As Featured in The Sligo Weekender....
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Every town in Ireland has bands and groups that play the pubs and local dances and rarely get any recognition outside the local area. However, many of the musicians that come through the local ranks end up being "stars" on the national and even international scene. We want to pay tribute to those Sligo based bands and
musicians who have influenced us, or entertained the people of Sligo and thank them for their contributions! If you know of any musicians or bands that should be included here, please email us with names, stories or photos and we will gladly add them!
Some Local bands come and go fairly quickly sometimes and even have
multiple names, depending on the gig, so it can be hard to provide accurate information on the bands and their members. Other bands, though, stay together and play for years and years with only occasional changes in the lineups. We will try to list as many bands as we can, based on our experience and the information we have on hand.
My recollection of bands in Sligo started in 1970 while I
was a student at Summerhill College. Hops at the college and Mercy and Ursuline
convents featured acts like The Pink Band, The Generation Gap,
The Lincoln Express, and The Duggan Brothers, among others.
Unfortunately, being under age, I didn't frequent the pubs much back then.
Perhaps someone who did could send me an email and let me know more about the pub
groups of the period.
the first showband from Sligo, and definitely the most famous 60's band were the
Clefonaires. Since starting this page, I have learned more about them and now
feature them up front. A recent email from the band's manager, Louis Chapman,
told me their story:
The members of the band were: Carl Neilsen (RIP-trumpet),
Mickey Brennan (trombone), Paraic Potter (sax/clarinet), Noel Morrison (bass),
Roddy Gillen (guitar/banjo), Frankie Brennan (Vocals), and Dominic Smyth
(drums). "The band was formed around 1960 and made
up by the bringing together of Gillen, Smyth and Morrison from the Savoy Swing
Seven and the rest of the guys were part of the original Clefonaires from
Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo. The new Clefonaires went professional and changed the
name to the Clefs. The band was very successful North and South of the border
and also toured in England and Denmark." My thanks to Louis, who also used to
book the bands in the Silver Slipper Ballroom for Sean Byrne.
St. Mary's Ceili
In the early 1960's this band was
formed by students from St. Mary's National School. The one constant
in the band would be Tommy Higgins, bandleader and compere who
played accordion and drums. The first incarnation of the band (shown
at right in 1965) included Andy Healy (then 17 on harmonica,
accordion and guitar), Padraig McManus (then 16 on sax, clarinet and
piccolo), John Bray (then 15 on drums), Ray Wickham (the old man of
the group was 19 and played guitar) and finally Tommy who was 18.
The band got their start when they
were asked in June of 1964 to play a five hour dance session in the
Hangar Ballroom in Salthill, Galway. Their success there prompted
them to go for the bright lights of Dublin and after an audition
with Ray Allen, owner of the famous Irish Club, they landed a gig in
the nation's capitol. The band went from strength to strength and in
1966 they made the decision which faced all bands in Ireland,
whether or not to turn pro. Doing so created havoc with the band's
original lineup. The only remaining members were Tommy, Andy Healy
who switched to organ and Padraig McManus remained. The band added
newcomers Bernie Fallon (drums), Sam Devins (guitar), and Padraig
Fox (guitar) and struck out on the pro circuit up against the likes
of the Royal Showband and Miami. A couple of years later, the band
would call it quits as Tommy and Bernie teamed with singer Pat Ely
in the Smokey Mountain Ramblers
band I have become aware of (only after starting this page) was the
Stylos Showband, which was on the go in the late 60's in Sligo Town.
