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All About the Freshmen (1962-1980)

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

The Story

Although definitely one of the earliest "pop bands" the Freshmen, from Ballymena, were different from the rest of the showbands of the early 1960's. Billy Brown, an extremely talented piano and sax player, had been playing since he was twelve. By the time he got to college, he had his first professional gig with the Billy McFarland Band out of Belfast.

Two other members of the McFarland band, bass player Torry McGahey and sax player Maurice Henry became fast friends and they all eventually decided it was time to strike out on their own, although in a 1971 Spotlight interview with Davy McKnight it was reported Torry had been sacked from the band and Billy and Maurice went with him. One way or another, together they formed The Freshmen in early 1962. They recruited the best of musicians, each one a singer in their own right. The original lineup included: Barney McKeon (vocals), Maurice (sax), Torry (bass), Damien McIlroy (guitar), Sean Mahon (trombone), Davy McKnight (drums-who was training to be a teacher) and Billy (sax and piano). For the first few years Maurice would act as the band's manager, getting bookings across Northern Ireland.

After a year, the Freshmen continued to build their reputation when Barney decided to leave. At this point the band was still semi-professional (most of the lads had days jobs) and they were playing 3 nights a week although solely in the North.

It was 1963 and the search was on for a new leads singer. In his book, The Freshmen Unzipped, Derek Dean tell of his first encounter with the band. "The band planned to go professional as soon as possible and Maurice was responsible for getting the work. Up I went (on stage) and the three brass men stood in the middle of the floor as I belted into Sweet Little Sixteen, followed by a version of I Can't Stop Loving You and a ballad which was a big favourite at the time, Love Thee Dearest."  

It was all they needed to hear and Derek McMenamin was a part of the Freshmen. With the addition of Derek out front, the band went from strength to strength, but still had yet to cross the border into the South. The band's new sound took Northern Ireland by storm. They were starting out just at the same time as The Beatles and The Beach Boys and they were poised to ride the crest of the "pop" wave in Ireland. In his book, The Freshmen Unzipped, Derek tells the story of the band's first foray into the South to Borris-In-Ossary, Co. Laois. Despite their best efforts, their high energy pop was not going down with the dancers as well as it did back home, across the border. Despite this inauspicious start, the band continued to do well across the North and kept a keen eye focus on the market in the Republic.

Finally, the band made the decision to go "all in" and become fully professional, giving up their day jobs. Unfortunately for Derek, this presented a dilemma as he had been studying to become a teacher at St. Joseph's Teacher Training College in Belfast while gigging mainly on the weekends. The school would not allow him to leave without paying back the cost of his college up to that point. He had no choice, but to quit the band.

Billy filled in as lead vocalist for a time, and band changed it's name for a short time to Six of One. The band cut its first record in London during a tour of England in February, 1964, He's The One You Love. Released in summer, the single faded quickly, making little impact. Once again, the search was on for a replacement and the band recruited Limerick singer, Tommy Drennan. With Tommy out front, they continued to prosper, garnering rave reviews from the press and the punters. Within a short time though, Tommy had grown homesick and returned to Limerick, leaving the band in bit of a bind.

Derek was now very close to finishing his training and was told by the school that they would allow him to come back in the summer to take his final exams and would receive his certificate. He jumped at the opportunity and was once again, fronting the Freshmen. By summer, he had taken his finals and was back with the band. As had become the custom among the showbands, it soon became imperative that the band changed it's name to include that of a frontman. Dickie led the Miami, Brendan the Royal and so, at the the end of 1964, the band announced that Derek was changing his last name to Dean and the band also changed its name to Derek and the Freshmen.

Before long, the band attracted the interest of a new manager, Peter Dempsey. Peter ran dances in Andersontown and through this, met Johnny Flynn and made a host of connections in the South...still uncharted territory for the band. Slowly but surely, the Freshmen began their march southward, building their reputation and growing their fan base. 

