All About the Clipper Carlton
(1949-1970) & (1985-1987)
Photo Gallery -
Band Lineups -
- Audio samples -
Where Are They Now?
The first reference we can find to Hugh Toorish and the Carlton
comes from 1926. In the early 1930's the band was known as the
Carlton Orchestra under the direction of Hugh Toorish. We have found
a listing of the original line-up in 1926 which included: Hugh
Toorish (piano), D. Molloy (violin), P. Dunleavy (sax), J. Maker
(sax), and P. McDevitt (jazz and effects - that might be drums, we
don't know). Throughout the 1930's the band played all the important
dance dates around their home town of Strabane.
By the 1940's the band was traveling further
afield and were known as the Carlton Dance Band or Dance Orchestra.
At that time, all "orchestras," including the Clippers, sat
behind music stands and read their music, playing the dance hits of
the day and a wide range of musical styles. The only "frontmen" were
the bandleaders and although their was usually a featured vocalist,
often other members of the band would sing based on each musician's singing style.
We have read that one night in late 1949, the band held a contest to
find a new name and the "Clipper Carlton's" were born.
However, the first advert we can find using that name was in
December 1950, so it is possible that the date is wrong. One way or
another, the band would eventually cite 1950 as the year they
officially started. At the same time, there was another Carlton
Dance Band based in Drogheda which may have prompted the name
change. That band would eventually become known as the Flying
Carlton. Strangely enough the Clipper in the Hugh Toorish band's
name referred to the Clipper air planes used in the 30's and 40's
for cross-Atlantic flights.
The new name didn't catch on immediately as for
several years the band would still be advertised in many ballrooms
as the Carlton Orchestra. In January 1952, the started including a
"cabaret show featuring Ireland's Al Jolson." During this period the
band was slowly broadening their horizons playing gigs in faraway
places like Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal. It should also be remembered
that dancers back then ran from 9 p.m. until 2 a.m. and bands had to
try all manner of gimmick to make their way through 5 hours of
In 1952 Victor
Craig took over the band's management and things started to change.
The original members were: Hugo Quinn (RIP-trumpet), Hugh Toorish
(RIP-keyboards-piano in those days), Terry Logue (RIP-sax/clarinet), Mick
O'Hanlon (RIP-drums), Art O'Hagan (bass), and Fergus O'Hagan (RIP-vocals).
Victor Fleming (RIP-trombone) joined the band in 1954 and the lineup was
We have been told that it was in 1954 that the band also stood up,
breaking tradition with the other orchestras and dance bands across
Ireland. Relying on memory to play the hits, they moved
around the stage and took to wearing snappy suits rather than
tuxedos, which was the norm at the time. Dominic "Dom" Shearer joined the band as lead
singer in 1956 along with Billy McFadden on guitar and their fame continued to spread far and wide.
In the mid-fifties, they
started touring England during Ireland's "off
season" - Lent. In September, 1958, the band made their first
trip to the United States. They would head to the States again in
the fifties and into the early 1960's, the Clippers were one of the
biggest acts in Ireland, but they were a mature band compared to
many of their rivals like the Royal and Dixies. The rise of the
showband genre was taken over by younger, more charismatic
performers like Dickie Rock and Brendan Bowyer.
In March, 1962, after forty years in the
entertainment business, founder Hugh Toorish retired from the
bandstand and went back to playing organ in his hometown of
Strabane. Given the massive influx of young and upcoming showbands
in the early 1960's his age, and the entire band\s age, was becoming
In mid-1962, the band introduced a special
feature to their act called "Jukebox Saturday Night" in which
members of the band dressed up, impersonating the stars of the day.
They were one of the first to include a "show" in their act, but it
was the late Dave Glover, another Northern band, who claims to have
actually coined the term, "Showband." The Royal also have a fair
claim to that as well.
