THE ROYAL DUKES SHOWBAND…

THE ROYAL DUKES SHOWBAND

Does anybody have any pictures/photos/posters of the above band, who were active in the Waterford area in the mid 1960’s?

The band members were myself/bass guitar, Seamie O’Brien/Lead giutar, PJ Kirwan/rythm guitar, Tony Regan/trombone, Paul Gorman/sax, David Hallissey/trumpet, Brendan O’Shea/drums.

We played around Waterford for a couple of years, at marquees, festivals etc, our biggest claim to fame being that we played at Barry’s Hotel in Dublin once

The following is an extract from my book THE SHINY RED HONDA, which covers the period

For my eighteenth birthday I got a union card, a crash helmet and the news that I was to start shift work in the rubber department in the Tannery. The rubber department was as different from the leather-board shop as a milking parlour from a bakery. Rows of machines lined the floor, looking, for all the world, like something out of a Marvel comic, their short, squat bodies festooned with pulleys and handles.

In here, shoe-soles of all shapes and sizes were turned out in their thousands. Bales of rubber were brought in, cut into thin slabs then delivered in bins to the machine operators. The slabs were then placed in the moulds and the machines set in motion. When the moulding process was complete, the moulds were emptied, and the filled bins carted away for despatch to some English shoe manufacturer.

The union card was compulsory on reaching the age of eighteen. For the payment of a shilling a week you got the privilege of voting in the shop-steward election once a year, and going on strike with no union pay when a dispute had to be settled.

The crash helmet wasn’t compulsory, but mother said I should wear it all the same. I did so when I remembered.

On the music front, a new era had begun. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones had broken new ground, were changing all the rules, and we wanted to be part of it. Gone were the staid and strait-laced days of the foxtrot and the waltz; new dances were springing up all over the world; fashion was becoming outlandish and outrageous; Mods and Rockers were fighting over girls in Brighton and Clacton, Beatle-mania was sweeping the world. We wanted to be part of the revolution.

There was no apartheid in the rubber department; girls as well as boys operated the machines, and it was clear that they, too, wanted to break the mould. Bee-hive hair-dos’ appeared, skirts began to creep upward, and it slowly dawned on us that girls did have legs above their knees.

It was no secret that we were trying to put a band together. And when Paul Gorman confessed that he, too, was trying to do the same, the germ of an idea was born. Why didn’t we join forces? Kilmac and Portlaw come together in some venture? It couldn’t work, would it? The only time they came together was on the sports field – when they usually kicked the shite out of each other.

            Our first meetings were exploratory, but they turned out more productive than we expected; We all wanted a band with a brass section, and when we found that Paul played the saxophone and David Hallissey the trumpet…well, that was the brass section taken care of. The next problem was the drummer; they had Brendan O’Shea and we had PJ. Then we saw Brendan perform on the drums and that was the drummer problem solved. That meant me becoming the bass guitarist and PJ the rhythm guitarist. Neither of us minded too much; I had been experimenting with the bass already and PJ was already an accomplished guitar player. That only left Tony Regan. What could he play? After some discussion we decided we would buy a trombone and he could learn to play it.

Seamie solved the problem of where to rehearse with our now-expanded group. Michael Baron, the owner of the Rainbow Hall, also owned a joinery firm and Seamie worked for him. When he heard of our predicament, he offered us the use of the Rainbow on the nights it wasn’t in use, usually Tuesday and Thursday nights.

The name was less easy. Many were thought up and discarded. The Young Ones, The Young Devils. However, when the parish priest heard this last name being mentioned he came to see us and told us to find something more fitting. The Young Shadows was one we all liked but there was a group in Dublin already called that. The name ‘Royal’ was very popular with bands, and when someone came up with the word ‘Duke’, we thought it had a certain ring to it. We became The Royal Dukes.

Practice was hard work – especially for those not too acquainted with their instruments. I didn’t have much of an ear for music- tone deaf would be putting it mildly – so my bass notes depended on what chords Seamie was playing at any given time. This meant keeping one eye on his fingers, and one on my own playing –  a practice from which anybody watching would conclude that I was cross-eyed. Then we discovered a sheet-music shop in Dungarvan. Buying the sheets at least stopped me from developing a squint, for, although I couldn’t read music, the guitar chords were clearly indicated.

