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The Big Eight (1971-86 in Ireland)

Photo Gallery - Band Lineups - Discography - Audio samples - Where Are They Now?

The Story

The dominance of the Royal Showband from Waterford on the era is well documented (click here to read the Royal Story) but in August, 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 McCoy), 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.

When 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. 

On 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 Spotlight 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 of age.       

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 September, Kelley announced she was leaving the band and Ray Doherty left to start up a new band, Las Vegas, which would feature Rob Strong.

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 she would soon have her own band, Kelley and Klass.   

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.

By 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 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.      

Photo Gallery

Click on thumbnails for full images

Big Eight - 1971 Big 8 - 1971

Big Eight - 1971 (KS)

Big Eight - 1971 Big Eight - 1971
Big Eight (LR) Big Eight - 1971 Big Eight (LR) Big Eight - 1971 Big Eight - 1971
Big Eight - 1971 Big Eight - 1971 Big Eight - 1972 Big Eight - 1972 (LR) Big Eight - 1972
Big Eight - 1972 Big Eight - 1972 Big Eight - 1972 Big Eight - 1972 Big Eight - 1972
Big Eight - 1972 (LR) The Big 8 - 1972 Brendan Bowyer (LR) Paddy Cole Superstars - 1974 (JB) Big Eight - 1975 (LR)
Big Eight-1974 (LR) Big Eight - 1976 Big Eight - 1977 (PH) Big Eight - 1978 (LR) Brendan Bowyer and his Band - 1990 (LR)

Brendan Bowyer Show

Big Eight - 1971 Big Eight - 1971 Tom Dunphy - 1972 Tom Dunphy - 1972
Tom Dunphy - 1972 Big Eight - 1972 Big Eight - 1973 Big Eight - 1971 Big Eight - 1974
Big Eight - 1974 Big Eight - 1974 Big Eight - 1972 Tom & Brendan - 1972 Tom Dunphy - 1972
Big Eight - 1974 Tom Dunphy - 1975 Tom Dunphy - 1975 Tom Dunphy - 1975 Big 8 Reunion (MS)
Big Eight - 1974 Big Eight - 1972 Big Eight - 1975 Big Eight - 1974 Big Eight - 1975
       
Big Eight - 1972 Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
Record Sleeves
You Gave Me A Mountain
Brendan Bowyer and the Big Eight - 1971
Matrimony
Jimmy Conway and the Big Eight - 1972
Matrimony
Jimmy Conway and the Big Eight - 1972
Candy Man
Brendan Bowyer and the Big Eight - 1972
Candy Man
Brendan Bowyer and the Big Eight - 1972
Pass Me By
Tom Dunphy & The Big
Eight - 1973
Pass Me By
Tom Dunphy & The Big
Eight - 1973
All My Life Is You
Brendan Bowyer and the Big Eight - 1973
While We're Still Young
Dave Coady and the Big Eight - 1974
Hucklebucking Again
Brendan Bowyer & The Big Eight - 1976
Hucklebucking Again
Brendan Bowyer & The Big Eight - 1976
Thank You Elvis
Brendan Bowyer and the Big Eight - 1977
Thank You Elvis
Brendan Bowyer and the Big Eight - 1977
It's Now Or Never
Brendan Bowyer and the Big Eight - 1977
The Love She Found In Me - Big Eight
A - Big Eight (LR) B - Big Eight (LR) A - Big Eight - 1988 (LR) B - Big Eight - 1988 (LR) A - Brendan Bowyer - 1977
B - Brendan Bowyer - 1977 A - Tom Dunphy - 1976 B - Tom Dunphy - 1976 A - Big Eight B - Big Eight
Years Vocals Vocals Guitar Bass Drums Keyboards Trumpet Sax/Vocals
1971 Brendan
Bowyer
Twink
 
Jimmy
Conway
Tom
Dunphy
Mickey
O'Neill
Michael
Keane
Dave
Coady
Paddy
Cole
July
1974
Brendan
Bowyer
Kelley
 
Ray
Doherty
Tom
Dunphy
Martin
Branigan
Noel
Ryan
Dave
Coady
Pat
Chesters
Aug
1975
Brendan
Bowyer
Kelley
 
