WHEN primary school teacher, Miss Glavin, took one of her six-year-old pupils, Arthur Supple, to Cork Opera House to see a musical. neither realised a seed was sown for a glittering career in showbiz spanning six decades.
“Miss Glavin asked my parents if she could take me to the show,” says the man known to one and all as Art Supple, who is 76, and from Gortroe, East Cork.
“She obviously spotted something in me that nobody else saw.”
That was the role of consummate showman; keeping the crowds on the dance floor?
“I suppose that was it,” says Art, who began his showbiz career performing in school concerts and then with a local band, the Barony Aces in 1958, playing in the local parish hall. He will play a showbands concert at Cork Opera House this weekend.
Was music in the family?
“Not really,” says Art. “My two sisters played the piano, but that was it.”
He seemed destined for life on the family farm but said: “When I was at school in the CBS in Youghal, I joined a local band, Pat Irwin’s All Stars. They were all about social dancing which was beginning to become popular in the early ’60s.”
How did it feel for a country boy to be in the spotlight on stage?
“Music seems to bridge the gaps if you’re shy,” says Art. “It takes over and it makes you more out-going.”
Art had more going for him than his out-going personality, as Tony Erangey, the original drummer with The Victors recalls.
“In 1963, we were looking for a lead singer,” he recalls. “This young, tall, good-looking guy who auditioned for us, Art Supple, was just what we needed.”
And he could sing.
“He sure could!” says Tony.
The new generation in Ireland were flocking to dance halls all over the country. TV was in its infancy. Transport wasn’t readily available. The local dance halls were the social hub of rural towns all over Ireland. “The showband circuit took us all over Ireland, to Wales, Scotland and to the UK,” says Art.
The globe-trotting must have been a big change from the rural homestead in Gortroe?
“It was,” says Art. “I was with a great bunch of lads; there were seven of us in the band. We were all good friends, like a close family. We lived together and stayed together. We made a decent living too. The cut was usually 40/60 between us and the promoter.”
Art’s band members appreciated his other traits too. “I didn’t drink or smoke so I was often the designated driver!” says Art. “Driving home was a way of winding down. Most of our gigs were one night stands, so we’d drive through the night.”
Art was also big into sport. “I played hurling with my local team, St Ita’s. Even later in life, when they were stuck for numbers, I togged out!”
Art adds: “Redbarn was one of our favourite dance-halls. Lots of local people met their life partners there. We used to get massive crowds, holidaymakers and Cork people were all in the mix. They were all great dancers.”
Then, on November 13, 1963, came something to tell the grandchildren about.
“We were on RTE television and had the same billing as the Beatles,” says Art. “The item on the programme was just a clip of the Beatles, we didn’t get to meet them. But it was still a big deal.”
Travelling to the US and to Toronto, Canada, was a big deal too. “We were the first Irish show band to play in the La Cana Ballroom in Toronto,” says Art. “The reaction there was amazing. The audiences were used to a formal-style orchestra, playing from music sheets. We came on in the second half and the audience were jumping around. They had never seen anything like this before. And we got fantastic offers for gigs afterwards. The travel abroad, like going behind the Iron Curtain, gave us an eye into another world,” says Art.
“Being in the band was like having a calling card to see the world. We got to see places we’d never get to see otherwise.”
Despite the globetrotting, the Irish show band scene remained their bread and butter.
“We packed in crowds of over 2,000 people every night,” says Art. “We played in Redbarn and in Crosshaven on the same night... we had a fast car!”
What was happening back at the ranch in Gortroe? “My parents were working away there all the time,” says Art.
All good things come to an end and when The Victors disbanded, Art joined Brendan Shine’s band. “Brendan was the real showman,” says Art. “A true professional.
Five years later, Art formed his own band. The show band scene had shifted in a different direction.
“We began doing more weddings and corporate events,” he says. “The disco and club scene had begun to take over. We did more cabaret.”
He met a lot of his peers on the same beat.
“Brendan Bowyer, Dickie Rock, Joe Dolan, Big Tom, Larry Cunningham they all became good pals.”
And he got to indulge in his first love.
“Jimmy Magee organised charity football games with teams of celebrities,” says Art. “I really enjoyed those games and meeting the guys.”
Art’s longevity in the entertainment business is exceptional. His son Shane, is now a regular band member, accompanying his dad on tour, often on cruise ships and in Europe.
What does Art put down to his longevity?
“You know, I remember one night in particular, I saw the audience was made up of a lot of young people. The first half wasn’t amazing. And I thought at the interval, you know what? I’m going to prove myself tonight. I just went for it. I’ve never looked back. When I had that attitude and the confidence; the whole arena lifted and everyone applauded my performance. I am not going to roll over.”
The mindset is important.
“I have the skills and I have the confidence. This is what I do,” says Art. “I give it my all. I like singing. It gives me joy and it sustains me. If I ever feel down, it makes me feel good. If you enjoy yourself; the audience get it. They feel it and they enjoy too.”
Art adds: “I love living in the country — Gortroe is where my roots are. I love the fresh country air and the people.”
Art is one of those enviable people who doesn’t have to watch his diet or go the gym to keep slim and energetic. “I’m fortunate. I just eat plain, regular food and enjoy the odd football or hurling game,” he says.
“I loved everything about the showband business,” he says.
Even travelling to the Bally-go-backward places in the dead of winter? “Sometimes, they were the best nights of our lives,” says Art. “So yes. I loved every single thing; the rough with the smooth. Warts and all.”
Rolling back the Showband Years, with the Legends of the Cork Showband Era, is at Cork Opera House September 29/30.
Art Supple is recording a new CD, South Carolina Rose, available soon.