I mean charts cover-bands and bands who mixed originals with lesser-known album tracks and songs from obscure blues and soul artistes. Many of the cover-bands were known as showbands and they played in a nationwide circuit of ballrooms, marquees and dance-halls but there were also scores of smaller cover-bands who played in Tennis Clubs and local halls.
Let’s not forget, the word ‘showband’ was nothing more than a tag. The vast majority of working showbands in the ‘60s were not ignorant hayseeds who thought Dublin began and ended in Croke Park. Yes, they wore suits, usually very smart, tailored suits but so did The Beatles in the early days. The Wheels are pictured on page 113 wearing suits as are The Beau Brummels on page 146 (oh but of course they were ‘cool’ people!). Wearing casual clothes onstage didn’t automatically instill blinding talent in a musician. Neither did filling ones mouth with tomato-ketchup and spitting it over the crowd or having your photo taken with a noose around your neck. That particular photo of The Uptown Band is more immature and irresponsible than avant-garde and mould-breaking.
Some of the former beat-group musicians who were interviewed for this book obviously believe the myth that there was a massive city/country, beat-group/showband divide. But many of them were members of groups that were little more than small showbands themselves! I have heard beat-groups who played a complete programme of covers or ‘interpretations’ of other bands’ work and I have also been in band (a so-called ‘showband’) which belted out Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Eddie Floyd and Arthur Conley soul numbers with punchy brass arrangements. Can the smaller band feel ‘superior’ because they are based in a city and don’t wear suits? Showbands were often based in rural towns and had no choice but to travel because their towns, unlike Dublin and Belfast, simply didn’t have enough venues.
There are references to unscrupulous showband managers buying boot-loads of singles and dumping them ‘in the Bog of Allen’ (of course it had to be a bog) in order to get their records into the charts. Terrible behaviour altogether! But when Strangers' manager Jimmy Dunne bought a cart-load of Strangers’ singles for every jukebox in the country – it was funny and innovative!
The same managers are strongly criticised for ‘stealing’ musicians from beat-groups to form new showbands or to fill positions in others. If the beat-groups had got their own houses in order, joining a showband (and ‘lowering’ oneself to play dreaded ‘covers’) would not have been a financial necessity. Yet when Granny’s Intentions were disintegrating and brought in first Greg Donaghey, later Noel Bridgeman and Pete Cummins, it was seen as progress.
 ‘Tell Her’ by The Movement is eulogised as being ‘one of the beat-scene’s most coruscating and spirited singles’ – hold on Daragh, it was a cover! So were ‘Run Baby Run’ (The Bye-Laws), ‘Look Out, Here Comes Tomorrow’ (The Strangers), ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’ (The Vampires), ‘So Sad’ (The Greenbeats), ‘Lovely Loretta’ (The Others), ‘Walk Like A Man’ (Some People) and ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ (Purple Pussycat) and others. Danny Hughes supposedly recorded 'Hi Ho Silver Lining' but whose voice was it? No, it was the voice of a high-profile beat-group drummer!
But ... ‘Holiday Girl’ (The Newmen), ‘A Knock On The Door’ (The Airchords), ‘Just To See You Smile’ (The Freshmen), ‘Love And The Country’ (The Riviera), ‘Baby I’m Your Man’ (Miami & Dreams), ‘I’d Still Believe In You Baby’ (Stage 2), ‘When I Look Around Me’ (The Times) were all originals written by members of those bands – showbands!
The point I’m trying to make here is that it was NOT a black and white divide. There were good and bad beat-groups just as there were good and bad showbands. I’ve listened to enough ‘crap’ over the years about how all the cool people were in groups and all the buffs were in showbands – it’s simply not true and it’s very disappointing that the author has allowed himself to be led in this way by people whose collective sneering at showbands should have mellowed over the past 40 years.