The band was formed by Frank Clancy (guitar), Aiden Kerins (bass)
and Billy Kelly (drums). They added Tony O'Donnell from St. Mary's
Ceili band (guitar) and Michael Moran on vocals. When Michael headed
off to Dublin, he was replaced by Liam Verdon and the band added
Stan Burns and Paul McManus on sax. The band featured all the best young talent in Sligo at the time,
most of whom would go on to join other showbands. Francie Lenehan
played lead guitar and would go on to play with American Pie, Twink
and the Cotton Mill Boys, among others. Drummer Billy Kelly would
play with Francie in Pie and Southern Comfort for many years. Aidan Kerins who would go on to Ballina's Tom
Kelly Sound (which would become Gary Street and the Fairways). Paul
McManus handled sax and would later go on to join the Chessmen, as
well as Sandy Duskey's first band, Easy Listenin' for a while on
drums. Stan Burns also played with the Jack Ruane Band and Capitol
Showband, while Francie Middleton played trumpet and would later join The
Plainsmen. Frank Clancy played rhythm guitar and would go to Tuam
where he would join Gerry and the Ohio, as well as play with Gerry
Gallagher in Magic and the Magic Band in the mid 70's. Finally, Jim
Verdon handled lead vocals.
returning to live in Sligo I have had a chance to catch up with many
of my old musician friends and in the process have learned of one
important link in the chain of Sligo bands that I left out. That was
the La Bamba Showband which was on the road in the late
sixties. Originally known as the Heartbeats, the band
featured Michael Gilmartin (vocals), Michael "Rip" Carty (lead
guitar), Tommy Conlon (drums), Seamus Foy (guitar), Noel McGowan
(sax), Ken Keane (sax) and Joe McDonagh (bass). In 1967, the band
had a change of name to the La Bamba Showband and Ken Keane
left (later to become a photographer) and he was replaced by Paul
McManus who also played with the Stylos and the Chessmen.
Eventually the band went their separate ways with Tommy and Joe
ending up with Dee Leydon's Lincoln Express. Michael went
back to the local scene with The Foremost, and Paul McManus
joined the Chessmen. Tommy and Rip (30 years later) were
still playing together in The Showband Boys until Tommy gave
it up around 2009.
It was the Duggans I remember best. The
brothers started playing together in the mid 1960's when they were still in
National School. By 1971, they were a four piece band on the go and polished while I was still at Summerhill. They regularly played
at the College and were one of the very few "pop" bands in town which differentiated them from the sea of three and four piece pub groups that played mostly country, ballads, and standards. The photo at the right was taken, I think, when they became Brotherly Love, and signed
with entrepreneurial manager, Louis Walsh, who has since gained international fame guiding the fortunes of groups like Boyzone, B*Witched, and Johnny Logan. The brothers (left to right) Gerry, Joss, Vinnie, and Ian, played pop music, but were
so special because of their close vocal harmonies. Their set featured songs by
Crosby, Stills, and Nash and other material rarely heard on the local scene at the time.
The boys were the resident relief band in the now demolished Silver Slipper Ballroom
in Strandhill. In early 1973, the band hooked up with Louis Walsh, changed their name, and struck out on the national ballroom circuit.
They were replaced in the Silver Slipper by Aquarius. Although I'm not sure when they finally quit, I know that they were still active in 1979 and managed by Ballina's Tom Kelly for a
time. In 1974, they changed their name to Family Band for a short time as there was
another band in England already using the name, Brotherly Love. The
brothers finally packed it in around 1980-1 when the scene was fading and they
all had lucrative careers. I
understand from Ian that he and Joss have recently hit the road locally after a 20 year
break as a two piece called Take 2. Guided well by their father, who I
remember always being with them, the boys all had good day jobs and all still
work and live in Sligo. Sadly, Gerry Duggan passed away on 13th September, 2008
in the early 70's, another Sligo based band was already enjoying national
success, Pat Ely and the Rocky Tops. Originally, Pat and the boys were
part of the famous 60's band The Smokey Mountain Ramblers, who had enjoyed wide
success in the heyday of the showbands. However in the early 1970's Pat, along
with local musicians Tommy Higgins and Bernie Fallon, and fiddler George Kaye
formed the core of the Rocky Tops (and Smokies). Part of the Top Rank organization, Pat and
the boys had a string of hit records including Delta Dawn and The
Shores of Lough Brann. After packing in the fulltime band, Pat went into the
record business, representing labels like Homespun in the Northwest. Over the
years, though, he has teamed up with a variety of local musicians (usually
including Francie Lenehan) performing as the Rocky Tops. Tommy Higgins
started Star Records in the late 1970's and now runs Ticketmaster's European
operation, even though he still lives in Sligo.
