Sunday, 22nd July 2018
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I was always music mad!

As a child, I learned how to play the tin whistle in primary school and as I progressed I loved to figure out the notes needed to play a hit song from the radio.

Music relaxed and excited me and my biggest musical influence was the music of the sixties.

At thirteen years old, in 1965, I got the greatest part-time job ever! I worked that summer in the Atlantic Ballroom in Tramore which was attracting the best showbands in Ireland and I saw most of them.

I was working behind the mineral-bar counter, serving patrons with soft drinks, sandwiches and ice-cream sundaes, (ok, I was really a bottle boy!). At the end of the night I brought home any left-over sandwiches, usually soggy tomato ones. The first band I witnessed was The Cadets showband, all dressed in military-style uniforms and lead singer Eileen Reid displayed her trademark beehive hair-do.

Another night, Dickie Rock and the Miami Showband drew huge crowds, to my young ears I was surprised that a section of the crowd was exhorting Dickie to spit on them.

The highlight of the season was the much-anticipated arrival of Waterford"s, The Royal Showband with Brendan Bowyer. Long queues formed outside and soon the place was packed to the rafters. Earlier, a support band built the atmosphere and excitement up to fever pitch and then, Ireland"s greatest showband began playing live in their native county.

I deserted my post and pushed my way through the crowd to get as near as I could to the stage. As they played

The Hucklebuck, their number one hit song, I could not help my feet tapping and I started to dance along, on my own! Over eighteen-year-olds only were admitted inside the ballroom, so I was the youngest dancer on the floor, by a mile. Joe Dolan never made it to Tramore that summer.

As I got older my interest in music continued and I started to attend dances in the Olympia Ballroom in Parnell Street, Waterford. In 1968 the venue was promoting some chart-topping groups from the UK, like The Tremeloes, Amen Corner, Manfred Mann, The Move and Geno Washington"s Ram Jam band.

Top Irish bands also played in the Olympia including The Plattermen, The Freshmen and Skid Row.

The Freshmen were like a Beach Boys tribute band, musically tight, with fantastic harmonies. The Plattermens" lead singer, Rob Strong, had a very soulful voice and the band did a fantastic cover of a song by Blood Sweat & Tears called Spinning Wheel. Rob"s son, Andrew, went on to public acclaim, many years later, with a leading role in The Commitments movie. Skid Row"s claim to fame is that they launched the career of Thin Lizzie"s, Phil Lynott.

Still there was no sign of Joe Dolan!

Showband members often described themselves as being “on the road”, I was on the road too but for different reasons. I was a commercial traveller and for a while, around the years 2005/6, I called on businesses in the midlands. Once a fortnight I would stay in the Bridge House Hotel in Tullamore, County Offaly.

One Wednesday, coming up near Christmas, I got delayed travelling to Tullamore and I was late checking-in to the hotel. The reception area was unusually packed and I thought it was for a wedding party.

I noticed different groups, mainly women, huddled together around the foyer and bar. The receptionist informed me that Joe Dolan and his band were playing in the hotel later.

“Brilliant”, I thought, “I"ll finally get to see and hear the great Joe Dolan”. My joy was short lived when I was told that the show was fully booked. Undaunted

I approached the security men on the door, I was determined to use my charm and powers of persuasion as a salesman to get past the two big burly bouncers. “What"s the chance that I could have a quick look in for five minutes?”, I asked.

Not a hope! “The show is fully booked out”, was the reply, reluctantly I conceded defeat.

In the foyer, I could barely hear the band striking up. I, so desperately, wanted to see the band that I came up with an idea. The hotel is on a corner site and is connected to the original building, on Bridge Street, by a long corridor. I walked along the corridor while still listening to the sound of the band. I came to a door that was unlocked, I entered a space that was in pitch darkness, I stumbled forward with one hand out-stretched until I touched a door and I found myself in another room. It was still dark but my eyes were drawn towards a shaft of light to my right, then suddenly, I realised that I was only ten feet away from the back of the stage, happy days.

However, my view was restricted by a half-drawn stage-curtain that covered the area behind the band so that all I could see was the back of the bandsmen"s legs!

I could smell and hear the screams of the audience. I sat there, still in the dark with a pint in my hand, looking down on the stage. Do you know that It"s true what they say about a Joe show? I saw intimate items of women"s clothing being regularly thrown up onto the stage, accompanied by shrieks and screams from clearly excited women, black ones, white ones, lace ones, Bridget Jones style ones, even thongs were lying there in full view.

Joe Dolan was wearing his white suit, I could see his white trouser legs, then a white sleeved arm picked up one of the abandoned panties. He must have wiped his brow with it because the crowd went wild!

Joe"s brother, Ben, saxophonist, lead the band into playing the intro to “you"re such a good-looking woman”, and in came Joe singing, “Me, oh my, you make me sigh, you"re such a good………”

Cue, pandemonium, the noise level soared, I could feel the sweat of the crowd on my face and hear the rhythmic thud of hundreds of feet on the dance floor ringing in my ears, my feet started to tap, I got into the groove and I began dancing, on my own, again!

Next up, Joe sang “Make me an Island”, one of his classics….

“different eyes, different sighs, different girls every day…….”

The concert was coming to an end, the band played their last set and then I heard them play Sheena feena faul.

Immediately I stood up ramrod straight, still in the dark, for Amhrán na Bhfiann, our national anthem.

What a night, I finished my beer, I was exhausted, and it was time to retire and go to bed.

At breakfast, the following morning I was enjoying my muesli, with prunes, (yes, you can get that kind of thing in posh hotels!), when the great man passed by, I greeted him with a “Hi, Joe”, He looked at me, “How"s it going” he shouted back.

“I” …..., I wanted to say, “I saw the back of your legs last night, Joe”, but, too late, he was gone,

I started to hum “Take me and break me and make me an Island I"m yours”.

A few weeks later, on Christmas morning, there was a Joe Dolan CD in my Christmas stocking. It"s true, “There was no show like a Joe show”.

Happy Christmas to all

Waterford Today readers.

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