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Live music has played a significant role in both the culture and history of Newry and Mourne.  None more so than the ‘golden age’ of the showband era, which spanned the 1950s, 1960s, and the early 1970s. Before the 1950s the trend was for Ceili performers; this changed with the rising popularity of country and western music, encouraging many performers to change their acts, hence the beginning of the showband era.

The Clippertones pictured in the late 1950s. Back: Jim Bann, Seamus McParland, Luke Bryne and Seamus Mulligan. Front: Brendan Hughes, Angela O’Reilly, Jim Hughes, Mickey Doran and Joe Dean. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The Clippertones pictured in the late 1950s. Back: Jim Bann, Seamus McParland, Luke Bryne and Seamus Mulligan. Front: Brendan Hughes, Angela O’Reilly, Jim Hughes, Mickey Doran and Joe Dean. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

One of the first showbands was the Clipper Carlton, changing from immobile, tuxedo wearing instrumentalists to dancing, snappy suited showmen. They were joined in kicking off the showband era by musician Dave Glover, from Belfast, who set up the Dave Glover Showband.

The Irish National Foresters’ Hall in Hilltown was one of the most popular of the local dance halls that showcased the showbands.  Some of the well-known performers who frequently graced it’s stage included The Clippertones, The Cadets and The Hilton. The Clippertones, in particular, had a huge following due to their popular country and western style.  Originating from Keady, they were led by Jim Hughes and were joined by showmen and women such as Mickey Doran and Angela O’Reilly.

A promotional picture of
A promotional picture of "The Epic" Showband featuring (from left): Peadar Cowan, Gerry Poucher (sax and clarinet), Jim Heatley (lead guitar, who unusually was a left-handed player), Dan Bracken (drummer), Bob McGauley (bass), Marty Mackey (rhythm guitar), Seamus Mulligan (trombone) and Gene Poucher (trumpet). Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Eileen Reid’s Cadets held the record for the biggest audience to attend Hilltown’s INF Hall when they played there on Sunday 16th February 1964.  Eileen Reid was the first female singer to have a number one hit in Ireland with I Gave My Wedding Dress Away.  

The Cadets: The first female showband singer was originally joined by (in no particular order) Pat Murphy, Jas Fagan, Gerry Hayes, Brendan O’Connell, Jimmy Day, Noel McGann and Ian McGarry. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The Cadets: The first female showband singer was originally joined by (in no particular order) Pat Murphy, Jas Fagan, Gerry Hayes, Brendan O’Connell, Jimmy Day, Noel McGann and Ian McGarry. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

The Hilton showband was one of the longest running showbands, playing for over 40 years.  They were formed by Malachy O Neill who had a dream to create a ‘super’ band in the Newry area, frequently playing Hilltown INF.  Three members, Ricky Mc Veigh, Mickey Doran and Tommy Tohill were present from the first night to the last.  The band achieved great success and played alongside international stars such as Clancy Brothers, Van Morrison, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Hendrix and Tom Jones. 

The Hilton showband. In no particular order: Hughie Kimmons, Luke Burke, Gerry Black, Ricky McVeigh, John Hughes, Tommy Tohill, Patricia Gratton and Mickey Doran on his famous 1956 Fender Stratocaster, an instrument which former Hilltown INF performer and blues legend Rory Gallagher was said to have coveted.  Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
The Hilton showband. In no particular order: Hughie Kimmons, Luke Burke, Gerry Black, Ricky McVeigh, John Hughes, Tommy Tohill, Patricia Gratton and Mickey Doran on his famous 1956 Fender Stratocaster, an instrument which former Hilltown INF performer and blues legend Rory Gallagher was said to have coveted. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Another successful band in Newry was The Epic.  Formed in 1965 from members of bands which had split up, this band included Peadar Cowan from the Soundtracks, Dan Brecken, Jim Heatley and Marty Mackey, while most of the rhythm section came straight from the Royals group. Also included was Bob McGauley, Seamus Mulligan, plus brothers Gene and Gerry Poucher.  Gerry Poucher once colourfully told a pre-fame Rod Stewart to “go away” when he wouldn’t stop requesting Mellow Yellow! 

Publicity postcard from the 1960s promoting the Miami Showband. featuring Joe Tyrell, Clem Quinn, Dickie Rock, Martin Phelan, Tommy O'Rourke, Tony Bogan, Murty Quinn and Denis Murray. The Miami Showband was attacked during The Troubles at Bushkill, near Newry, in July
Publicity postcard from the 1960s promoting the Miami Showband. featuring Joe Tyrell, Clem Quinn, Dickie Rock, Martin Phelan, Tommy O'Rourke, Tony Bogan, Murty Quinn and Denis Murray.

The Atlantiis showband comprised members from Bessbrook, Warrenpoint and Whitecross.  Beginning as Des and the Countryboys, they merged to form The Atlantis.  Members included Jim Heatley, Dominic Donnelly, Martin Markey, Kevin ‘Blue’ McCamley and Chris Murphy.  They changed their name again to become The Debonaires.  The played Hilltown INF in 1960 and 1968.

The early 1970s saw the end of the popularity of the showbands as musical tastes changed and the free entertainment provided by the lounge–bar scene of the 1970s drew audiences away from the music provided by showbands. However, they nurtured the talents of many young musicians and remain an important part of the musical heritage of the area.  

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Noelle Murtagh

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