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Billy Brown

Bands: Billy McFarland Band Freshmen Brown and O'Brien Billy Brown Band Freshmen

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. Another member of the McFarland band, bass player Torry McGahey and Billy became fast friends and eventually decided it was time to strike out on their own. 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 Henry (sax), Torry (bass), Damien McIlroy (guitar), Sean Mahon (trombone), Davy McKnight (drums) and Billy (sax and piano).

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. Before long, the band attracted the interest of a new manager, Peter Dempsey (band member Maurice Henry had previously handled the band's bookings). Peter ran dances in Andersontown and through this, met Johnny Flynn and made a host of connections in the South...uncharted territory for the Freshmen.

By 1963, they were beginning to make inroads in the South when Barney decided to leave. The search was on for a replacement and the band recruited Limerick singer, Tommy Drennan. With Tommy out front, the band continued to prosper, garnering rave reviews from the press and the punters. Within a year though, Tommy had grown homesick and returned to Limerick, leaving the band in bit of a bind. Billy filled in for a time, but eventually they found their ideal front man in Derek McMenamin, a handsome, tall singer whose good looks, charm, and talent rivaled any of the other leading front men of the time.

With Derek in place, the band cut its first record in London during a tour of England in February, 1964, She's The One You Love. Released in summer, the single faded quickly, making little impact. For a time in early 1964, Derek left the band to complete his college education where he was studying to become a teacher. By summer, he had taken his finals and was back with the band. At 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.

In 1965, the band recorded and released more singles. The first, I Stand Alone, failed to make an impression. However, their recording of 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. Their record, Papa-Oo-Mow-Mow reached number seven in the Irish charts and stayed in the charts for eight weeks well into 1968. 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.

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 Micheal 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 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 looked for a replacement, which they found in Ivan Laybourne.

It was reported the following week that Billy had signed a long term contract with Dan McGrattan, manager of the Chessmen. When Billy returned to health, he formed 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-Jim Farley Band), Keith Donald (sax-Real McCoy), Pascal Haverty (sax-Chessmen), Tiger Taylor (guitar-Eire Apparent), and Mike Nolan (RIP-trumpet).

Said Billy of the band's future at the time, "this band will be promoted as the ultimate in musical perfection whose music will appeal to every section of the community." Lofty goals that would be difficult to achieve. 

In a June 19, 1971 interview in Spotlight, Billy was very optimistic about the Superband's future. He revealed that the band was "working out arrangements for a Ben Hur sort of epic thing that we'd like to do with a children's choir." These were extremely ambitious ideas given the then current state of the Irish ballroom scene. In the end, although the musicianship was excellent,  the band lacked originality and that "certain" spark, lasting less than a year.

An article in the October 14, 1971 issue of Spotlight reported had sacked his band and was looking to form a new band. Other reports suggested that Billy was not happy with the Superband was looking for a front man. However, in the end he disbanded the Superband and started building a new band. Johnny Brown, who had been with Billy, moved to the Real McCoy and Keith Donald, who had left to join Billy's band, returned to the McCoy. Dessie Reynold's reportedly joined Johnny McEvoy's band. 

An article in Spotlight a couple of weeks later described the new band as "Brown and Company" and Billy was rehearsing with Tiger Taylor (guitar), Jimmy Greeley (drums and future RTE DJ) anf Billy Boyd (bass). At the same time, Mike O'Brien had left the Real McCoy to start a new outfit. Mike had started rehearsing his own new band which was initially reported to be called "Ratso's Band" and then "Fargo." According to the article, Eddie Creighton and Gerry Anderson had agreed to join the new band. On October 21 (see below) a pair of articles appeared in Spotlight outlining the plans of both Billy and Mike and at this stage, neither was admitting to the merging of the two groups.   

As they were both managed by Dan McGrattan, Billy and Mike were stable mates and knew each other well. Eventually, the two bands decided to merge. The first gig for "Brown and O'Brien" was Magilligan on Friday, November 5, 1971.

The new band kept two guitarists - Tiger Taylor (the only member to stay with Billy) and Eddie Creighton (from the Chessmen). The result was the Brown and O'Brien Band which featured Billy Brown (keyboards/sax/vocals), Mike O'Brien (Real McCoy - vocals), Tiger Taylor (Billy Brown Band - guitar), Eddie Creighton (Chessmen - guitar), Gerry Anderson (Chessmen - bass), Paddy Freeny (drums), and Ray Elliot (keyboards/sax). After a short time on the Irish scene the band headed for the greener pastures of Canada. Paddy Freeny was replaced by Pat Nash (Granny's Intentions and Woods Band) in July 1972 when Paddy went to rejoin the group, Alyce.   

However, in 1973, Billy came home to the Freshmen once again, this time to stay (Mike O'Brien also came home and reformed the Real McCoy with a new lineup).

Unfortunately, the Freshmen never again reached the heights they had enjoyed in the late sixties and early seventies as one of Ireland's most creative bands. 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. Although we are not sure, we think the band called it quits around 1980.

By 1980, the Freshmen, one of the greatest components of pop music in Ireland, were finally no more. After almost twenty years the band who had smoothly made the transition from pure 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 would continue to record, write and produce excellent music. His legend as one of Ireland's most gifted musicians continued to grow, but on June 6, 1999, at the age of 56, Billy left the stage for good, sadly passing away and leaving the Irish music scene without one of the guiding lights that illuminated the landscape of the showband era. 