Bernie continued to perform locally with late John McLaughlin, but has since
retired from the music scene.
Around the same time, Sligo's other force in country music was The Lincoln Express. Front man Dee Leydon was a local favorite
and at one time had a band called the Pharoahs. For a short time, the "Express" were as close to a
bona fide showband as you could come. The band played dinner dances,
halls, and cabaret spots and in late
October, 1973, they took a major step when Paddy Smith took over management of
the band and they changed the lineup and the band's name to
The Powermen and headed off to
tour the ballroom circuit. They released the single, The Best Is Yet To Come,
and over the next year, they undertook three toours of the UK. The original lineup was: Tony O'Donnell (guitar), Joe McDonagh (bass), Phillip Lynch (drums), Garret O'Dowd (trumpet), John Collins (sax), and, of course, Dee on vocals.
However, before heading to England, Tony O'Donnell dropped out and was replaced
by Seamie McLaughlin on guitar. The picture at the right
includes (L to R:) Dee, Gerry Feeney, Vinnie Summers, Tony O'Donnell, Joe McDonagh, Tommy Conlon, and Sean Scanlon.
The band's third tour of England ended up with their
break up. Dee, Philip and Seamie remained in England for a time, while the other lads returned home.
Dee went on to join Pat Noland's Big Band fort about a year before returning to
Sligo when he formed a local band called Stardust.
Francie & John Lenehan:
The first I ever heard in Sligo was
The Pink Band, one of several
local bands that have served to highlight Francie Lenehan's virtuoso guitar playing. The band played heavy rock, and I distinctly remember a version of American Woman they played in The Mercy Convent in 1970. Other than
Francie, I'm not 100% sure who else was in the band, but I think Billy Kelly was on drums.
Francie started his career in the late 60's when he played with the
Stylos Showband. In the early 70's, Francie, brother John Lenehan and
fellow member of the Stylos, Billy Kelly, joined Ronnie Griffiths' newly formed band,
American Pie. The band played country and toured extensively.
In 1974, the three Sligo members of American Pie quit, returned home and formed
the long standing trio, Southern Comfort. They changed their name to
Turning Point for a time, but soon switched back to Southern Comfort. Billy, Francie
and John played together until Billy emigrated to the United States in the early
1980's. Afterwards, John played solo gigs, while Francie would lend his talents to a variety of bands such as The Twink
Band, Cotton Mill Boys, The Hennigan Blooze Band and Chris
Meehan's Redneck Friends.
Another local pop band in the early seventies was The Generation Gap. The Gap featured singer, Frankie Langan, out front, as well as
eventual Lincoln Express member, Seamie McLaughlin on guitar. Rounding out the group was Noel "Flukey" Gorman
on drums, and Vinnie Middleton on guitar. Besides the Duggan's, the Gap
was the "other" pop band in Sligo at the time. However, they broke up when Seamie McLaughlin left to join Dee Leydon. Vinnie formed the Melotones (I think)
and Flukie went on to play with every band that ever existed in Sligo. In a
recent letter, Frankie told me he was singing again around town.
Other bands that played the pub scene in 1974 included The Relations, Bill
Quinn & Mick O'Hanlon,
Dave & The Friends (featuring the late Dave Gordon) , Des and the
The Melotones, The Allegros, The Foremost, The Rustlers,
The Rafters, and Marie and the Wild Life (featuring Joe and Marie
Scanlon with Whitey Conlon on drums most of the time).
Back around this time
(1970-71), a band called The Ladds (who took the name, The Jazz
Ladds on a Thursday night) were the resident cabaret band in the lounge before
the dances in the Silver Slipper Ballroom in Strandhill. Back then, the band was Padraic Potter, Denis Phelan, and Mickey Brennan.
