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April 6, 2001

Save the next dance for me..........

I knew his father afterwards, he was Chief Usher in Leinster House, the seat of Government, dapper and Dublinised and quick, but I did not know Tommy Moore at all the first time I heard Butch Moore and the Capitol Showband, live, in the Town Hall in Enniskillen, and I was falling in love in a slow waltz on the crowded floor. Her surname was Devine.... Divine!..... and she had thick brown hair that clustered around the nape of her neck and she was from Omagh.

You fell in love, in that era, to the sound of Butch Moore and Brendan Bowyer and Dickie Rock, you fell in love for three or four hours, in all innocence, and then it was over. That was the problem with the big showbands like Butch Moore's Capitol. They drew crowds... and girls... from sixty and seventy miles away. In an era when few young men had a car that was dreadful. You travelled by bicycle and a girl from Omagh, even if she was Devine, might as well have been from Outer Mongolia. She was beyond the reach of a push bike. So, when the dance was over, you walked her to the crowded car that had brought the dancers the long journey to the Town Hall. Maybe there was a doorway close by and maybe there was a moon in the early morning sky. And maybe she might let you kiss her for five minutes before they had to go away. She had no telephone at home and you had no telephone at home and even kiosks were scarce as hens' teeth. She might write a letter and you might write a letter but the next showband, the next Sunday night, created a new and equally harmless romance. O to think of it.

Butch Moore died today in America. I think it must have been cancer that attacked him quickly and lethally. I feel quite melancholy about it just at the moment and, out of the tendrils of memory, I see a young and beautiful face, Divine, and brown curls clustered thickly at the nape of her neck.

I met him only last year in Clare FM. He came in to talk to my colleague John Ryan on an afternoon show. Like so many people in showbusiness the years seemed to have brushed him far less lightly than the rest of us. He was as dapper as his father had been when he was Chief Usher in the Dail and his son was one of the brightest names in Irish showbusiness. For Heaven's sake Butch Moore was the first Irish entrant in Eurovision, the great European songfest, and all of Ireland was watching when he confidently sang a song called "I'm walking the Streets in the Rain" into about third place. There were crowds at Dublin Airport when he came back. He was lead vocalist with the Capitol Showband at the time, debonair and slick-suited, and they were second only to the Royal Showband and Brendan Bowyer from Waterford. And both of these and about four or five others in the Top Ten of Showbands could draw thousands of dancers to the dry (non alcoholic) ballrooms of that era and, cruelly and laterally, bring about young loves that pushbike geography could not sustain.

They never retire, the old ones. They come back home in the summer, every summer, and they do brief tours and get-togethers that at least pay for their holidays. They still get on the Late Late Show and they still touch a national chord. The Capitol Showband, long defunct, several of them now dead, have had dramatically musical reunions every few years since discos killed the showbands. They have always been highly successful. I attended one in the line of duty in Salthill a few years ago. In the dimmed lights the cocky Butch Moore, then living in Canada, seemed just as youthful as ever, the sound just as brassy and young. Des Kelly and Paddy Cole were there, though Johnny Kelly was already in Heaven, and I saw grannies dancing with tears in their eyes. And maybe that was the last time I remembered the girl who was Devine until today and a news bulletin which said he was dead.

Des Kelly is nowadays a friend, a fellow broadcaster, and I remember being surprised a few years ago when Des told me that at the height of their fame, setting off in their customised show!-bus, all the members of The Capitol Showband took out their Rosary Beads and said the Rosary. Imagine that! They were the icons of a more secular new Ireland but the old custom lingered for a long time. Des was the leader of the band but Butch Moore was the frontman. They were bigger than the Beatles for a decade and more, bigger than Elvis for years, they had a prime time show on national television on Christmas Day for several years. Nobody today on the Irish entertainment scene... as opposed to the international one...... is as big as they and the Royal Showband were.

The old dry ballrooms are gone. The showbands are gone. The U2s and The Corrs and the Boyzones trade internationally. And, sadly, the names that were once the brightest there were are now beginning to crop in obituaries.

I remember the Devine and Divine young girl and the slow waltz and the scent of her brown hair mingling with the words of the song:

"My poor heart feels like breaking,

For I'll never see you again,

But nobody knows that I'm crying,

For I'm walking the Streets in the Rain ".

There are more than enough of the old showbanders up there now for there to be a couple of good combos up in Paradise.

Save the next dance for me..........

Cormac MacConnell can be contacted at cormac@clarefm.ie

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