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If you don't know how to - then, you're out of luck

Declan McCormack met a young sister and brother whose show is rejuvenating the showband phenomenonGERRY Murray is a willowy 54-year-old from Kells. He's been known to cycle 60 miles to a Keith and Lorraine Showband Revival show, to bop all night and cycle home after the final hucklebuck. He doesn't do drugs and he's not on any dubious Italian doctor's list. I'm going to keep an eye on Gerry tonight.

It's 8.40pm in the Banqueting Suite of the Red Cow Inn hotel. 500 people are arranged around long tables, filling up with drinks. An air of anticipation.

In room 106 Eileen Reid is trying on new heels. No wedding dress in sight. Lorraine McDonald is unselfconsciously undressing. Off with the black top and trousers. On with the short turquoise skirt, the braided jacket, the all-important Crystal tights and then ... the white boots. The boots that are made for gawking. ``She's got better legs than me,'' quips Keith, Lorraine's older brother and the band leader. He sings. She swings.

There are five men in uniforms, another without a jacket (``I'm on probation,'' laughs Peter Maher) and now one uniformed woman. Something about Lorraine reminds one of Dolores Riordan. ``It's my teeth,'' she says, ``I'm going to get them done when I'm 40''. She has ten years to wait. She'll be 30 in two days time.

Some of the punters are well over 40. One is 94. ``When Willie Carty (the tour manager) told me about the nostalgia tour I said sure they'll all be dead,'' laughs Eileen Reid. But they're not. They're waiting. Patiently. No groupie screams. No slow handclap. They're waiting for the melodies to happen, the memories to stir. Memories of sweaty crushes in three-pole marquees, of jiving and twisting and a kiss-and-cuddle-and-chips in the Anglia on the way home. But what are the younger women doing? Accompanying the ma the great excuse for everything.

Gordon Maher is the ebullient road manager. He tells the band it's time to get motoring. This is night 10 of a 42-night tour. ``My job is to keep them popped up.'' They move out. The instruments are waiting for them on the stage under the blue and yellow banner proclaiming the Keith and Lorraine Show. Lorraine plays alto-sax and concert flute, Keith the trumpet, their brother Peter is on drums, fellow Athlonian Des Egan is on keyboards, Albert O'Connor is lead guitar, Kieran Murray on base and Nenagh-born, helicopter pilot Peter Mahon is also on keyboard.

Keith and Lorraine have been gigging since they were about 13. Their mother's father was champion box-player Kieran Kelly as in the Kieran Kelly band. He's now in England. Their mother drove the band. She played the organ at home when they were young. Their dad is Frankie McDonald who's been trumpeting for Joe Dolan for 32 years from Sweet Little rock 'n roller to 21st Century Joe, they were born to swing.

Askance looks from the guests in the hotel. It doesn't bother them. Lorraine designed the gear. ``It's 33 per cent of the show's success,'' says Keith with mathematical precision.

The band amble on. A few nods of recognition. The odd handshake. No prima donnas need apply. But Gerry the fan is on his feet like a galvanised eel. His applauding hands aloft.

They start their set gently. Warming the audience up for their star guests. No steam rising yet. Their publicist, Corkman Hugh O'Brien, is watching. He publishes a magazine called Personalities. Kitschy pics of showbands, cheesy smiles and incredible captions. It's Spotlight reborn. The Showband Show is the showband phenomenon rejuvenated. ``They're younger, very good and they look good,'' says Eileen Reid. They certainly look like they won't drop dead in mid-act.

Keith has a very pleasant voice and is an eloquent MC. He promises three hours of live music and 40 number one hits. The guest line-up includes stars who once filled the Arcadia or the Olympia or the Roseland ballrooms stars like Des Kelly of The Capitol, Eileen Reid and Jimmy Day of The Cadets, Brendan O'Brien of The Dixies and topping the bill `live from Vegas' Brendan Bowyer.

Keith and Lorraine share the crooning. The band is certainly competent. Lorraine sounds and looks good.

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The punters drink. You feel for the young waitresses. Hearing cover-versions of songs that Donncha O'Dulaing stopped playing to nuns and cats ten years ago. Then Des Kelly arrives and sings The Streets of Baltimore.

In Room 106 Eileen is told that they're a good crowd. ``If I don't go down well I'll say I'm Twink''.

Brendan O'Brien is from Cork, the home of the Dixies as the sign still says on the Cork/Dublin road. The crowd responds enthusiastically to his big hit Little Arrows. Even the twenty-somethings begin to relax and sing along. The 70-somethings have no such inhibitions. They're up and dancing.

The band leaves. Replaced by a mini-disc backing track and Eileen and Jimmy. Eileen gives them The Wedding Dress song. Give 'em what they want.

Keith and Lorraine were originally a jazz outfit, played everywhere, including Stockholm and New York. But it didn't happen. Then two years ago Willie Carty suggested they go for the showband `niche'. They're packing them in. 20,000 punters on this tour. Offers of an American tour. ``It's magic,'' exclaims Lorraine.

But it comes at a personal price. She has a ten-month-old baby Sean at home in Moate. She goes home every night no matter where they're performing.

She's usually home around 5am. After a few hours shuteye, it's wakey wakey time. ``I spend ten hours with him every day''. His dad Alan is into late night music too. He runs Ginkels' nightclub in Athlone. ``He's got it rockin'.''

But he sleeps during the day so husband and wife see little of each other. ``It was definitely an immaculate conception!'' Even though she's ``totally blessed'' with a ``wonderful'' husband who ``cooks and shops'' and with the sterling support of her mother and mother-in-law, it's not easy. But she's not giving up.

Meanwhile Keith is one year married to Paula who's working in Galway. At the moment it's long-distance love.

They're back on stage. Keith dons a white jacket and does his Joe Dolan set. Three attractive young girls from Kildare go gaga. Gerry the fan is lepping about on his invisible pogo-stick. The temperature is rising. Baby come and dance, baby take a chance ... sweet little rock 'n roller.

OUTSIDE in the foyer an old champion is lumbering up. He's 60. He's sweating already. Not from nerves. He's been singing all his life. He was born to. His mother was a soprano. His father a music professor.

The `brass' cue comes. Tumultuous greeting for the old champ, Brendan Bowyer of the Royal. He's good. Really good. An Elvis tribute. A very plangent Glory glory Alleluia. His truth is marching on. Good tearjerking stuff. Boulevogue too.

Hucklebuck shoes on. Picking up speed. The band's performance up notches. Everyone's up now. Old muscles remembering old moves. A young waitress says ``they're good, okay they can do lots''. The duty manager agrees: ``They get them going''.

They're all going for it now. Especially the three young ones. Marie Doran is 17, she goes to lots of the shows. Last year on the night before her Leaving Cert French she went to a show, got home at 5.30am, got honours. Got 400 points. She's as bright as her little pink top.

If you don't know how to do it, then you're out of luck. Yep, it's The Hucklebuck. They're dervishing to it. Send them home glowing!

Then after a reprise, it's Amhran na bhFiann. Followed by Keith uttering the immortal words ``God bless and safe home''.

Afterwards as silence tries to descend Gerry the fan says that it was ``270 per cent brilliant''. More tellingly a 50-something man with a temporary perspiration problem says simply: ``well that was good''.

And it was.

* The Hucklebuck Tour Show is on tonight in Langton's Hotel, Kilkenny. The tour climaxes in London on February 27. For info contact (0509) 41017/41341.

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