Padraic and Mickey had been involved with the showband scene for some time, having both been
with Tubbercurry's Clefonaires Showband and I believe, after that they
both played with Jack Ruane's band (as did Stan Burns). Additionally, Padraic
a long spell with the Ohio Showband based in Tuam and Mickey with the Victors
Showband. Through the years, the Jazz Ladds have
been a evolving group. The band has undergone many changes, but still plays today, making it one of the longest running bands
in the region. They
have a website at www.jazzladds.com. Only Padraic remains from the original
group (although Carl Neilsen, who recently passed away had also been a long time
Denis also sits in with the bands on a regular basis and Mickey rejoined when
Carl fell ill. Today, The Jazz Ladds include Roddy Gillen, Padraic Potter, Eddie
McFarlane, Robert Burnside, and Mickey Brennan (after the death of Carl Neilsen
in June, 2011). They still play a regular Sunday
afternoon jazz session in The Harp Tavern.
musician with a long history on the local scene is Stan Burns. Stan plays sax
and has been involved with several local groups as well as the showband scene.
Stan was with the last lineup of the famous Capitol Showband, just before Paddy
Cole left to join the Big Eight in the early 70's. He
has also played with The Jazz Ladds off and on, and had his own group called
Katch in the 1980's. I also came across a photo of the Jack Ruane Showband of Ballina
recently and was surprised to see Stan in the picture. Stan has also made a name
for himself on the International scene as one of Sligo's biggest names in
surfing from his home in Strandhill, and he featured prominently as a member of
the Sligo All Stars basketball team in the 1970's.
Click here or on Stan's photo at left to see it
The town's "other" musical family in the 1970's were the O'Donnell
brothers. Oldest brother, Tony, was with
The Powermen, while siblings Liam and Michael O'Donnell were also in
local bands. Michael was in The Students with Gerry Feeney and both brothers joined with Henry McGlade and Linda Marshall in
Tangents in the early 1970's. Tangents broke up with Henry and Linda joining Gerry Gallagher and Patrick Phillips in
Aquarius. Liam and Michael recruited brother Joe, on bass and formed Trinity. The band took over relief from
Aquarius in The Silver Slipper Ballroom in September, 1973, and when Tony came back after his stint with
The Powermen, he joined his brothers to become Family Unit. I am
pretty sure that at one point their sister also played with the band. If
anyone knows of one, I'd love to have a photo!
Stanley and Maisie McDaniel
Also back in the early seventies, local couple Fintan
Stanley and Maisie McDaniel could be heard playing all around town. Fintan was
known as one of the finest accordion players in Ireland in the heyday of the Ceili bands, whose numbers also included such luminaries as Richie Fitzgerald
and Dermot O'Brien among their ranks. Fintan was a player of near legendary
status. He also spent a lot of years in the United States. Maisie was one of Ireland's
best loved female
vocalists of the 1960's. She was tapped to front the Nevada Showband at
one point, but was injured in a car accident shortly after and retired frfom the
showband scene. She also had her band, The Fendermen and had several hit
records in the 60's. John Conlon recently sent us copies of his Maisie McDaniel fan
club membership card from 1963. Click here to go
to the photos page to view them. Sadly, Maisie passed away on the 29th of
Marie and the Wildlife:
in the early 1970's, Marie and her husband, Joe Scanlon, have been entertaining
locals for over 40 years. The band started in Sligo's famous
Blue Lagoon lounge and played regularly in the venue, sometimes as many as three or
four nights a week. The band has featured several drummers over its history
including Dick Lynott, Whitey Conlon, and Flukey Gorman among others. The band
steadily grew its reputation and eventually started playing more venues,
including dinner dances and local concerts. The band is still
on the road today, with Marie and Joe providing the same top notched
entertainment for the people of Sligo and the surrounding area. They normally
appear with Donal Cannan on bass and Sean Scanlon on drums. Sean was the
original drummer in Sandy Duskey's Easy Listenin' in 1974 and played for over 12
year with Pausie Fox in the Allegros. They regularly
play in venues like The Irish House in O'Connell Street and TD's in Sligo.
