Brendan Bowyer was the man who put the show into the showband era. The Waterford-born singer, who has died in Las Vegas at the age of 81, was a gentle giant remembered for his rubber-legged performances of The Hucklebuck.
It wasn’t his first No. 1 in Ireland, but it is the song he is most associated with at home, where it topped the charts for seven weeks in 1965.
Ballrooms would never be the same again after its release. It kicked off the twist-dance craze which had curates and parish priests all over the country in a sweat trying to keep dance halls on the straight and narrow.
The dance struck like wildfire in the wake of the song's release and made Bowyer and The Royal Showband a huge success.
“He had a fine voice, he was raised with operatic singing and knew how to do it properly,” said the presenter and showband drummer Ronan Collins today. “Brendan told me that he heard Elvis Presley and that was the end of it – or the beginning of it,” added Collins, who was with him when he played his last gig in the Helix Theatre in Dublin as part of the ‘Reeling in the Years’ showband tour nearly six years ago.
But the star, who made his home in Las Vegas many years ago, had a long and self- publicised battle with alcoholism. It had weakened his system and he died yesterday, surrounded by his wife of 53 years, Stella, and his children, Brendan Jnr., Aisling and Clodagh.
The Royal Showband was founded in Waterford in 1957 to cash in on the success of the original big band, the Clipper Carlton. But soon they were even more successful and along with The Capitol, launched the showband craze that swept through Ireland in the early 1960s.
For the next 62 years, Bowyer was on the road with The Royal and later Big 8 which he formed with his “sidekick” Tom Dunphy in August, 1971 and finally as a soloist. But it was the success of the Big 8 in Las Vegas, where they played The Stardust, that cemented their reputation.
Bowyer was billed as ‘The Irish Elvis’ and the legend has it that Presley came to his gig and later invited him and the band to his own show in Las Vegas where he was the city’s biggest attraction. The singer Twink was in the original line-up of Big Eight and the band leader was Paddy Cole, who will be paying tribute to his friend on his weekly show, which airs on Sunshine Radio on Sunday.
“He was a guy you enjoyed meeting” said Cole today after hearing the sad news of Brendan Bowyer’s passing. “Drink did get a hold on him – but he managed to shake it off with some difficulty, but even when he was drinking he was always pleasant and never had a bad word for anybody. He was a real gentleman and a perfectionist.”
In July of 1975 his friend and collaborator Tom Dunphy, who came from Tramore, Co. Waterford, was killed at the age of 40 when the car he was in was involved in a collision with a truck near the village of Drumsna, Co. Leitrim while travelling to the Mary of Dungloe festival in Donegal. It was a huge blow to Bowyer as the two men had been friends and collaborators all of their musical lives.
By the early 1980s Brendan Bowyer had moved permanently to Las Vegas with his family and the band was constantly supplemented by new singers and musicians. He came home to Ireland in the summers to do tours with the Big 8 and later, when interest in showbands had fizzled out and the ballrooms closed, to do a cabaret residency in Clontarf Castle, which lasted until 1996.
“Brendan was hoping to get back to his homeland, Ireland, one last time,” the family said following his death, but sadly illness prevented it.
Those who lived through The Hucklebuck era will always have a soft spot for this unique star who rose in the '60s and never failed to shine.