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Oceans Showband Story

As told by Robert Magee

I bought my first saxophone in Boosy & Hawks in Oxford Street, London at the age of 13 while visiting my English Grandparents in Finchley.  It cost me 50 pounds and I’d saved it in my post office book. I travelled across Belfast every week to learn the theory of music at Billy McFadden’s house. I didn’t practise as I should have, but eventually the "squeaks" from the reed had got minimal.

When I was 16 a guy called Alan Jones called at our house; he’d heard from somewhere that I played sax (Alan must’ve been about 20) and would I be interested to join a “group”. This was early in 1962. I went to the rehearsal room which was the front room in Alan’s parent’s house in Sydenham Belfast. When we had enough material put together our manager Alan Jones got our first gig.  We played an hour doing the interval for the “Witnesses Showband” at Belfast College. We rehearsed once a week and we did a few more breaks for the Witnesses before we got our first full gig.

The first photograph of “The Oceans” (above right) was taken at Sydenham with Belfast Lough behind us. The line up was - left to right: Robert "Crocket" Magee (sax), Victor Mawhinney (guitar), Billy Johnstone (RIP - vocals), Kenny Dowden (bass), Jackie Martin (drums), Front kneeling "Wee" Harry Whitley (guitar). Victor and Kenny had already played in a group together.

Now this all happened 44 years ago and the ould memory ain’t what it used to be! I think our first full gig was at St Teresa’s Hall in Belfast and the hall was packed with mostly youngsters like ourselves. Billy had a voice like Billy Fury and the girls went wild for him. Anyway it was our first full gig and it was a great success.

We rehearsed “Hey Hey Paula” (we’d seen the Witnesses doing ‘musical comedy sketches’) I got a dress from somewhere and stuffed balloons in for ‘Boobs’ and that was our first “sketch” which went down well with the audiences. Of course all the time we did do “the steps” and swing our instruments from side to side & up and down, as all of the Showbands did.

Alan suggested that we should have a female vocalist, so he and I went to see “Elisabeth Jamison” who had sung in our school choir and lived not far from me. She came to a rehearsal and was accepted. Her stage name became “Paula”. She had a great voice. This was still in the first half of 1962. We got many many gigs all over Belfast and outlaying country towns. We played the “Tonic Teenage Show” in Bangor Co. Down which was a show with 3 or 4 other Groups / Bands. The Tonic was a cinema and the seats were always packed with girls screaming as Billy did his thing!

Shortly after Paula joined, Billy left and was replaced by “Joe Reid”. Alan, our manager, reckoned that we needed “brass” so I knew of a guy called Alan Aston who played trombone and who also lived not too far from me.  Alan joined us and we were an eight piece band! Then after a short time Alan brought trumpet player Leslie Brooks along to our weekly rehearsal ……Now we were a 9 piece showband!

Kenny left the band sometime at the end of 62 and went to Australia after that. Ivan Johnston took over on bass. Jackie was replaced by Albert Craig.

The lineup was then Ivan Johnston,Victor Mawhinney, Albert Craig, Elisabeth “Paula” Jamison, “Wee” Harry Whitley, Robert”Crocket”Magee,  L to R front:- Alan Aston, Leslie Brookes and Joe Reid.

One Saturday night –must’ve been early 63 after we had finished playing at The Top Hat Ballroom in Lisburn, Alan Jones announced that he had sealed a contract for a couple of months at “The Irish Club” in Moseley Birmingham and we were to fly there the next evening.  “Wee” Harry had a steady day job as had Alan Aston, and Leslie Brookes, Our manager found a quick replacement for “Wee” Harry Whitley.

Sunday evening we flew to Coventry Airport with our new lead Guitarist Sammy McEwan  - we were once again a 7 piece Band. When we returned to Belfast 2 to 3 months later Alan and Leslie rejoined the Band. (9 piece again).

Alan Jones, our manager and originator of “The Oceans” was replaced by our Ivan Johnston's brother and not long after that I was replaced by Peter Harris (Sax/Clarinet). The only original “Ocean” was now Victor on Rhythm Guitar.

Victor recently made contact with me after 44 years through a piece I wrote for another website and sent me some newspaper clippings which follow below. Eventually he also was replaced by (he thinks the name was) Kit Carson.  According to Victor “The Oceans” never made any records. I’ve tried to be as exact as possible with what I’ve written, but many notes have been played since then and the dates have long left the “oul grey cells” (and the same goes with Victor).

Victor could only tell me that Jackie “Spud“Martin became very religious, and went to America where he opened a church. “Wee” Harry Whitley has passed away. Joe Reid and Sammy McEwan played (together with some other musician) their last “official gig” on New Years Eve 2004. In 2006, Victor visited Sammy who was working in a butchers shop in “Comber” Co. Down when he learned that Sammy’s wife had died.