In early 1973, a new talent came to Sligo. Philomena Ellis moved from Wales back to her native Ballintogher. She quickly formed a new band call
Easy Listenin' and took the
stage name, Sandy Duskey. The initial lineup included Gerry Feeney on keyboards, Gerry Gallagher
on bass and vocals and Ballisodare drummer, Sean Savage. After several months, Sandy was snapped up by the Ballina-based Gary Street and the
Fairways showband and left the local scene. Dick Lynott and James Blennerhassett joined Gerry Gallagher and played on as both
and Easy Listenin'. Gerry Feeney joined Bundoran based Stampede, who were formerly
known as The Quarrymen and featured Sean Gallagher. Sandy would go on to
lead the Fairways with her sister, Barbara and cousin Marian as The Duskey
Sisters after the departure of Gary Street. The sisters represented Ireland in
the Eurovision song contest. In the mid 80's Sandy took her married name, Sandy
Kelly and started a new career as a country singer, which proved very
successful. Teaming up with such luminaries as Johnny Cash and George Hamilton
IV, she has had a very long and successful career including a run on the London
stage as Patsy Cline. She currently is touring with the Ronan Collins Showband
Show and with her own Patsy Cline show.
Thom Moore/Rick Epping:
On the Folk
scene, American's Thom and Cathy Moore, along with Rick and Sandi Epping, arrived in Sligo and formed the incredibly
successful folk group, Pumpkinhead. Their debut album, Pumpkinhead, and subsequent album
under the name Midnight Well, were both well received and brought Thom Moore's
songwriting skills to the fore, conquering the Irish folk and cabaret circuit
until they returned to the United States. Thom returned to the United States, and I bumped
into him on the campus of the University of California, Irvine playing his his band Train
to Sligo in 1978. Eventually he went to Russia where he taught
English, but recently returned to Ireland where he continues to play, teach, and
write and record new music. Rick has remained in Ireland and became one of the
premier trad musicians in the country. Up until recently he was playing a regular
Monday night session in the Strand Bar with Seamie O'Dowd and Cathy Jordan of
Another folk act, Geantrai, was a major local attraction for some time in
the early 70's. The group were made up of Dick Snocks, Kevin and Philip Flynn,
Nicola Ryan (who worked as a reporter at The Sligo Champion), Steve Scanlon and Tommy Grennan. The Flynns, of course, went on to fame producing the Boys of
Ballisodare Festivals for a time, but I'm not sure where the rest of the group
Following the departure of Sandy Duskey from Easy Listenin,'
the band continued to play as a trio with James Blennerhassett, Dick Lynott and
myself. James left and was eventually replaced by Joe Foley. The band played
through the summer of 1974 and then broke up in September when I joined the
Magic Band in Glaway. We came back together again in mid 1975 and 1976 and played as both Sundown and Aquarius (usually for
dances in the Rugby Club). Joe and Dick played with many other bands around town including the
Heartbeats, Staganua, Dave & The Friends (featuring the late Dave Gordon), the Jazz Ladds,
and others. When I returned to the States in mid 1976, the boys joined with Dave
Gordon and carried on the name Sundown. Joe currently plays with The
Showband Boys which also features Michael "Rip" Carty and Noel
Stewart (formerly of the Relations).
from Donegal, Charlie McGettigan was living in Drumshanbo and
started playing at folk and ballad sessions around the Northwest.
Together with Eamon Daly, they formed Jargon and continued to play
at as many sessions as they could. Around 1978, the boys added
mandolin player Brendan Emmett to the group and became a three
piece. Around 1979, Eamon left as the band was starting to travel
a lot and he was still focused on his career as a teacher. Gerry
Grennan from Sligo joined the band and they were leaning more and
more towards bluegrass in addition to folk. The final piece to the
puzzle was Liam Gilmartin who was added around 1981 and the band was
now a quartet. They released several records and had two hits on the
Irish charts, "Baileboro and Me" (1983) and "Hey Mr. Dreamer" in
1984. The band drifted apart in 1985 with Liam and Gerry joining the
Hennigan's Blooze Band. Charlie, of course, went on to win
Eurovision with Paul Harrington and the Brendan Graham's
composition, "Rock n Roll Kids." He continues to record and tour as
a solo artist. Brendan continues to be one of the top folk and trad
musicians in the Northwest. All four musicians are still very active
on the local and national scene.
