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Saturday 22 July 2017

Sean Dunphy

Former showband singer and top Irish recording artist who represented Ireland in the 1967 Eurovision

SEAN Dunphy, who died last Tuesday aged 73, was best known as a member of The Hoedowners showband, and as the Irish singer in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1967 who came in second place with the song If I Could Choose.

A carpenter by trade, Sean Dunphy was born in Dublin in November 1937. After his apprenticeship he joined the Army and worked at night as a singer with a group called The Keymen.

After serving with the Defence Forces he emigrated to England, where he worked at his trade and sang at nights in the Hibernia Ballroom in Fulham, London, and other Irish clubs.

His big break in show business came when he joined the Earl Gill Band as a vocalist. A consummate musician and trumpet player, Gill was asked to provide the music for an RTE show in the mid-Sixties called Hoedown -- which he did, and then borrowed the name for his new showband.

The band was managed by an up-and-coming young promoter, Oliver Barry, and in 1967 Dunphy was selected to follow in the footsteps of Butch Moore and Dickie Rock as Ireland's representative in the Eurovision Song Contest.

His song, a ballad, was written by Wesley Burrows, who later went on to write the RTE drama The Riordans. Dunphy was beaten into second place in the contest by a barefooted Sandy Shaw singing the Phil Coulter song Puppet on a String.

Between 1966 and 1973, the golden age of the showband circuit, Sean Dunphy and The Hoedowners had 14 hit singles and filled ballrooms all over the country.

They were also the first recording artists on Oliver Barry and Jim Hand's new label, Dolphin Records.

In 1969 they had a No 1 in the Irish charts with the sentimental Republican ballad The Lonely Woods of Upton, which may have been a reflection of the times. He followed it up the following year with When the Fields Were White with Daisies.

At the time, a survey published by weekly entertainment magazine Spotlight showed that Sean Dunphy was the top recording artist in Ireland -- putting him ahead of Joe Dolan, who was then with The Drifters showband in Mullingar, and even ahead of The Beatles, who came in third place.

But behind the scenes Sean Dunphy shunned the limelight, a happily married man living in the north Dublin suburb of Baldoyle with his young family.

He had a strong voice and always came across as well-mannered and well-dressed and, unlike many of his contemporaries who wanted to live the 'rock star life', he was content to go home after gigs and play a bit of golf.

As the straightforward showband scene began to wane, new 'gimmick' bands like The Indians emerged.

Earl Gill decided to follow this route, putting out a single called The Poor Poor Farmer in which Gill himself dressed up as 'Tim Pat'. The song went to No 3.

They followed it up with the Ho Down Circus, in which the members dressed as various circus performers.

It wasn't a change that suited Sean Dunphy, who had always been a serious crooner and performed in a suit and tie.

The showband boom fizzled out in the mid-Seventies, but Sean Dunphy continued to work in Canada and the United States alongside stints at home in Ireland.

Although he had a quadruple by-pass in 2007, Dunphy was still doing shows right up to his death, and indeed had performed only last Sunday in Baldoyle.

His son Brian has followed in his footsteps and is a member of the well-known ballad group The High Kings.

Sean Dunphy, whose funeral took place in Baldoyle on Friday, is survived by his wife Lily and children John, Gerard, Mary and Brian.

Sunday Independent

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