Photo Gallery

Click on thumbnails for full images

 
Oceans Showband (RM) Oceans Showband (BS) Oceans Showband (RM) Oceans (PL) Coming Soon
Years Vocals Vocals Guitar Bass Drums Guitar Sax Trumpet Trombone
1962 Billy
Johnstone
  Harry
Whitley
Kenny
Dowden
Jackie
Martin
Victor
Mawhinney
Robert
Magee
   
1962 Billy
Johnstone
Elizabeth
Jamison
Harry
Whitley
Kenny
Dowden
Jackie
Martin
Victor
Mawhinney
Robert
Magee
   
1963 Joe
Reid
Elizabeth
Jamison
Harry
Whitley
Kenny
Dowden
Jackie
Martin
Victor
Mawhinney
Robert
Magee
Leslie
Brooks
Alan
Aston
1963 Joe
Reid
Elizabeth
Jamison
Harry
Whitley
Ivan
Johnston
Albert
Craig
Victor
Mawhinney
Robert
Magee
Leslie
Brooks
Alan
Aston
1963 Joe
Reid
Elizabeth
Jamison
Sammy
McEwan
Ivan
Johnston
Albert
Craig
Victor
Mawhinney
Robert
Magee
Leslie
Brooks
Alan
Aston
1963 Joe
Reid
Elizabeth
Jamison
Sammy
McEwan
Ivan
Johnston
Albert
Craig
Victor
Mawhinney
Peter
Harris
Leslie
Brooks
Alan
Aston
1965 Joe
Reid
Elizabeth
Jamison
Sammy
McEwan
Ivan
Johnston
Albert
Craig
James (Kit)
Carson
Peter
Harris
Leslie
Brooks
Alan
Aston
1966 Joe
Reid
Elizabeth
Jamison
Sammy
McEwan
Ivan
Johnston
Jim
Johnston
Victor
Mawhinney
Brian
Dempster
Leslie
Brooks
Bill
Richardson
A good friend, Leslie Brookes suggested I should have a look at your web site with special interest being the Oceans Showband, Belfast. I reckon I joined the band in 1965/66, probably following reed player Peter Harris. The band at that time was, ), Jim Johnston(d) with Joe Reid and Elizabeth (Paula) Jamison (vocals). This in fact is the line-up in your picture of Oceans (in white shirts). Leslie Brookes, Billy Richardson and I had previously played in various jazz bands in the Belfast area. At present, Leslie runs his own band which includes other well known Belfast jazz musicians such as Bill Bryson, Trevor Foster, Victor Staley and David Smith. Drummer Jim Johnston can be heard on Saturday afternoons in the Europa Hotel with the Gerry Rice quartet, while Billy Richardson is playing with another jazz band, Bourbon Swing, Thursday nights in Parador Hotel, Ormeau Road, Belfast. I retired as a performer from the music scene many years ago but recently published a book on jazz, under the title of TRACKING JAZZ - THE ULSTER WAY. It includes chapters on the Dave Glover Showband and the Witnesses Band Show. I hope you find this useful. It's a wonderful web site. Keep up the good work.
Kind Regards
Brian Dempster

 

Discography

Unfortunately, the Oceans Showband never recorded

Audio Clips

None available

Where Are They Now?  

Billy Johnstone:  Billy sadly passed away a few years ago - Eric Stephenson.
If you have more info please email us
 
Harry Whitley RIP: Harry sadly passed away.
If you have more info please email us
 
  Kenny Dowden: Unknown - if you have info please email us 
  Jackie Martin: Jackie emigrated to the United States where we are told he started a church.
Victor Mawhinney: Victor is still strummin’ strong and does Country music for Line Dancing, which he says is very popular at the moment.
Robert Magee: Robert emigrated to London where he played with an R&B Group. He met his German wife and returned to Belfast as a bus conductor and played with the “Cascades “ Belfast. In 1972 he emigrated to Germany and has played in various bands since then.
  Elizabeth "Paula" Jamison: Married lead singer Joe Reid, we are told by the band's manager, Alan Jones.
If you have more info please email us
 
  Joe Reid: Was playing up until 2004 with Sammy McEwan.
  Leslie Brooks: Leslie married Hilary Cardy and lives in Belfast. If you have more info please email us 
  Alan Aston: Unknown - if you have info please email us 
  Ivan Johnstone: Unknown - if you have info please email us 
  Albert Craig: Unknown - if you have info please email us 
  Sammy McEwan: Sammy was playing in a band with Joe Reid up until 2004 when he retired. Today we understand he is working in a butcher's shop in Comber, Co. Down.If you have more info please email us 
  Peter Harris: Unknown - if you have info please email us 
  Kit Carson: Unknown - if you have info please email us 


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