We also needed microphones and amplifiers, and here Pat Barron, Michael’s brother, helped out. Pat was lead guitarist with the Pat Irwin band and he passed us on some amplification they no longer used.

Listening to ourselves in those early days was painful. We recorded some of our efforts and then played them back. One of the first was’ Send Me The Pillow That You Dreamed On’, a song made popular by Johnny Tillotson.  We murdered it; off note, off key, out of tune, out of time, you name it, we did it. We played it back a second time; it sounded even worse. Seamie was tearing his hair out; never mind the same key, boys, could we all try and play the same tune!

Gradually we got better. Slowly, the realisation dawned that we were beginning to sound like a coherent unit. A band that now needed an audience, for a band that merely played behind closed doors was as useful as a car without wheels.

Michael Barron proved to be our saviour once again. He booked us as relief band at a forthcoming dance at The Rainbow. The date was a couple of months off so we had plenty of time for preperation. Or so we thought. We weren’t half ready. We never would be. We had to get jackets made, learn a dance routine, get ourselves better equipment. And Tony must learn to play his trombone. He couldn’t blow a note yet.

Slowly but surely the problems sorted themselves out. We went to a tailor in Dungarvan and he measured us up for our new jackets. We choose a broad blue-and-grey striped material, and picked a design similar to that worn by the Beatle. We worked on the dance routine, and found a supplier of hired amplification equipment in Town.

That only left Tony and his trombone. By now it was abundantly clear that he would never play the trombone. His best efforts so far had resembled a couple of jackasses bawling in unison. In the end we decided he should mime playing his instrument. This he did, moving with the rest of us in the dance routines, blowing silent notes on the trombone. It worked a treat; who was going to know what a trombone sounded anyhow with a saxophone and a trumpet blasting away?

The big night drew ever nearer. Posters had gone up all over the locality; RAINBOW HALL, SUNDAY. Music by the DAVITT BROTHERS. Supported by new local sensations THE ROYAL DUKES. This was heady stuff, and every time I passed a poster I stopped to read it – just to convince myself I wasn’t dreaming.

There was still no sign of our jackets. All sort of excuses were trotted out; the material had to come from England, the machinist had flu, the buttons hadn’t yet arrived. We intensified our practicing. As soon as a new song appeared we rushed out to get the sheet music. ‘It’s Been A Hard Day’s Night’ was rehearsed over and over, trying to capture some of the essence of the Beatles sound. But it was’ I Can Get No Satisfaction’ that was our trump card. Tum-tum –ta-ta –da-da-da –da –tum-tum…I practiced the bass notes incessantly. ‘I can get no – sat-is-fac-tion,’ sang Seamie in reply.

The song was causing much rage throughout the establishment. Radio Eireann was refusing to play it; the parish priest condemned it from the pulpit, but the youngsters were glued to their transistors, listening to it on Radio Luxemburg. Fr. Sinnott came to our rehearsals and heard us play it. The devil’s music, he called it, and said it was a mortal sin.

What…like adultery or murder? My soul could be forever damned for singing a song? I doubted it, somehow. By now my relationship with the church was changing. Gone were my altar-boy fancies for the priesthood, gone my implicit belief in the all-embracing goodness of the Catholic Church. I had now read up on historical events like the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition – where people were imprisoned, tortured and burnt at the stake, all in the name of religion. It didn’t seem like a particularly religious activity to me. Oh, I still went to Mass on a Sunday, but that was only because it was expected and not because I wanted to. What sort of hypocrisy was that? I had begun to question our fundamental beliefs; The Holy Trinity, The Virgin Mary, the infallibility of the Pope, even the story of Adam and Eve. If the latter was true then Cain must have committed incest, mustn’t he?

I felt anger about the priest’s visit to our rehearsals; what right had he to tell us what music we could play. Later that night I wrote some verse about it.

Son, the priest said, put that guitar away

And get your hair cut, right

And don’t play I Can Get No Satisfaction

Tonight

It’s a sin to call yourselves

The Red Devils, he said

And in the distance

I could see mother nodding her head

So we became The Royal Dukes

And played Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown instead

Saturday came and no jackets. We resigned to appearing jacket-less. White shirts and dark pants would have to do.