In 1965, the band recorded and released more singles. The first, I Stand Alone, failed to make an impression. However, their recording of La Yenka was a top ten hit in November 1965. Over the next two years, the band's reputation and status went from strength to strength. They became the top Northern Band to play the South and at one point were ranked as the number four showband behind only the Royal, Miami and the Cadets. In August 1966, the band announced that it was changing its name once again and would be known as Derek Dean, Billy and the Freshmen, an obvious nod to Billy's growing influence in the band.

In 1967, the Freshmen were part of the showband elite in Ireland. Oliver Barry took over managing the band in mid-1967 and their record, Papa-Oo-Mow-Mow reached number seven in the Irish charts and stayed in the charts for eight weeks well into 1968. In September, 1968, the band announced a new image...gone were the tailored suits of the showband era and now the band took to the stage in "mod" gear. The move was actually seen as risky. A Spotlight article in the September 7th issue stated, "Ballroom managers were aghast....they felt dancers wouldn't go for it at all."

A press release in 1968 announced the band would have a special on RTE Christmas night hosted by Terry Wogan during which all of their LP tracks would be featured. The programme,  which included interviews which each of the "magnificent seven," was promoted as being the "first time a 45 minute unsponsored radio spot would be devoted to an Irish band." The name of the show was Movin' On, the title of their first LP.

They started a string of top ten hits and the band was doing extremely well as the money came pouring in. They released Go Granny Go, Number 12 in August 1968, Just to See You Smile, Number 9 in March 1969, and Halfway to Where, Number 10 in April 1970. In the April 26th, 1969 issue of Spotlight, an article reported that the band had claimed to have played before 16,000 dancers over the Easter week and that it must be some kind of record. Things were going well for the Freshmen. 

1970 was the year the band released their second album, Peace On Earth. The album was heralded as an artistic masterpiece and is still regarded by many as the greatest Irish pop album ever made. The same year, they performed their "Peace Concert" at the RDS in Dublin which featured noted actor Michael MacLiammoir as narrator (the role he also played on the album). Amid all the success though, trouble was brewing. The band had become too identified with the Beach Boys sound and as the Beach Boys fortunes' faded, so too did the Freshmen's.

In his book, The Freshman Unzipped, Derek writes candidly about the alcohol abuse which was going on in the band for years. Additionally, Billy Brown's marriage was breaking up and he was in trouble. In February, 1971, it was reported in Spotlight that Billy had been sacked by the band. The article said that Billy had been ill for some time and started missing dates. Billy himself said he had been feeling ill and that his doctor thought it was either his appendix or gallstones, but that he was going into hospital within the week. In the meantime, the band voted to sack the all star singer songwriter and was looking for a replacement which they found in Ivan Laybourne.

When Billy returned to health, he decided to form his own group, The Billy Brown Superband. He recruited one of the finest lineup of musicians perhaps ever to play the ballroom circuit. Billy was joined by Johnny Brown (bass), Dessie Reynolds (drums), Keith McDonald (sax), Pascal Haverty (sax), Tiger Taylor (guitar), and Mike Nolan (RIP-trumpet). The musicianship was excellent, but the band lacked originality and that "certain" spark, lasting less than a year. Said Billy, "this band will be promoted as the ultimate in musical perfection whose music will appeal to every section of the community."

The early seventies saw the Freshmen continue to slip in popularity and earnings. Following a false start with his superband, Billy teamed up with Mike O'Brien to form Brown and O'Brien in 1972. It was also around this time that the "Troubles" in the North became a real threat to those driving in the middle of the night through rural Ulster. Unexpected checkpoints would crop up everywhere and anywhere. The worst thing was not knowing who was stopping you, the British Army, RUC or paramilitary groups. The stress levels continued to rise.

It was in this environment in February 1972, that original member Davy McKnight announced he was leaving the Freshmen to join Clubsound, however it took a couple of months for the band to find a replacement and John Wilson joined the band for a time. A follow up article in May announced that Davy had joined the band who had changed their name to Warm Sensation. The band's lineup was Davy (drums), Eddie McCrudden, Barry McCrudden (keyboards), Harry Hickland (sax), Billy Bingham (guitar) and George Jones (bass).

