The Big Eight
(1971-86 in Ireland)
Photo Gallery -
Band Lineups -
- Audio samples -
Where Are They Now?
The dominance of the Royal Showband from
Waterford on the era is well documented (click here to read the
Royal Story) but in 1971 the Irish entertainment scene was rocked when
Brendan Bowyer and Tom Dunphy announced they were
packing up their instruments and forming a new band.
The new band would now split its time evenly between the ballroom
scene in Ireland and the showrooms of Las Vegas.
In putting together the new outfit, they had
musicians hired before even deciding on a name. In the August 19, 1971 issue of
Spotlight, potential names for the band included Casino Royal, The
Ambassadors and the Big 8.
In leaving the Royal behind, Bowyer and Dunphy
put together a high profile lineup, full of big names from the
showband scene including Paddy Cole on sax (from The Capitol), Twink
on vocals (from Maxi, Dick and Twink), Jimmy
Conway on guitar (from The Bye-Laws), Michael Keane on keyboards
(from the Johnny McEvoy Band), Dave Coady on trumpet (from The Real
Brendan on vocals, Tom on bass, and Mickey O'Neill (from The Capitol) on drums.
Twink and Jimmy had been playing together with Aidan Scannell, Paul
Holohan and Pat Morris as Twink and the Bye-laws after
touring Canada as Toybox (the Bye-laws being one of
the top Dublin beat groups of the late 60's.) The new band truly were The Big Eight
and were, of course, a sensation
from day one but their future would not be smooth sailing.
As an interesting aside, it was reported in the
August 26, 1971 issue of Spotlight that Jimmy Hogan (formerly
guitarist with the Capitol) who was with Pat Roper & the
Spotlights, was to join the Big 8. The report said that Jimmy
had posed for photographs for the new band, but backed out at the
last minute and remained with the Spotlights.
The Royal Showband had played The Desert
Inn in Las Vegas in 1966 and came back to Vegas in 1967, moving to
the Stardust Hotel on the famous Las Vegas Strip. As popular as the
band became in Vegas, they were forced to change their programme
from the charts hits of the day (which they played in the ballrooms)
to the fare of The Irish Showband, the name by which they would
become better known in later days in Vegas. In July, 1971, the Royal played
its last gig at the Stardust and the band came home and shocked the
world by announcing that they were splitting up.
The Big Eight formed, T.J. Byrne
(who had left the Royal in 1967) came back
to manage the new band. The band came together and played their
first gig in Manchester on Friday, September 10th, 1971. Their first gig
in Ireland would be September 24th in Navan. They played through the
Fall and Christmas Holidays in Ireland before heading off to Las Vegas and debuting in the Stardust in
January, 1972. They had a newer, fresher
sound than the aging Royal, and the addition of a female vocalist
was designed to help the band reach a wider audience. They also
featured four dancers, a nod to the "norm" in Vegas...all the big
stars had dancers.
Back in Ireland, the Big Eight were a huge
success. Dividing their time between Vegas and home made them a scarce
commodity and even more popular. The band continued to release records
at home, helping to keep the fans looking for more of the band...it was
a great promotional success for Byrne, Bowyer and Dunphy.
However, less than three years after launching the band
(July, 1974) a report in Spotlight said Twink had finally tired of the dual lifestyles necessitated by spending
six months of the year away from family and friends in Vegas. It was
reported she played her last gig with the band in the Stardust, Las
Vegas in early July, 1974. An advert in the August 1, 1974 issue of
Spotlight confirmed the story as the band were advertising for a
"female vocalist with experience in harmony essential." At the same
time, however, Kelley, who had
just had a hit single with The Nevada and whom Brendan and Tom knew
well, was asked to fill the spot left vacant by Twink's departure
and agreed without hesitation as she loved Vegas from a previous
trip with Red Hurley.
However, more grief was to befall the band as before the
summer was out: Paddy Cole, also tired of the traveling and the grind
of the Vegas scene, left and formed the new Paddy Cole Band
which he launched in September, 1974. Paddy,
who had been the bandleader for The Big Eight, took most of the band
with him as Jimmy Conway, Mickey O'Neill and Michael Keane joined Twink in the new outfit that would itself, undergo many changes in
the years ahead. The band was completed by adding former Capitol man Mike Dalton on
bass, Ray Moore (of the Plattermen) on trumpet and a young vocalist,
Pat Morris (who had been Jimmy Conway and Twink in the Bye-laws) to the ranks.