Jimmy
Conway
Frankie
Carroll
Martin
Branigan
Michael
Keane
Dave
Coady
Pat
Chesters
Oct
1975
Brendan
Bowyer
Helen*
Jordan
Jimmy
Conway
Frankie
Carroll
Martin
Branigan
Michael
Keane
Tom
Bourke
Paddy
Reynolds?
1976
 
Brendan
Bowyer
Lola (Anne)
Mooney)
Jimmy
Conway
Frankie
Carroll
Martin
Branigan
Michael
Keane
Tom
Bourke
Norman
Clifford
1978
 
Brendan
Bowyer
Helen
Jordan
Jimmy
Conway
Frankie
Carroll
Martin
Branigan
Michael
Keane
Tom
Bourke
Dave
Coady
1979
 
Brendan
Bowyer
D.J.
Curtin
Jimmy
Conway
Frankie
Carroll
Mickey
O'Neill
Michael
Keane
Tom
Bourke
Paddy
Reynolds
1988
 
Brendan
Bowyer
Marjorie
Delaney
Jimmy
Conway
Frankie
Carroll
Mickey
O'Neill
    D.J.
Curtin

*As reported in Spotlight on December 4, 1975

Discography:

Singles:
Our thanks to Liam O'Reilly for much of this info!

You Gave Me A Mountain / Can't Stop Loving You (Brendan Bowyer) - #6 Irish Charts
Play Records - PLAY 8 - November, 1971
Matrimony (Jimmy Conway) / I Toss The Feathers (Paddy Cole) - #18 Irish Charts
Play Records - PLAY 25 - June, 1972
Candy Man / Stranger Take Me Away (Brendan Bowyer)
Play Records - PLAY 30 - July, 1972
Molly Darling / Great White Horse (Tom Dunphy & Twink)

Release Records - RL.612 - 1972
All My Life Is You / It's Now Or Never (Brendan Bowyer)
EMI Records - EMD 4010 - 1973
Pass Me By (Tom Dunphy) / Teach Your Children / Ride Me Down Easy
Release Records - RL.697 - Sept, 1973
While We're Still Young / San Bernadino (Dave Coady)
Dolphin Records - DOS.114 - 1974
This Song Is Driving Me Crazy (Frankie Carroll)
Unknown - Unknown - November, 1975
Hucklebucking Again (Brendan Bowyer) / Don't Lose Your Hucklebuck Shoes (Royal Showband)

EMI Records - IEMI 5049 - 1976
It's Now or Never / All My Life Is You (Brendan Bowyer)
Hawk Records - HASP 408 - 1977
Thank You Elvis / Stagger Lee (Brendan Bowyer)
- #4 Irish Charts

Hawk Records - HASP 411 - 1977
All The Gold In California (Brendan Bowyer) / Hail Hail Rock n' Roll (with the Comets)
Release Records - RL.993 - December, 1979
Baby I'll Be Coming Back For More / The Town I Loved So Well (Brendan Bowyer)
Release Records - RL.1015 - 1980
Lonely Women Make Good Lovers / The Hucklebuck Is Back (Brendan Bowyer)
Release Records - RL.1068 - 1981
The Swallow / Danny Boy (Brendan Bowyer)
Dolphin Records - DOS.199 - 1989
The Love She Found In Me / Wind Beneath My Wings (Brendan Bowyer)
- #29 Irish Charts
Dolphin Records - DOS.207 - August, 1990
The Hits Medley - Hucklebuck Time Again (Brendan Bowyer)
Dolphin Records - DOS.210 - 1990

Albums:

Brendan Boyer, Tom Dunphy & the Big 8 
Release Records - SRL.3008 - 1972
The Very Best of Tom Dunphy (released after Tom's death) 
EMI Records - STAL.1049 - 1976

Brendan Boyer, Irish Showband 
Stel-Boy Records - SB.1001 - 1977?
 
Powerhouse-Live At Clontarf Castle 
Harmac Records - HM 43 - 1988

Audio Clips

Coming Soon

Where Are They Now?

Brendan Bowyer: 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 www.brendanbowyer.com

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 industry. 
Jimmy Conway: 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 industry.
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 Paul Cullagh
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): Coming soon 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.
Ray Doherty: 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.
Martin Branagan: Unknown - if you have info please email us
Noel Ryan: 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 07))
Norman Clifford - RIP: John 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.
Marjorie Delaney: Marjory now lives in Boston and is in the real estate business with her husband.
D.J. Curtin: 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 Carroll: 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 Tralee Festival.

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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006