Although it was rumoured Davy might be replaced by RTE's Ian McGarry, it was Linsey Lunney (College Boys) who came to the band on drums. In April, 1972, founder member Maurice Henry left the band to move into management. In a Spotlight interview, Maurice jokingly said, "I've left the Freshmen mainly because of old age." The first act he signed was Cathy and the Fugitives from Mayo and shortly thereafter added the Sounds.       

Meanwhile, Brown and O'Brien did not find the magic either and the band went to Canada. However Billy returned on his own and a report in Spotlight on October 12, 1972 claimed he would not be rejoining the Freshmen. Of course, Billy did rejoined the Freshmen after leaving Brown and O'Brien in October, 1972. He brought guitarist Tiger Taylor with him who replaced original member Damien McIlroy. However, Linsey Lunny left the band around the same time. A blurb in Spotlight reported Damien was leaving the band at the end of September, 1972 and he went to South Africa. A month later in October, keyboard player Ivan Laybourne, reportedly went to Scotland, but ended up joining Damien in South Africa.

Throughout the mid to late seventies, the Freshmen continued to play, ending up as a six piece and trying to make a living in a scene that was slowly dying and well past its prime. Around 1978, Torry McGahey left the band, breaking the final remaining link to the original Freshmen lineup. Although Billy Brown had been an original member, he had left the band for several years.

By 1980, the Freshmen, one of the greatest components of pop music in Ireland, were down to being a five piece band and scrambling for whatever gigs they could get. On the recent series "Little Bit of Showband," Derek recounted the story of a gig in Boyle when only a handful of dancers showed up and the decision was made to finish the band. With a whimper, it was over, the last gig we can't the band advertised for was in December, 1980. After almost twenty years the band who had smoothly made the transition from 60's showband to 70's pop group successfully (while staying true to their legacy of producing quality music) called it quits. 

In the years after the showband era ended, the late Billy Brown continued to record, write and produce excellent music. His reputation as one of Ireland's most gifted musicians continued to grow, but on June 6, 1999, at the age of only 56, Billy sadly passed away, leaving the Irish music scene without one of the guiding lights that had illuminated the landscape of the showband era.  

Photo Gallery      

Click on thumbnails for full images

Freshmen -1963 (BS) Freshmen - 1964 Freshmen - mid 60's (MN) Freshmen (BF) Early Freshmen
Early Freshmen Early Freshmen Billy Brown - 1966 Freshmen - 1966 Freshmen - 1966 (LR)
Freshmen - 1967 Freshmen - 1967 Derek Dean - 1967 Freshmen - 1967 Billy & Derek - 1967
Freshmen - 1967 Freshmen - 1967 Billy Brown - 1967 Derek Dean - 1967 Billy Brown - 1967
Derek Dean - 1967 Freshmen - 1967 Freshmen - 1967 Freshmen - 1968 Billy Brown - 1968
Billy Brown - 1968 Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1968
Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1968
Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1968 Freshmen - 1969 Billy Brown - 1969
Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969
Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969
Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969 Freshmen - 1969
Freshmen - 1969 The Freshmen - 1970 (SM) Freshmen - 1970 (DD) Billy Brown - 1970 Freshmen - 1970
Freshmen - 1970 Freshmen - 1970 Freshmen - 1970 Freshmen - 1970 Billy Brown Superband - 1971
Billy Brown Band - 1971 Freshmen - 1971 Freshmen - 1971 Derek Dean (LR) Freshmen - 1971
Freshmen Live (DD) Billy Brown- 1971 Billy Brown - 1971 Article - 1971 Billy Brown
Billy Brown - 1971 Derek Dean & The Freshmen - 1972 The Freshmen - 1972 The Freshmen - 1972 The Freshmen - 1972
The Freshmen - 1972 The Freshmen - 1972 Freshmen - 1972 Ivan Laybourne - 1972 Derek Deane - 1972
Ray Donnan - 1972 Tiger Taylor - 1972 Freshmen - 1972 Tory McGahey - 1972 Linsey Lunny - 1972
Freshmen - 1972 Derek Dean - 1972 Freshmen - 1970 The Freshmen - 1971 The Freshmen - 1973
The Freshmen - 1973 Freshmen - 1973 Freshmen - 1975 Freshmen - 1977 Freshmen - 1978
The Freshmen - 1979 Later Freshmen