Meanwhile, the Big Eight faced the daunting
task of finding replacements for a set of high caliber musicians.
The new Big Eight lineup was completed quickly and at the end of the
year, they headed off to Vegas again. The new lineup was Brendan
Bowyer (vocals), Tom Dunphy (bass), Dave Coady (trumpet), Kelley
(Nevada - vocals), Ray Doherty (guitar), Pat Chesters (Plattermen
and Ray Moore's former band mate- sax), Noel Ryan (The Sands
- keyboards), and Martin Branagan (drums). In January of 1975, the
band left for Vegas, not knowing that six months later,
everything would change.
The first six months in Las Vegas was back to
"work as usual" for the band, three shows a night, six nights a
week. The programme was the same every night and Kelley was limited
to singing only two numbers. She quickly became bored with the
routine and had not been feeling well so she decided she would leave
the band after they did their six month stint in the
ballrooms in Ireland.
Tuesday, July 29th, 1975, the band was booked to play at "The Mary From Dungloe Festival" in County Donegal. Most of the band were already
in Donegal when 40-year-old Tom Dunphy
was driving to the gig with keyboard player Noel Ryan as a
passenger. On a curve at Drumsna, near Carrick-on-Shannon in County
Leitrim, Tom lost
control of the car and was killed.
Noel survived, but things would never be the same. Today, a stone
monument marks the spot where one of the era's brightest stars had
lost his life.
In an amazing twist of fate, the issue of
which was published on July 31st (two days after his tragic death)
featured an in depth interview with Tom talking about his concerns
over moving his family to the United States. The following week,
they ran a full page story entitled "Tom a fully fledged Redskin
from Waterford," and a few pages later, the sad notice about his
death. He was at the top of his game when he died at only 40 years
Tom's tragic death at such a
young age devastated Brendan, the band, and the Irish music
industry....but his passing would be
overshadowed when just two days later, three members of the Miami
showband were gunned down by terrorists while returning home from a gig
in the North of Ireland. August, 1975 was one of the darkest periods
in the history of the showband era. In some
ways, the events of those two days marked the end of an era of innocence that had been mirrored
in the ballrooms and marquees across Ireland for nearly two decades.
The band canceled all gigs for a
month while they mourned the loss of Tom. He had been one of the
pillars on which the band's success was built and he would be impossible to
replace. Somehow, Brendan and the band
picked themselves up and carried on. They hired Frankie Carroll, the country bass
player who had previously fronted The Ranchers and spent time
with the Brendan Shine Band had joined The Country Folk
after the departure of Margo just a year earlier in 1974. Joining
the Big Eight was an opportunity that would change his life
forever. Also coming back to the band from Paddy Cole were Jimmy
Conway on guitar and Michael Keane on keyboards. Noel Ryan left the
band to join the reforming Miami after the tragic death of three of
its members just 2 days after Tom Dunphy's death. Finally, in
announced she was leaving the band and Ray Doherty left to start up a
new band, Las Vegas, which would feature Rob Strong,
who had recently left the Plattermen.
A blurb in the November 6th,
1975 issue of Spotlight refuted a claim from former Harvest
singer Mary Lou that she had been asked to join the band. In the
short article, Brendan Bowyer was quoted as saying the rumour was
untrue. The article concluded by saying that, in fact, the band was
not looking for a female vocalist to replace Kelley and that there
was even a chance Kelley might return to Vegas with the band in
January. Just a few weeks later, it was announced that Helen Jordan
had been picked as Kelley's replacement, and Julie Boyd reported
seeing Helen's Dublin debut night in the Olympic ballroom in mid
December. Also in December, Spotlight carried an announcement
that Kelly had joined Ray Doherty in the new band, Las Vegas with
Rob Strong, but within a year, she and Ray would leave Las Vegas to
form a cabaret group, Kelley and
When the band returned to Las
Vegas in early 1976, they drafted Lola (real name Anne Mooney), formerly of the New Blues
to replace Helen. The Big 8 moved to the Aladdin Hotel where they
stayed until 1980. In June 1977, upon their return to Ireland, Lola
left the band, but remained in Las Vegas where she still lives today. Within a couple of years, Mickey O'Neill had also
returned to the band. As far as we know, Jimmy, Lola, Mickey, and Michael
stayed in Las Vegas and were performing with Brendan from
time to time, but sadly Mickey passed away June 15, 2010.