In the early 1960's there was a real feeling
across the Irish dance scene that the "good old days" were fading
fast. Columnists lamented the massive influx of young,
"not-so-talented" showbands that were flooding the ballrooms as the
country went dance crazy and any lad who could hold a guitar was a
The place of the Clippers in all this was
reflected perfectly by the writer for the Evening Herald in the
Tempo column who wrote, "It seems you must take the good with the
bad in all walks of life. Without jogging the memory to any undue
extent, I think the Clipper Carlton were the first on the road. If
only their successors had attained the same level of perfection as
that reached by Hugh Toorish and his boys, I am fully confident this
country could have relaxed in what would have been the greatest ever
era of show business."
Then by 1964, just as the showband era was
beginning to peak, the
Clippers were seen as "yesterday's news."
In early 1964, the band split in two with Hugo
Quinn and the O'Hagan brothers continuing on as the Clippers while
Mick O'Hanlon, Dom Shearer and Victor Fleming formed the Santa Fe
Showband with George Galway, and Barney Skillen (guitar). Victor
Craig left the scene and Maurice Cassidy took over the management of
the Santa Fe.
In the meantime, the Clipper
Carlton continued on with a new lineup which included Art, Fergus
and Hugo along with newcomers Pat Lynch - soon to be of the Airchords (vocals)
Paddy Courtney (drums),
Billy Brady (guitar), Jimmy Moore, (keyboards), and Neil Mc Mahon
(sax). George O'Reilly took over the management following Victor's
temporary retirement. To many, they split was the end of an era and
mourned by their legions of fans. Pat Lynch would not stay long as in
March 1965, he left to join the Airchords.
For a couple of years, both bands floundered,
neither able to come anywhere near the popularity of the original
band. Then in June, 1966, Cassidy suggested the band reform with the
original lineup. The idea paid off and for three years, the
Clippers enjoyed a rebirth with many of the dancers that had grown
up with them in the 1950's.
In November, 1968, the band announced it was
branching out into cabaret. Said Art O'Hanlon at the time, "we found
that the dancers were more interested in our cabaret spot than
dancing, so now we have decided to do a complete night's cabaret in
larger hotels and other suitable venues across the country where
people can sit down and have a drink and enjoy the show." We are not
sure how well this change went down went punters but at the time,
but it was seen by pundits as the band trying to find a a way to
take advantage of their "middle-aged" status with dance goers. There
was no denying that the Clippers were getting old.
Rumours abounded in mid 1969 that the
band was ready to break up, but an article in the September 12th
issue of Spotlight reported that Merv Allen had been signed as the band's
new lead vocalist. In 1968, like the Royal and other bands, the
Clippers were drawn to Las Vegas. The band continued to play through
the end of the decade, although without the major drawing power of
their early years.
In August, 1970, an advert appeared in
Spotlight advertising vocalist Merv Allen (Ireland's top yodeling
star), along with Scotty Coburn. By the end of 1970, the ride was over and
the band broke up again. Maurice Cassidy ran the Stardust Club in
Derry and eventually managed Tony Kenny and the Sands. The rest of
the band packed it in, returning to civilian life.
In early 1972, the New Clippers were put
together by founding member Terry Logue. According to an article in
Spotlight, the band featured Terry's 17 year old son, Terence, on
sax and the band's oldest member was keyboard player Billy Hamilton
at 22. Also mentioned in the article is Maurice Hamilton (trombone)
and Cecil Jack (guitar). We are not sure how long this incarnation
of the band lasted.
The final chapter in the history of the Clipper
Carlton started in 1985. Coming out of retirement, the band planned
to play a summer season that turned into two years. The only "original
on stage was Victor Fleming, who was replaced by Terry Duffy. Their
"Jukebox Saturday Night" was rekindled with a new name, "There's No
Business Like Show Business." Unfortunately, it all came crashing down with
the death of Hugo Quinn in 1987.
Terry Logue, Hugo Quinn, Victor Fleming, and
Hugh Toorish have all passed away.
Fergie O'Hagan sadly passed away on February 24, 2007. Mick
O'Hanlon passed away 7th September, 2009, leaving only one member of the original Clippers surviving today, Art O'Hagan.
Click on thumbnails for full images