The Late Seventies:
I returned to Sligo in 1978, I enlisted the help of Dick and Joe and we
formed Kim Newport and California. Within a few months, we added Seamie
McGowan, who had been playing with Southern Comfort. We were managed by Tom
Kelly, who was also managing Sandy Duskey and the Fairways at the time. Eventually,
we changed our name to The Kim Newport Band and started playing up and down the
Soon after, Sandy added sister, Barbara and cousin, Marian
(Nina), to the band and dropped the Fairways name to become the "Duskey Sisters," moving the band's base from Ballina to Sligo.
In 1979, we dropped the name California and became the
Kim Newport Band, and
made some progress nationally, appearing on RTE many times. Eventually James Blennerhassett would replace Joe Foley in the band,
but left after six
During this time, a familiar local face, Pat Ely, often played
in the area as Pat Ely and the Rocky Tops, which was usually made up of Francie
Lenehan and several other local musicians, including myself on several occasions. Although
Brotherly Love was still on
the road, they were also focusing on their careers away from the music scene and
disbanded shortly after.
The Eighties and Rock:
Several new bands also made their first appearance in the
early 80's including Those Nervous Animals (TNA) and Reverb. TNA
featured Barry Brennan, Eddie Lee, Padraig Meehan, and Christy
Behan (I think). Eddie and Padraig supplied
much of the musical direction for the band. I was fortunate enough to be
involved with the band and helped them record their first demos, several years
before they released their only album (see below).
At almost the same time, Martin Harte and Joe Hunt were forming Reverb and still play together in Indian, after over 20 years and
several name and lineup changes. Link to
The mid 80's brought more changes. The Kim Newport Band
disbanded in 1983, Kim and I returning to the United States. Sandy Duskey
changed to her married name, Sandy Kelly, and became a major country artist,
teaming up with the late Johnny Cash and more recently George Hamilton IV. Sligo's rock
scene also came into it's own during this period. Seamie McGowan joined Those
Nervous Animals from the Kim Newport Band and in the mid 80's, TNA enjoyed
national success releasing a couple singles and an LP,
Another ex Kim Newport member, James Blennerhassett, joined
up with Francie Lenehan and Liam Gilmartin of Jargon to form The Hennigan's Blooze Band,
and had some national success
with their self penned single, Don't Slow Down in 1986. They
released several singles and made numerous TV appearances during a five year
stint in the mid 80's.
No history of Sligo bands in the 70's and 80's would be
complete without a mention of Noel "Flukey" Gorman. Flukey, a drummer of
undeniable talent, has played with just about every band mentioned above. Never
one to stay long though, Flukey has provided solid backing for Sligo based bands
since he first came on the scene in the early seventies. During the late 00's Flukey
played with Seamie McLaughlin's group, the Treetops,
which also featured former member of the Relations, John Fowley, but the band disbanded in 2009, after 15 years on the road
and Flukey now plays with the Jazz Ladds occasionally and the Quay Street Band.
Anyone who stood in the old Baymount in Strandhill on March
13, 1979 realized that Eric was in bad shape. Probably in the height of his drug
and alcohol days, Eric stumbled through his set, often handing off his classic lead guitar riffs
to legendary country guitarist, Albert Lee. It is hard to believe that, given his
state on the night, the guitar legend would outlast the hall in which he was
performing. Alas, Eric is here and the Baymount is gone!
of our own
The poster, left, comes from a fundraising effort to send
Mickey Nielsen, one of Sligo's finest musicians, off to the United States to
study at the world famous Berklee College of Music in 1983. Guitarist Mickey,
son of former Clefonaire and Jazz Ladd, the late Carl Nielsen
(RIP), also appeared on several RTE
television shows around this same time. The star-studded concert featured a
"who's who" of local talent including Jargon, Thom Moore and Janie Cribbs
of Midnight Well (formerly Pumpkinhead), Kim Newport, Donal McLynn, and the
Jazz Ladds (of course),
among others. Click on the thumbnail of the poster to see it full size.
More to come.....
For a full list of Sligo
based bands, click here.