One of the final changes to the
band was the addition of D.J. Curtin in 1979 on vocals and sax who replaced
Paddy Reynolds. Not only was D.J. a bona fide star in his own right,
having fronted the Kerry Blues for many years, he was a double
threat with both strong vocals and sax, and he also did a mean Tom
Jones impersonation. In fact, between 2008 and 2010, D.J. was touring
with an Elvis impersonator named Mark Lean.
1980 the band had moved to Las
Vegas year round, only returning to Ireland for occasional tours. Although Brendan and the band
never duplicated the fanatical success of the Royal, they broke new
ground by becoming the first Irish band to successfully thrive
across two continents. Before permanently relocating to Vegas the band spent close to a decade dividing their time
equally between Las Vegas (where they were known only as The Irish
Showband), and the Irish ballroom circuit where they thrilled
dancers as The Big Eight.
During a 2015 interview, D.J.
Curtin told me a little more about the band's later history. From
1982 through 1986 they were resident in the Barbary Coast Hotel and
Casino. From 1986 through 1997 they were part of the Clontarf Castle
cabaret show every summer. Frankie Carroll left the band in 1992 and
went to Chicago.
Like most of the bands that
were formed by some of the best known names of the time (Dickie's
Band, Stage 2, etc.), the Big Eight never matched the popularity or
drawing power of originals (in this case, The Royal Showband).
Perhaps it was because the superstars had grown older and were no
longer the idols of a younger dancing generation. Perhaps it was
because the showband era truly was just a short "flash in the pan"
which was basically over by the early 1970's. Or maybe these aging
stars couldn't keep up with the musical trends, after all, the
Beatles called it quits in 1970 as well. One way or another, Brendan
Bowyer and the Big Eight were one of the biggest names during the
waning years of the showband phenomenon.
Click on thumbnails for full images
Currently living in Las Vegas and "semi" retired, Brendan
continued to do residencies in Las Vegas for twenty five
years, building a reputation as one of the top local
performers. Although he will always be remembered in Ireland
as the gyrating "Elvis" of the Royal and later The Big
Eight, in Vegas, he is known more as an Irish crooner of
immense versatility who played for over a quarter century
with "The Irish Showband." He still tours with daughter,
Ashling, who lives in Dublin, and has a website at
Tom Dunphy - RIP: One of
Ireland's most beloved showband stars, Tom was
tragically killed in a car accident on July 29, 1975 at the
age of 40. News of his passing was sadly overshadowed by
the Miami Showband tragedy just two days later. Tom was the
first showband star to record a single and was one of the
true gentlemen of the era. His tragic passing at the young
age of forty left a gaping hole in the Irish entertainment
Jimmy still lives with his wife and four
children in Las Vegas and has done so since rejoining the Big Eight
and relocating permanently to Vegas when the band did in
1983. Jimmy, for a time, managed the only Irish pub in Las
Vegas. He still works there and works the odd gig with
Brendan Bowyer, D.J. Curtin and Michael Keane, all former
members of The Big 8 Showband. Info from Aidan Scannell.
||Michael Keane: After
a short stint with the Paddy Cole Band, like Jimmy, Michael
rejoined the Big Eight and moved to Las Vegas in the early
1980's. He is still there and performs occasionally with
Brendan and other members of the band. An update on October
21, 2007 from Jim McCaffrey tells us that Michael has now
returned to Ireland and is working in the car rental
||Twink (Adele King):
After leaving the Big Eight, joined Paddy Cole's band and
eventually had her own band for a short while. She then
retired from the "road" to focus on work in TV and Radio.
She had her own very successful series on RTE in the early
1980's. She was also one of the busiest session singers in
Ireland, appearing on literally hundreds of records. She
continues to perform in Pantomime and musicals in Ireland,
as well as TV, and is very active on the Irish entertainment
scene. In October, 2007, Twink joined Linda Martin (of
Chips) on stage in Dublin for "Menopause the Musical."
Mickey O'Neill - RIP:
Mickey once wrote us: I was looking at your website
(Capitol Showband) and saw that you wanted updated info on
me (Mickey O'Neill). I've lived in Las Vegas for the
past 25 years and was the drummer with Brendan Bowyer's
Royal Irish (known in Ireland as the Big Eight). I'm
retired, but still play some gigs with Michael Keane, Jimmy
Conway and D.J.Curtin (from the Big Eight and Kerry Blues).