Shortly after six on Sunday we all met up in the Rainbow to set up our equipment before the Davitt Brothers arrived. Seamie came direct from Town, having picked up the amplifiers and other bits and pieces. He also brought seven jackets. The tailor had brought them round to his house earlier that day.

Christ, they were beautiful, those jackets. You could die happy in them. There was an old full-length mirror backstage and we strutted about in front of this for ages, admiring ourselves from every angle. Eventually, we reluctantly took them off and got on with setting up our gear.

The Rainbow was bursting at the seams that night. Curiosity, I suppose. The Davitt Brothers seemed bemused by it all. They were a competent outfit who had been playing the country venues for a number of years, and were used to sedate Macra Na Feirme and Muintir Na Tire supporters; nothing like the high excitement that was in evidence here. As the dance began and we listened to them play, we realised how much better than us they sounded.

It didn’t seem to matter. As they took their break and we replaced them. The crowd went wild. You would think we were The Beatles; they solidified into one heaving mass, packing the dance area. It was obvious there would be no dancing; they only wanted to listen and watch.

Looking out into the sea of faces I could see many I recognised; Jim Kiersey, his black hair slicked back, a crease on one side that would split timber; Vince Power, giving me the thumbs up; Shirley Mulcahy, on shoes so high she must have used a step-ladder; Tony Casey, Elvis quiff dripping oil. I closed my eyes briefly and said a prayer.

I needn’t have worried. We could have banged tin cans together and they would have cheered. ‘I Can Get No Satisfaction’ was our opening number and it nearly brought the house down. After that it was plain sailing; a few Beatles numbers, Jim Reeves, Jumbalaya, You Ain’t Nuthin’ But A Hound-Dog. Paul did a bit of Yakety –Sax, Seamie did ‘Apache’. We closed with Tony singing ‘Take These Chains From My Heart.’

Or thought we did. They wouldn’t let us finish. We had to run through several of the songs again. It was almost an hour before the Davitts came back on stage again. The Royal Dukes were in business!

Nothing ever quite matched that first night. We practiced with more determination now; building up our repertoire, determined to improve, but we had learned an important lesson that first night; looking good was at least as important as being good musicians. We looked the part on stage; good musicianship would either come with practice or not at all.

Bookings began to come in; more and more as we became known. We were usually playing somewhere every week, sometimes twice a week, rushing home in the early hours to snatch a few hours sleep before dashing out to work again. New Ross, Kilmore Quay, Dunhill, Tallow, Cahir, we played them all. When we played the Ormond Hall in Carrick I found myself making eyes at a dark-haired girl who had parked herself near the front of the bandstand. During the interval we got chatting, and she agreed that I could walk her home afterwards. I knew the others would wait, there being a tacit agreement to do so if anyone ‘shifted’. Getting your hole was of paramount importance.

‘Where does she live?’ One of the others asked.

‘Tracy Park,’ I replied.

He laughed. ‘Rather you than me, then. They eat their young there.’

I should have listened. I hadn’t even got round to a feel before they jumped me. The girl was sent packing, and I was thumped, kicked and propelled in the direction I had come from. I got back to the van minus my wallet, but otherwise relatively unscathed.

We were booked for the sheep-breeders annual dance at the Rainbow. This was usually a wild occasion, attended by many mountain farmers, many who probably hadn’t seen a woman for months. Some were on the look-out for a wife, others for a woman – any woman – and some of the antics made for hilarious watching. It never got as bad as the Ram Dance though; a yearly dance held at Clonea Strand, where a live ram was dragged on stage and crowned king of something-or –other. It was supposed to have its origins in some pagan fertility rite but as far as I could see the only thing that was fertile was the ram’s arse, shitting and pissing on stage as it stared, wild-eyed, at the throng.

Our finest hour came when we played at Barry’s Hotel in Dublin, on the same bill as Brian Rock and the Boys. Barry’s was the ‘culchie’ Mecca in Dublin, and Brian was in a different league to us. Nobody seemed to notice, however – not even when Tony took it upon himself to let rip with his trombone during our playing of the National Anthem. Trombone raised heavenwards, he blew a series of notes that sounded like a bull bawling with a wellington stuck down its throat. Which goes to show that you can fool all of the people all of the time…even Jackeens!

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