Photo Gallery

WITH THE FRESHMEN (1963-1971 AND 1973-1980)
Freshmen -1963 (BS) Freshmen - 1964 Freshmen (BF) Freshmen - mid 60's (MN) Freshmen - 1966 (LR)
Freshmen - 1966 Billy Brown - 1966 Freshmen - 1967 Billy Brown - 1967 Billy Brown - 1967
Billy & Derek - 1967 Billy Brown - 1968 Billy Brown - 1968 Billy Brown - 1968 Freshmen - 1969
Billy Brown - 1969 Billy Brown - 1969 Billy Brown - 1969 Billy Brown - 1970 Billy Brown - 1970
Billy Brown - 1970 Billy Brown - 1970 The Freshmen - 1970 (SM) Freshmen - 1970 (DD) Billy & Earl Gill - 1970
Freshmen Live (DD) Freshmen - 1978 The Freshmen - 1979 Freshmen - 1975 Freshmen - 1972
Freshmen - 1972 Freshmen - 1972 Early Freshmen Early Freshmen Early Freshmen
Freshmen - 1967 Freshmen - 1966 Freshmen - 1967 Billy & Derek - 1967 Billy Brown - 1967
Freshmen - 1967 Freshmen - 1967 Billy Brown - 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
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 Freshmen - 1970 Freshmen - 1970 Billy Brown - 1970
Freshmen - 1970 Freshmen - 1970 Freshmen - 1970 Freshmen Live-70 (DD) Freshmen - 1970
Freshmen - 1972 Freshmen - 1972 Freshmen - 1973 The Freshmen - 1973 Freshmen - 1975
Freshmen - 1977 Freshmen - 1978 The Freshmen - 1979 Later Freshmen

Freshmen

   
Brown & O'Brien (RF) Billy Brown Band (RF) Billy Brown Band (RF) Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
WITH THE BILLY BROWN SUPERBAND (March - October, 1971)
Article - 1971 Billy Brown- 1971 Billy Brown Band - 1971 Billy Brown Superband - 1971 Billy Brown - 1971
Superband - 1971 Superband - 1971 Billy Brown - 1971 Billy Brown - 1971 Billy Brown - 1971
   
Billy Brown - 1971 Billy Brown - 1971 Billy Brown Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
WITH BROWN AND O'BRIEN (November, 1971 - 1973)
 
Brown & O'Brien - 1971 Brown & O'Brien - 1971 Brown & O'Brien - 1972 Brown & O'Brien - 1972 Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
PERSONAL
   
Billy Brown - 1970 Billy through the Ages Billy Brown Poster (TP) Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Not processed 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 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
RECORDS
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 A- One More River To Cross - Billy Brown A - Billy Brown-1980 One More River To Cross - Billy Brown Coming Soon
   
B - Freshmen - 1968 B - One More River To Cross - Billy Brown B - Billy Brown-1980 Coming Soon Coming Soon
         
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon

Discography (partial):

Singles:

She's The One You Love / I Love My Little Girl - Freshmen
Unknown label - 1964
I Stand Alone / Gone Away - Freshmen
Oriole Records - CD 305 - 1965
La Yenka / Don't Say Love - Freshmen
- #10 Irish Charts
PYE Records - 7N.15964 - 1965
So This Is Love / King Cole Yenka - Freshmen
PYE Records - 7N.17037 - 1966
Cara Mia / Better Believe It - Freshmen
PYE Records - 7N.17230 - 1966
Papa Oom Mow Mow / Let's Dance - Freshmen
- #7 Irish Charts
PYE Records - 7N.17432 - 1967
Go Granny Go / Look At The Sunshine - Freshmen
- #12 Irish Charts
PYE Records - 7N.17592 - 1968
She Sang Hymns Out Of Tune / Mr. Beverly's Heavy Days - Freshmen
PYE Records - 7N.17757 - 1968
Just To See You Smile / Indian Lake - Freshmen
- #9 Irish Charts
PYE Records - 7N.17689 - 1969
Banquet For The World / Time Hasn't Changed Her - Freshmen
CBS Records - S.5168 - 1970
Halfway To Where / Time Hasn't Changed Her - Freshmen
- #10 Irish Charts
CBS Records - S.4842 - 1970
Swannee River / Take The Time It Takes - Freshmen
CBS Records - S.7694 - 1972
Le Linda / My Home Town - Freshmen
CBS Records - S.8079 - 1972
All My Trials/Child Song / Hold On  - Freshmen
Dolphin Records  - DOS.104 - 1973
I Found My Freedom / Listen To A Country Song - Freshmen
Dolphin Records - DOS.106 - 1973
One More River To Cross (while with Brown and O'Brien)
Hit Records - HIT.17 - Unknown
The Leaving of Liverpool / We Shall Remember (solo Billy Brown)
- #5 Irish Charts
Unknown label - February, 1974
What Colour Is God's Skin / The Time Is Now - Freshmen
Dolphin Records - DOS.126 - 1974
Longer Boats / Alabama - Freshmen
Dolphin Records - DOS.122 - 1974
Papa-Oo-Mow-Mow / Northwest Territory - Freshmen
Hawk Records - HASP 375 - 1975
Go Granny Go / Carpet Man  - Freshmen
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
Look What Jerry Lee Did To Me / Abandon Chip - (solo Billy Brown)
Release Records - RL.1016 - 1980

Albums:

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


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