Freshmen

Billy Brown Poster (TP) Freshmen (PL)
Freshmen (PL) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF)
Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF)
Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF)
Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF)
Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF)
Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Freshmen (RF) Billy Brown - 1971 Derek Dean - 1968
Freshmen - 1972 Freshmen - 1967 Derek Dean - 1967 Derek Dean - 1967 Derek Dean - 1972
Derek Dean - 1974 Derek Dean - 2007 Freshmen - 1970 Derek Dean - 1968 Derek Dean - 1967
   
Derek Dean - 1968 Derek Dean - 1968 Derek Dean - 1973 Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
Record Sleeves
Halfway To Where - 1970 Peace On Earth - 1971 Le Linda - 1972 All My Trials - 1973 You've Never Heard Anything Like It - 1978
A - Freshmen - 1968 B - Freshmen - 1968 B - Billy Brown B - Billy Brown B - Billy Brown
       
B - Billy Brown Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
Year Vocals Guitar Bass Drums Sax/Keyboards Sax/Vocals Trmb/Tpt
1962 Barney
McKeon
Damien
McElroy
Torry
McGahey
Davy
McKnight
Billy
Brown
Maurice
Henry
Sean
Mahon
1963 Derek
Dean
Damien
McElroy
Torry
McGahey
Davy
McKnight
Billy
Brown
Maurice
Henry
Sean
Mahon
1964 Tommy
Drennan
Damien
McElroy
Torry
McGahey
Davy
McKnight
Billy
Brown
Maurice
Henry
Sean
Mahon
1964 Derek
Dean
Damien
McElroy
Torry
McGahey
Davy
McKnight
Billy
Brown
Maurice
Henry
Sean
Mahon
1971 Derek
Dean
Damien
McElroy
Torry
McGahey
Davy
McKnight
Ivan
Laybourne
Maurice
Henry
Sean
Mahon
1972 Derek
Dean
Damien
McElroy
Torry
McGahey
John
Wilson
Ivan
Laybourne
Ray
Donnan
Sean
Mahon
1972 Derek
Dean
Damien
McElroy
Torry
McGahey
Linsey
Lunny
Ivan
Laybourne
Ray
Donnan
Sean
Mahon
Oct
1972
Derek
Dean
Tiger
Taylor
Torry
McGahey
Brian
Donaghey
Billy
Brown
  Sean
Mahon
1974 Derek
Dean
Tiger
Taylor
Torry
McGahey
Paddy
Freeney
Billy
Brown
  Sean
Mahon
1978 Derek
Dean
Tiger
Taylor
Peter
James
Paddy
Freeney
Billy
Brown
Francis
Rosato
 
1979 Derek
Dean
Brian
Baynes
Pat
Carey
Paddy
Freeney
Billy
Brown
   

Discography (partial list):

Singles:

