As many as 30 years after being in one
of the top showbands in the country, Gene Chetty is still turning heads.
Returning to Enniskillen for the first time in decades, the South African
born singer was still meeting fans in the street as he and his wife enjoyed
a week-long holiday in the county.
The trip from their Cambridge home
to Enniskillen also gave Gene the opportunity to meet up with many of the
band members who were the personnel of Gene and the Gents back in the 1960s.
It was the first reunion since Gene resumed his University studies at the
end of six showband years in the 1960s. Gene and the Gents were an
Enniskillen-based band who first played on St. Patrick’s night in 1964 in
Monaghan town. Their fan base grew and hits such as “The way you wrinkle
your nose” and “I came as a stranger and stayed as a friend” were in the
charts. Many of the Gents had been former members of The Skyrockets
including Paddy McDermott (tenor saxophone) from Navan, Enniskillen’s Peter
Watson (drums), Dermot Doherty (trombone) from Derry and guitarist Henry
McCullough, who later went on to play in Wings with Paul McCartney. Pete
Cresswell replaced him after he left the band. Tony Gallagher from Strabane
and Barry Scully from Dublin also were members of the band.
band got together, they needed a lead singer and an advertisement was placed
in the music press. But not before publicity photographs were taken with a
stand-in to play the role of singer and former Impartial Reporter journalist
and novelist Keith Baker was the man to pose for the pictures.
Chetty had travelled from South Africa to study Law at Trinity College,
Dublin and had completed his first year when he saw the advertisement for a
singer. Always keen on music, he applied and got the job and Gene and the
Gents were born.
Under the direction of Road Manager, Joe Maguire,
they travelled the length and breadth of Ireland and England. “The memories
of those days are very good. We were travelling all over. It was really big
business then. There were not many other attractions. We would go to a
ballroom in the middle of a field and people would come from 20 to 30 miles
around,” Gene recalled.
And people still remember him. “We were
walking along the road going into town this week and a car kept beeping at
us. We thought he was looking for directions but he stopped and said he
thought that they recognised me. He said he thought I was Gene Chetty and I
said that I was. He said he used to come to see the band,” Gene said.
It was through friends in Enniskillen that Gene had met his wife, Karin
De-Zaaiger, a former pupil of Enniskillen Collegiate School, who had come
over from Holland with her family when her father became Works Manager for
the Taylor Woods factory in the town. They married in 1966. In her recent
trip to the town she too has met up with old friends from school.
reunion came about when contact was made between Gene and Henry McCullough
who told him about what the rest of the band were up to. At the same time,
Eddie Murphy, the DJ on Northern Sound Radio contacted Gene and conducted an
interview, playing some of the band’s music. Through the station, Paddy
McDermott contacted his old friend and the wheels were set in motion for the
reunion this week. “We were together about until the early 1970s. Then of
course being married with a wife and children to support, I decided to go
and get a ‘proper job’ and went back to my studies. This time I decided to
do a post-graduate in management studies,” Gene explained.
last five years Gene has worked for the Civil Service in an office based in
Cambridge. He also works as a part-time lecturer in Business Studies.
But there may be opportunity for him to sing with the band again. The
band is talking about perhaps getting together again next Easter for a
number of reunion gigs. “I would be keen on it. Not having been in Ireland I
am out of touch but the band tells me that there has been a bit of a revival
in the showband music. If the interest is there, I would be glad to do it,”