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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.

Clefonaires:

Perhaps 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 Bandshow:

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        

Stylos Showband:

Another 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.

Heartbeats/La Bamba Showband:

Since 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.       

Duggan Brothers:

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 age 56.

Pat Ely:

Also 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.    

Dee Leydon:

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.

Generation Gap:

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 Strangers, 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).  

Jazz Ladds:

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 member). 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.

Stan Burns: 

Another 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 full size.

The O'Donnell's:

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!

Fintan 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 June, 2008.

Marie and the Wildlife:

Formed 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.      

Sandy Duskey/Kelly:

 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 Aquarius 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 Dervish. 

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 ended up. 

Sundown:

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).  

Jargon:

Originally 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: 

When 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 country.   

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 months.

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 www.indiantheband.com.

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, Hyperspace.

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.

Remember When?

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!   

One 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.

 


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