He's The One You Love / I Love My Little Girl
Mercury Records - MF 812 - 1964 (released as Six of One so as not be confused with the Four Freshmen - from Bruce)
I Stand Alone / Gone Away
Oriole Records - CD 305 - 1965
La Yenka / Don't Say Love
- #10 Irish Charts
PYE Records - 7N.15964 - October, 1965
So This Is Love / King Cole Yenka
PYE Records - 7N.17037 - 1966
Cara Mia / Better Believe It
PYE Records - 7N.17230 - December, 1966
Papa Oo Mow Mow / Let's Dance
- #7 Irish Charts
PYE Records - 7N.17432 - November, 1967
Go Granny Go / Look At The Sunshine
- #12 Irish Charts
PYE Records - 7N.17592 - August, 1968
She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune / Mr. Beverly's Heavy Days
PYE Records - 7N.17757 - 1968
Just To See You Smile / Indian Lake
- #9 Irish Charts
PYE Records - 7N.17689 - 1969
Halfway To Where / Time Hasn't Changed Her
- #10 Irish Charts
CBS Records - S.4842 - February, 1970
Banquet For The World / The Time Is Now
CBS Records - S.5168 - 1970
One Bad Thing / Everywhere There Is Love
CBS Records - S.7241 - 1971
Swannee River / Take The Time It Takes
CBS Records - S.7694 - 1972
Le Linda / My Home Town
CBS Records - S.8079 - 1972
All My Trials/Child Song / Hold On
Dolphin Records  - DOS.104 - 1973
I Found My Freedom / Listen To A Country Song
Dolphin Records - DOS.106 - 1973
The Leaving of Liverpool (solo Billy Brown)
- #5 Irish Charts
Dolphin Records - February, 1974
Longer Boats / Alabama
Dolphin Records - DOS.122 - 1974
What Colour Is God's Skin / The Time Is Now
Dolphin Records - DOS.126 - 1974
Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow / Northwest Territory
Hawk Records - HASP 375 - 1975
Go Granny Go / Carpet Man
Dolphin Records - DOS.137 -1976
And God Created Woman
- #3 Irish Charts
CBS Records - November, 1976
Cinderella
- #3 Irish Charts
CBS Records - February, 1977

You Never Heard Anything Like It / Bombing Run
- #17 Irish Charts
Release Records - RL 975 - September, 1979

Albums:

Movin On
PYE Records - NPL.18263 - 1968
Peace On Earth
CBS Records - CBS.64099 - 1970
Now and Then
Dolphin Records - DOLB.7015 - 1974

Audio Clips

     

You've Never Heard Anything Like It

Go Granny Go Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon

Where Are They Now?  

Billy Brown - RIP: One of Ireland's greatest musicians, Billy continued to play and produce after the demise of the Freshmen. However, he sadly passed away in 1999.
Barney McKeown: Lives in Ballymena today Unknown - if you have info please email us 
Tommy Drennan: Tommy went on to a career as leader singer with the Monarchs for eight years. He then formed Top League which also starred Shaun O'Dowd. He then put together his own All- Star band in the 1980's before moving into the cabaret scene where he still performs today.
Damien McElroy: We understand that Damien emigrated to South Africa in the 70s and Barry Woods writes to tell us that Damien is still living and gigging in Durban with his brother Paul who played with the Newmen. Barry was also with the Newmen before he joined Clubsound,.  
Torry McGahey: Teddie Palmer tells us Torry is still playing with Niamh Kavanagh & the Classics, and also with a band he has had going for years, The Illegals, a tribute to the Eagles which also features Niamh. Our thanks to Paul McGahey (not related, but a bandmate of Torry's) for the photo.   
Davy McKnight: Davy played with Clubsound for many years and they recently re-formed but we don't know if he is back in the line-up.
Maurice Henry: Maurice went into the hotel and pub trade in 1973, first with the Antrim Arms Hotel in Glenarm and then the Glynns Bar in Ballymoney. He retired in 1997 and still lives in Ballymena. His son Michael tells us he now lives across the street from original Freshmen vocalist Barney McKeown. 
Sean Mahon - RIP: Sadly, Sean passed away at the age of 67 on May 29th, 2009. He continued to perform until shortly before his death.  
Derek Dean: Derek Dean, writes Teddie Palmer, also lives in Dublin, last time he heard, Derek he was selling in the Spanish property market. Derek gained renewed attention when he published his tell all book about his days in the showbands. If you have more info please email us 
Ivan Laybourne: Ivan still lives in Larne, Co. Antrim. Jack Esdale told us in Feb, 2012 that Ivan was producing songs for the Internet.  
Ray Donnan:  If you have info please email us 
Tiger Taylor: Tiger Taylor is still living in Dublin and gigs around the country from time to time.
Paddy Freeney: Paddy now lives in Arklow and is the Managing Director of Litton Lane, a pro audio company located in Dublin. (Our thanks to Liam O'Reilly for the update)
Peter James:   If you have info please email us 
Francis Rosato:  If you have info please email us   
Brian Donaghy: Brian lives in Dublin and works as a travel agent, but still plays in local clubs. In a recent email, Brian confirmed that information.

 

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