Belfast Telegraph

‘There’s more to Miami musical than the massacre’... showband’s stirring story hits the stage

From left: Marie Jones, Gavin Peden, Aileen Mythen, Des Lee, Chris Mohan, Ray Miller, George Jones, Muriel Day and Martin Lynch at the launch of The Miami Showband Story, outside the Grand Opera House in Belfast
From left: Marie Jones, Gavin Peden, Aileen Mythen, Des Lee, Chris Mohan, Ray Miller, George Jones, Muriel Day and Martin Lynch at the launch of The Miami Showband Story, outside the Grand Opera House in Belfast
Claire McNeilly

By Claire McNeilly

A new musical about the Miami Showband has been launched at the Grand Opera House in Belfast by two of its original stars.

The Miami Showband Story, written by local playwrights Marie Jones and Martin Lynch, promises theatre-goers a roller-coaster ride from the glory days of the 1960s right through to the tragedy of 1975.

Told through the eyes of best friends and song-writing duo Fran O'Toole and Des Lee, nationwide audiences will witness their rise from Dublin and Belfast beat groups to the kind of fame and fortune any young musician can only dream of.

But less than 10 years later, it ends in tragedy when Fran is murdered at a bogus Army checkpoint outside Newry, along with two other band members, Brian McCoy and Tony Geraghty.

Beset with survivor's guilt, saxophonist and singer Des - who was at yesterday's launch - found himself turning to alcohol as his life went into meltdown and he eventually left Northern Ireland for South Africa.

Relocation doesn't, however, stop Fran's 'presence' from continuing to haunt Des and it isn't until 25 years later, when a phone call from Ireland proposes a Miami reunion, that Des gets offered a chance of redemption.

Original band member Des told the Belfast Telegraph that he found the script "hard-hitting at times" adding that "there's joy as well as laughter as well as tears".

"We were known as the Irish Beatles; you don't get any better than that," the 72-year-old Andersonstown native said.

Des also revealed that he told the show's producers he should be played by actor and heartthrob Brad Pitt.

He added: "It's about keeping the Miami name alive, including those who died. People have to know the real story and the real story can be quite painful at times.

"Most people unfortunately relate the Miami to the massacre, which is unfortunate because there's more to the Miami than that, but the tragedy has to be part of the story, obviously."

He added: "As a young boy I used to walk past the Opera House and see names up in lights like The Beach Boys, Tom Jones and Lulu, never knowing that one day I would actually stand on that stage in the Opera House in Belfast, which I did, and I'm so proud of the fact I've come this far in my life.

"To think that a little boy from Andy Town was standing on the same stage as Tom Jones!"

Fellow Miami drummer Ray Millar, from Antrim, said the production was "a wonderful thing, especially for the people of Northern Ireland who followed the band for years".

Playwright Marie Jones said the showbands were a "phenomenon" that brought people out of their own segregated areas, particularly in Belfast.

"It's a big story about that era when the showbands brought people out - there were thousands of people out dancing on a Saturday night and that's when inter-marriages started happening as well," she said.

Co-writer Martin Lynch, who previously worked with Marie on the smash hit musical Dancing Shoes - The George Best Story, said Des approached him two years ago because he wanted the whole story of The Miami Showband to be told - not just the massacre.

"I think we've dealt with the tragedy quite beautifully and artistically; we've found a way of doing it that won't be in your face," he said.

Also there yesterday were three of the actor/musicians who will bring the Miami story to life, including Chris Mohan, who plays the legendary Dickie Rock.

It opens at GOH on August 8.

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