Ask me Sister, I'm Sweatin
January 31st, 2008
It was in a back room in O'Neill's Hotel in Eyre Street in the 1950s that many of us learned to dance. Maybe dance is too fine a word for it.... we would never have done an old time waltz, that was for our parents..... but we did learn to jive. They had a Sunday afternoon disco there for teenagers, it was a shilling to get in, and you could bring some of your own records if you liked. There we jived, oh how we jived. We did not just twirl the girls around, we tried to throw them over our shoulders, and then imitate limbo dancers by leaning back as far as possible while shaking our hips, while our partners desperately tried to hold us from falling on our backsides. We had seen American kids doing this on films like "High School Confidential", "Jailhouse Rock", "The Girl can't help it" and "Rock around the Clock". We thought we were the bees knees. The excitement was intense, and the end result was invariably the same.....clouds of steam rising from our bodies as we cycled home to our mammies. We were sweating, but we were kind of liberated too.
We were too young to realise that the beginnings of the showband era were all around us, but it did not take us long as we grew up to listen to and dance to The Clipper Carlton, The Swingtime Aces, The Capitol, Johnny Flynn, The Big 8, The Royal Showband, The Freshmen etc. These were showbands with highly accomplished musicians and entertainers who played from one end of the country to the other in ballrooms, paraffin oil halls and marquees. They were the superstars of the day in their snazzy suits, releasing their own records and often doing dance routines to their songs, and cover versions of the big hits of the time.
Some of the Galway bands were The Raindrops, Boys 'n Girls, The Philosophers, The West Coasters, Western All-Stars, The Tribes, The Comets, The Cadets and the Crystal .So whether you were in the Astaire or the Hangar, Seapoint or The Eagle, The Talk of the Town or The Corrib Boat Club or The Great Southern, you were in a ballroom of romance with a moving sphere of coloured mirrors which reflected lights, hanging from the centre of the ceiling to 'create the mood'. The ultimate chat up line was "Would you like a mineral"?
It wasn't all romance. The men lined up on one side of the hall and the women on the other. It took courage to walk across the floor and ask a girl to dance. If some fellow beat you to it, you had to quickly change tack and pretend you were going to ask someone else. Some girls would ignore you by looking past you or down at the floor, some would say "I'm holding this dance for someone else" or "Oh look, there's someone calling me" and of course the ultimate put-down "Ask me sister, I'm sweatin". It was a humiliating walk back across the floor on your own.
There was always the comfort of the chip van outside.
All of the atmosphere and magic of that era is brilliantly captured in a recently published book by Jimmy Higgins entitled "Are ye the Band". This wonderful insight into the world of a travelling group of musicians will evoke all kinds of memories for anyone who lived through that time. If you have not yet read it, you have a treat in store, nostalgia in bucketfuls laced with some hilarious stories.
So today we have photographs of three Galway showbands whom we danced to. The first is The Olympic Showband, taken in the Oslo c.1963, whose personnel had played either with the Arabians or The Music Makers. They are, from the left, Kieran Dooley, Jimmy Dooley, Cyril McGann, Christy Dooley, Joe Lally, Cyril Dooley and Tim Colleran.
Our second group was known as The Galway Blazers and they were taken in the early sixties. They are, from the left Christy Donnelly, Ger McLoughlin, Jack Geary, George Herterich, Billy Barrett and Cyril Fullard.
Finally we have The Bermuda dating from about 1970....Noel Donnellan, Andy Fitzpatrick, Benny Donnellan, Frank O'Connor, Eamonn Commins and Mike McMahon. In front is Pat Donnellan who was the manager. Speaking of showbands, did you know that the first words spoken by Nelson Mandela when he was released from jail were "Are the Conquerors still playing in the Quays?"
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