'We're the oldest boy band in Ireland'

Chris Dunne interviews the authors of a new book on the bands of Bandon. 
'We're the oldest boy band in Ireland'

Michael McCarthy and Jerry Larkin, who wrote 100 years of Bandon Bands

THE town of Bandon has a long tradition of music and many people all over Cork will recall those halcyon days dancing at the crossroads, dancing in the ballrooms of romance, and rocking n’rolling in dance-halls and marquees all over the country.

“As a musician or a band, you know you’re doing something right when you get booked to play at a wedding in two years’ time!” says Michael McCarthy, of The Old Town Hall Band.

Now he and his fellow band-member, Jerry Larkin, have compiled a new book, 100 Years of Bandon Bands, cataloguing the various bands in all their guises that originated in the Bandon area.

All the members of The Old Town Hall Band played with the dance bands of the 1950s and the showbands of the ’60s and ’70s and their ages range from 45 to 85.

“We are the oldest boy-band in Ireland!” Michael says.

Music has always been part of his life and he got his first taste of the live music scene with the Ritz Dance Band in the 1950s.

“I was an accidental drummer!” says Michael. “We played all over the country, travelling in dodgy vans that had no heaters!”

He can still beat the rhythm of the drum to this day.

“I was familiar with the older bands,” says Michael, aged 85, who never learned to read music but learned to play by ear.

“I learned two keys on the saxophone — E flat and B Flat — and I bought a book on music to tutor myself. There was no-one in Bandon then to teach you.”

Jerry is familiar with the second 50 years of Bandon Bands. His dad, John Larkin was in the Ritz Showband.

Cork county swayed to the rhythm of the band back in the day.

“I played with the Dickie Cashman Band in East Cork from 1955 to 1958. Midleton would have a great tradition of music,” Michael says.

Members of The Dixies at the height of the Showband Boom. Picture: archive
Members of The Dixies at the height of the Showband Boom. Picture: archive

“The dance-hall era in East Cork was terrific. We played relief for the big bands like the Dixies, The Freshmen and The Indians.

“In our day there was no such thing an electric guitar or electric bass and the only one I ever saw was with Victor Sylvester. It was very rare to see.”

A community fund-raising initiative led to the formation for The Old Town Band in 2002.

“In 2001, on retiring from Tuners Cross Motors, I was presented with a VW Polo car as a generous gift to Bandon to acknowledge the custom base in the Bandon area and this car was to enable a Youth and Community project in the town. The trustees of the Bandon and District Brass and Reed Band, all previous musicians, formed The Old Town Band to aid fundraising for the Bandon Brass and Reed Band.

The Bandon men got their act together.

“We called ourselves the Bandon Town Hall Band, which is where most of us played down through the years and it is still where we rehearse today. In September, 2015, the band was officially named the ‘Bandon Concert Band Glc’.

Who is the leader of the band?

“Herbie Hendrick is the leader of the band,” says Michael.

“As well as entertaining audiences, the band also take time out to teach both young and old how to play musical instruments and it is certainly proving popular.”

The Bandon Concert Band now has a membership of 39 members and they have been able to buy musical instruments as well as get to play in local events like the Walled Town Festival in Bandon.

The book, 100 Years of Bandon Bands, by good friends, Michael and Jerry, with oodles of song and dance experience, is a labour of love.

“It was a joint effort, taking us a year and a half,” says Jerry, who comes from a very musical family. 

“We did loads of research. Michael is an amazing person with so much expertise.

“When we started, it seemed to be quite a simple task to create this historical record, but as our work progressed it proved to be a daunting task.

“We had no idea that 57 different bands had originated from the Bandon area.

“Photographs, records of events and names of people involved are important and interesting to the descendants of those involved in Bandon music over 100 years.”

The duo go into great detail about the pattern of music and how it is delivered and is constantly evolving as are all the instruments that are played. The first bands were the Fife and Drum bands and then came the Brass and Reed Bands.

“Bandon was a garrison town so there was British music influence from The Orange Lodge.”

The dance bands began in the 1920s and ’30s, playing piano, drums and accordions as well as a variety of string instruments including the double bass.

“The majority of these bands played ‘by ear’,” says Michael. 

“Traditional Irish music came with the fiddle, concertina, tin whistle, flute, accordions, banjos with Bodhran as percussion.”

The jazz swing-time bands made an appearance with the addition of saxophone, trumpet, trombone and piano. This reflected the influence of the music that was being played on radio and the popularity of the big bands in Britain and the USA.

“During this period, Bandon excelled in providing musicians who played in dance-halls not only in the West Cork area but also played throughout the country,” Michael says.

“All through this era, Bandon bands were blessed with gifted vocalists.”

Bagpipes came to the fore with the arrival of bag-pipes, and drums featured with the Bandon F.C.A Pipe Band, that continued through World War II and finally came to an end in the 1960s.

Each page of 100 years of Bandon Bands contains photographs of the ‘Good Old Days’ when bands enjoyed huge popularity in Ireland and gave enjoyment and wonderful entertainment to countless people.

Readers will identify with bands like the famous Pat Crowley Band, photographed at the Arcadia Ballybunion in the 1930s.

The original Coholan Brothers Band and the Ritz Showband will evoke memories of yesteryear, while The Ambassodors, The Harmony Aces, and The Green Valley Showband will nudge a little nostalgia in people about those glamour days when they got the glad-rags on and had the dancing shoes at the ready.

“I remember the Bandon Brass and Reed Band playing its first public performance after 12 o’clock mass on a sunny June in 2003,” says Michael.

“The band played in front of the old market building on the corner of Market Street. Conducted by Herbie Hendrick, they played with the help of members of the Butter Exchange Band.

“After this date, the band played a number of times on Trunwit truck on Saturday evenings at the top of South Main Street during summer seasons.

“They were great days.”

And the band still plays on.

100 years of Bandon Bands, compiled by Michael McCarthy and Jerry Larkin, is available in all good local bookshops.

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