Belfast Telegraph

Hugo Duncan: 'Nathan mania takes me back to golden era of showbands'

By Hugo Duncan

Those of us who were privileged to be part of the showband boom, either as performers or fans, will have warm memories of what is still regarded as one of the most exciting eras in Irish entertainment.

It was during the 1960s and 1970s that Ireland swung, rather than rocked, to the big, brassy sound of the hundreds of bands - yes, you read that correctly - which criss-crossed the country every week.

My hero then was the late Joe Dolan, a singer I always held in the highest regard. Mind you, I had great time for the likes of Dickie Rock, Brendan Shine and Brian Coll too, but Joe was my number one man.

He was taken from us all too soon, yet he left a rich legacy and he set standards to which others sought to aspire.

It is worth remembering, of course, that in those days even modest, lesser-known bands were attracting big crowds - simply because dancing was the only show in town.

And what's more, it was not just a weekend undertaking. Dances were held every night of the week in different venues throughout the country and huge crowds were the order of the day - or should that be the night?

Perhaps one of the best summations of the phenomenal interest in dancing then was provided by Peter Smith, who was a member of Larry Cunningham and the Mighty Avons before becoming one of the most illustrious managers the entertainment business here has known.

Peter was never short of a quip and, when he was asked a question by someone at the start of what was then a phenomenally hectic summer of dancing for Larry and the boys, he famously replied: "Look, we haven't seen floorboards since Christmas."

The memories of that golden period came flooding back to me the other day as I watched people actually queue up to have their photos taken beside Nathan Carter's state-of-the-art wagon, which looks big enough to carry the BBC Orchestra!

Nathan had just arrived back after a week-long tour of Germany, where he received rave receptions wherever he played and he was greeted here as if he had been away for much longer than that.

He will head for the United States shortly, but in the meantime the young star will fulfil more dates here in the wake of his stunningly successful concert at the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle last week.

It was there that I witnessed the mania which was so prevalent back in those days of the 1960s and 1970s, with people of all age-groups clamouring to shake Nathan's hand and have their photograph taken with him.

Many of us never believed that there would be a return to what we felt was a one-off golden era, but Nathan, assisted by the likes of Derek Ryan, Jimmy Buckley, Michael English and Mike Denver, has changed perceptions in that respect.

The massive crowds that have flocked to festivals to date this summer provide further proof that the good times are rolling again and that people are prepared to come out and lap up a feast of good old country music.

We have all heard it said that time changes everything and yet what is currently taking place, if on a somewhat lesser scale, is a throwback to the days when showbands reigned supreme and dance venues dotted the landscape.

Nathan Carter, slim and trim following his recent strenuous sessions in the gym in Enniskillen, is continually challenging himself to conquer new horizons and, in the process, he is setting the benchmark for other artistes.

Just, indeed, as Joe Dolan did all those years ago.

John the Main man as Tom's boys take to road again

When Big Tom passed away recently we all thought that this would signal the end of his band, The Mainliners.

Founded in the early 1960s and coming up trumps with their massive hit Gentle Mother in 1965, Big Tom and The Mainliners have long secured a special niche in Irish entertainment history.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the distinctive Mainliners' dancing beat is not gone, as we thought.

Instead, popular Crossmaglen singer John Glenn, who formerly fronted The Travellers and then The Wranglers, has been drafted in, the other familiar faces are there and the band is now back on the road and playing to capacity crowds.

The band's distinctive sound has been retained, thus ensuring that it continues to live up to its long-held reputation as "the band with the magic beat for dancing feet".

Band leader Henry McMahon has been there from day one and reports that the members are displaying the same level of enthusiasm they showed in the 1960s and 1970s, as they continue to log up miles and entertain a fresh generation of followers, as well as rekindling memories for their more long-serving supporters.

Henry, who also guides the fortunes of the popular Gerry Guthrie Band, confirms that the band's return to active duty followed requests from many sources.

"We are delighted to be back on the road again and we are looking forward to seeing old, familiar faces at our dances and winning over new fans," says Henry.

John Glenn's experience, polished vocals and easy-going personality help to underpin the band's repertoire and the welcome mat will certainly be out when they appear at the Ryandale Hotel, Moy, tomorrow night.

It will prove a trip down memory lane for some patrons there - and a whole new experience for others.

Catch Kathy and Brendan with yours truly in Fermanagh show

Brendan Shine has become something of an institution in Irish entertainment circles.

Over 30 years have elapsed since he had tremendous success with songs such as Do You Want Your Old Lobby Washed Down? and Catch Me If You Can.

In more recent times, Where Did You Meet Her? has kept him very much in the public eye and, right now, Brendan is creating a new wave of excitement with his latest release, I'm Not The Only Cowboy In The West.

It's a typical, bouncy Brendan number that is calculated to set feet tapping and it is certainly helping to keep the Roscommon singer in the limelight.

Brendan, who enjoyed phenomenal success in England during the peak of his career, will be one of the artistes on my BBC Radio Ulster outside broadcast from Ederney, Co Fermanagh next Friday, August 10.

I'm looking forward to reminiscing with him and sharing a few old memories. Brendan is known for his anecdotes and I'm sure he will regale us all with blasts from the past.

Derek Ryan, Frank McCaffrey and Kathy Durkin are other singers who will also be on the stage for what promises to be a country music spectacular.

Derek, of course, is still as busy as ever, while Frank is like good wine - he just seems to improve with age - and is always in demand for concerts and cabaret shows.

And while Kathy Durkin may have exited the dancing scene some time ago, she has carved out a very successful career as a solo singer.

Kathy, of course, had a big hit with Working Man several years ago and still retains her bubbly stage personality.

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