Mickey lived in Vegas with his longtime partner Mary Schwartz
with his two sons Alan and Mark. Sadly Mickey lost his other
son, Michael in 2005 as a result of a car accident at the
age of 21. Further to this listing, Mickey sadly passed away
on June 15, 2010. A friend to the site before his death, our
sincere sympathies go out to his family and friends in
Ireland and the USA.
||Dave Coady: Dave also
went to Las Vegas, although we know he wasn't in Brendan's
Band in the 1990's. A search of the Internet has revealed
that he formed his own band, Dave Coady and The Irish
Express which not only performed in Las Vegas, but traveled
across the United States as well. Dave still lives in Las
Vegas, and has pretty much retired from the music business.
He still does some work around St. Patrick's Day in Chicago,
and has done some work with the Gertrude Byrne Promotions on
her cruises and Irish weekends. About 4 years ago, Dave and
his band finished a multi year contract at the Stardust
Hotel and Casino, right on the main strip in Las Vegas- from
||Paddy Cole: Paddy
left the Big Eight to form the Paddy Cole Band, which after
a few changes became the Paddy Cole Superstars. The
Superstars were on the scene longer than many of the other
bands from the era and kept reinventing themselves to stay
with the times. Today Paddy is one of the best known
proponents of jazz music in Ireland and tours continuously
withy his band playing major festivals and theatres. He also
hosts his own radio show these days on Dublin's FM 106.6.
||Kelley (Eileen Kelly):
If you have info please email us
||Lola (Anne Mooney):
Annie (now Mullin) writes us to tell us that after leaving
the Big Eight she did not work for about a year or two, but
stayed on in Las Vegas. She then formed her own band and
worked on the strip and eventually went on to have a very
successful duo called, simply "Annie and Kenny." She also
got married. Around 2001 she actually rejoined the band for
a while and worked with Brendan and Aisling Bowyer, but
eventually gave it up as it was too hard to be away from her
family. Today she currently manages a psychologist's office
in Las Vegas, but still sings regularly.
We received an email in October, 2009 from Seamus Harrington
telling us that he had met Ray playing in a pub in O'Connell
Street in Dublin and that as well as playing, Ray now owns a
company that makes specialized flight cases for musical
instruments such as harps, bodhrans, bagpipes, keyboards,
and custom cases for items like the Sam Maguire cup.
Unknown - if you have info please email us
Unknown - if you have info please email us
||Tom Bourke: After
leaving the Big 8 he returned to Canada where he completed a
degree in education and later taught music with the Toronto
Catholic School Board. On returning to Ireland in 1983 he
formed the Castlebar and Sligo Concert Bands as well as
working with the Royal Irish Academy of Music as a music
examiner. He then moved to the Dominican Republic where he
taught for two years before moving back to Canada. He now
teaches music with the Surrey School Board in British
Columbia. He has one son, Stephen. (From Tom Bourke-Aug
Norman Clifford -
O'Regan wrote to tell us that Norman was with the Miami
prior to the Big Eight. Our thanks to Ray Clifford for the
updated photos of Norman. Ray told us in early
2011 that Norman's first Band was the Imperial Imps, he
joined them when he was only 14 years old. He then joined
forces with Anne Mooney and Paul Hallion and formed Lola and
the Gypsies. Later on he joined the reformed Miami Showband
before moving on to the Big 8 Showband. Norman was living in Las Vegas,
working as a soloist and performed
in the various casinos in Vegas, then in season he performed
on the Cruise Ship Voyager of the Seas for Royal
Caribbean. We received sad news from Ray that on the 13th
January, 2014, Norman sadly passed away.
Paddy Reynolds -
RIP: We understand from Jim McCaffrey that
after his stint with the Big Eight, Paddy returned to
Ireland and sadly passed away from throat cancer.
Marjory now lives in Boston and is in the real estate
business with her husband.
D.J. joined the Big Eight after
a successful career fronting the Kerry Blues and relocated
to Las Vegas with the band. He has lived in Las Vegas
permanently since about 1979. He has four
children. Besides the occasional gig with Brendan and The Big
Eight, he has been doing the cabaret scene in the States
and in Ireland with his Tom Jones tribute along with Mark Lean, an Elvis
impersonator who calls himself The Emerald Elvis.
Frankie went to Las Vegas with The Big Eight, and Tommy
Byrne sent us an email telling us Frankie
had relocated to Chicago in 1992 and was working in the computer industry.
An update on October 21, 2007 from Jim McCaffrey tells us
that Frankie has now returned to Ireland. In 2011, Frankie's
daughter, Siobhan, was the Chicago entry in the Rose of