Entertainment TV Reviews

Saturday 17 August 2019

Pick of the Week: Showbands – How Ireland Learned to Party

Monday, RTÉ One, 9.35pm

Irish youth culture in the 1960s

Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

Imagine the slack-jawed mutual incomprehension that would ensue if young Irish people from the early 1960s and today could meet. No avocado on toast and Instagram for the teenagers and early-twentysomethings of the De Valera era, who were forced to dodge the eagle gaze of the Catholic Church and find entertainment where they could. While London was swinging just a few hundred miles away to The Beatles, The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones, things were very different in a sternly theocratic and economically moribund backwater still wrestling with its recent past.

Salvation of sorts was provided by the showbands, a uniquely Irish cultural phenomenon that blossomed across the country in the early to mid-1960s. They wore natty suits and pumped out tight versions of international chart hits in dance halls on both sides of the border, every night of the week. At their peak, there were more than 600 showbands criss-crossing the land in tiny vans bringing live entertainment to the obscurest places. Acts like The Freshmen, The Miami Showband, Dickie Rock and Brendan Bowyer became national stars, but not many of them saw too much of the big profits the showband craze created.

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As Ardal O'Hanlon (above) reveals in this affectionate documentary, most of the money was controlled and accumulated by a close-knit group of agents and promoters who never wasted a penny and pulled plenty of strokes. The church too got a piece of the action: they owned most of the halls, actively promoted the dances and stood at the door collecting entrance fees, while priests kept a beady eye on the comportment of the young men and women inside.

Ardal retraces the steps of some of the great bands, and talks to surviving musicians, fans and promoters about an era that's recalled with great affection. It was all too brief: the popularity of the showbands began a slow, steady decline in the 1970s, as Ireland joined the pop cultural mainstream and began producing rock gods of its own.

Irish youth culture in the 1960s

Irish Independent

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