There are paragraphs, even pages on groups like The Viscounts, The Caravelles (Greenbeats), The Strangers, Bluesville, The Action, The Chosen Few, The Kingbees, The Creatures, The Chessmen, Granny's Intentions, The Movement, The People, Eire Apparent (hardly beat!), The News, Sweeney's Men (a folk group - they have no place here apart from the link with The People), Skid Row, Rootzgroop, The Orange Machine, The Bye-Laws and a section on Northern Beat including Them, The Wheels, The Mad Lads, The Method, Andwella's Dream, Taste and Granny's Intentions.
Musicians and 'heads' such as John Keogh (sometimes I wonder about John's memory!), Shay Healy (hardly a leading light in the beat-scene), Ted Carroll, Brush Shiels, Jonathan Ryan, Terry Brady, Alan Dee, Kevin Dunne, Jimmy Dunne, Ronan Collins, Len Guest, Maxie McEvoy, Deke O'Brien, Ian Whitcomb, Jerry Dennon, Peter Adler, Mick Molloy, Sam Smyth (always plenty to say but was he actually involved at all?), Ian McGarry, Ditch Cassidy, Paul Ashford, Tony Boland, Bobby Kelly, Jay Malone and others are quoted at length. A comprehensive and impressive line-up you might say - until you read on and find that many of their contributions came from old interviews published many years ago in magazines like Spotlight and books and papers by Ian Whitcomb, Jerry Smith, Johnny Rogan, Mark Prendergast, Vince Power and others.
Another point which strikes me about this book is the number of significant groups which are not included. A cursory nod (or not even that in some cases) to Sugarshack (Brian Downey), Chapter 5, The Difference (Paul Keogh), The Deep Set, Grassband, The Gentry, The Intruders, Jangle Dangle, Reform, The Wild Breed, The Pickford Set, Heatwave, The Others, Some People, Beat-Route, The Mousetrap, Zebedee, The Urge, Strange Brew, The Fugitives, Dead Centre, Stop Press, Love Street, Demon Duck, Ned Spoon, Magazine, Judge Joe & The Jury - there are just too many left out.
When writing a book to fill a gaping niche like this one, it's not enough to write a thesis. It's not enough to go to the National Library and copy quotes and paragraphs written many years ago. It's not enough to listen to some 40-year old memories and opinions and not even question them. Though the author did speak at length with many of those involved, there are many others out there who experienced this era and whose memories and views could have been featured.
In my opinion, Part Five which covers the experiences of John Byrne and Declan Mulligan in America could have been left out. Brehon Books appointed an editor, Nicola Keenan, for this book but apart from proof-reading, what exactly did she do? To include those pages at the expense of some of the groups and personalities mentioned earlier was in my opinion, a poor call.
Now to the layout, the photographs and the cover. To be honest, the whole book looks a bit like the annual report from a financial institution. Layout is incredibly unimaginative when compared to the book's British counterpart, 'Beatboom' (Dave McAleer - Hamlyn 1994 - ISBN 0-600-58009 -1). That particular book uses only spot colour throughout but because of it's excellent design and layout, is far more attractive to leaf through). I realise that full colour printing is more expensive than mono (the difference is not nearly as much as it was in the '70s or '80s) but a colourful era like the '60s to be documented totally in black and white is just boring. Most of the photos have over-riding grey tint, something that can be fixed in a few seconds in an application such as Adobe Photoshop. I love the cover photo (The Creatures onstage at The Five Club) but surely they could have stretched their budget a little and included a colour section? One other rather annoying fact is the absence of an index, almost obligatory in a non-fiction book.
And finally, a couple of clangers. Page 13: "The Royal Showband (featuring Brendan Bowyer) was the first to take the plunge in 1962, releasing 'Come Down The Mountain Katy (sic) Daly'". It was Katie Daly and it was the late Tom Dunphy.
Page 123: “Rory (Gallagher) took Eric D’Amery (drums) and Norman Kitteringham (bass) away from the others and formed The Taste”. It was Norman D’Amery and Eric Kitteringham.
Page 128: “Richie McCracken and John Wilson were previously members of a Northern Ireland power-trio called Cheese”. That is true but it would have been fitting to mention that prior to Cheese, they were both members of a showband, Derrick & The Sounds where McCracken played lead guitar, not bass.

It is said that if you can remember the '60s, you weren't there. The author wasn't.

 Francis Kennedy (December 2006).


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