Although, in reality, the showband era is long dead, many people still hang on to bits and pieces of it, including, I suppose, myself. Of course, there are still many successful showband-type bands playing gigs around the country and the likes of Brendan Bowyer, Dickie Rock and Joe Dolan have become cabaret giants.
But, sadly, the ballrooms are long gone. We didn’t know it at the time but, apart from the entertainment they provided, they were safe, well-run venues where thousands of people met their partners and spouses. There was a social code in the dancehalls to which most people adhered and, as far as I know, there are no venues out there now where people across a wide age-group can go in the certain knowledge that, without embarrassment or fuss, they will almost certainly get a chance to dance with a member of the opposite sex. Those first contacts were always the hardest and they are even more so now.
On Saturday last, I attended a lovely ceremony in Cork where I met many old musician friends some of whom I hadn’t seen in years. Some twenty star-shaped plaques, each with a showband name, were laid in the footpath at the site of the old Arcadia Ballroom in Lower Glanmire Road, opposite Kent Railway Station. The Walk of Fame is similar to the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard and is expected to become an attraction for some tourists to Leeside.
The Master of Ceremonies at the launch was MEP Brian Crowley who once sang with a showband called Galaxy and is still a good man to deliver a song when called upon. Former Taoiseach and ballroom owner, Albert Reynolds, was due to be there but had to pull out due to ill health but RTE’s Ronan Collins stood in for him. The official opening was performed by Sean Lucey and Joe McCarthy of the Dixies and Joe got a big laugh when he suggested, with a straight face, that the students who were now living in apartments on the site of the Arcadia were probably having an even better time that the people who danced there!
The blessing of the plaques was imparted by the Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr. John Buckley, who asked all those present to remember Joe Dolan in their prayers as the popular Mullingar man was ill in hospital. Joe’s brother and Drifters’ bandleader, Ben, was one of those present. The plaques, cast in bronze, were created by Liam Lavery in Shandon, Cork, and were laid by Cork City Council.
The leader of the great Royal Showband, Michael Coppinger, was there to see the Waterford band’s name laid down for posterity and I couldn’t help but think that a similar tribute could quite easily be laid down in the pavement outside the site of the former Olympia Ballroom in Parnell Street with an emphasis on Waterford bands some of whom might not have been in the all-time Top 10 but, for all that, were huge in Waterford and are still fondly remembered. Their names are not embedded in the Walk of Fame but, at the reception after the ceremony, I noticed that photographs of The Savoy and Foottappers were among a gallery of bands beamed out on a screen above the guests.
I was grateful for the invitation and glad I went but I came away feeling that, somehow, the last chapter in the great dancing era had been written and the book finally closed. A lot of great names have gone to their eternal reward and the years haven’t always been kind to some of the pioneers and survivors of the era. In truth, there were more children and grandchildren of the showband musicians there than the individuals themselves.
“Time is like a river made up of the things which happen and its current is strong; no sooner does anything appear than it is carried away and another comes in its place, and will be carried away too.” Marcus Aurelius