Dancehall dynamos honoured on stamps

Thu, Sep 23, 2010, 01:00

IT WAS an era when the clergy ruled the day and the showbands ruled the night, said former frontman of The Freshmen, Derek Dean.

Dubbed as the dancehall explosion, the age of the showband is credited with introducing the country to rock ’n’ roll and releasing the youth from the shackles of conservative Ireland, albeit at the expense of some dubious hairstyles.

At the height of its popularity in the mid-1960s, up to 800 acts were said to be criss-crossing the country on a nightly basis.

“Before us bands sat down when they were making music, we stood up and moved. It sounds like a small change but it was massive at the time,” quipped Ben Dolan, brother of the late Joe Dolan, who played alongside Joe in The Drifters. His band is one of four acts from the era to adorn a new series of stamps, issued by An Post yesterday to commemorate the golden age of the Irish showband.

The stamps, designed by artist Steve Simpson and based on the photography of Michael O’Reilly and Seán Magee, also feature three other well-known bands; The Freshmen, The Royal and The Miami Showband.

The Miami Showband are associated with one of the worst atrocities of the Northern Troubles.

Three members of the band were murdered by the UVF after their minibus was flagged down by paramilitaries posing as British army soldiers in Co Down in 1975.

The band’s frontman, Fran O’Toole, guitarist Tony Geraghty and trumpeter Brian McCoy died in the attack, along with two gunmen who were killed while trying to plant a bomb on the bus.

At the launch of the stamps in Dublin’s GPO yesterday, former band member Des McAlea said it was a pity that his “Miami brothers” were not there to enjoy such a momentous occasion but “I believe they’re watching us from heaven, every bit as proud as I am of their legacy.”

An Post spokesman Barney Whelan said if ever there was a movement that rocked Irish society from its postwar depression, it was the showband.

The 55- and 82-cent stamps can be bought online at www.irishstamps.ie, from main post offices or from the GPO Philatelic Shop.