A large photograph appeared in the ‘Western People’ two weeks ago of the first ever showband in Sligo. They were the Clefonaires Showband and many memories were jogged. Back in the mid-1950s, Lonnie Donegan was rocking the world with the latest fad around, ‘Skiffle music’, which took the world by storm. In Tubbercurry, a group of young lads started a ‘skiffle group’ with mouth-organs, acoustic guitars and a broom handle to fill in for a double bass, an essential in such groups back then. The lads played at several gigs along the way, but it got more serious when they decided to start a showband. Along came Bernie Brennan, a nice fiddle player, who also played alto sax, and his brother, Eddie, who had a flair for drumming. Two other brothers, Peader and Pierce Leonard, had musical talents on the guitar and piano and it was in their home behind the post-office that rehearsals took place and the Cleftonaires were formed. Carl Neilsen, a multi-talented man from Denmark, played trumpet, bass and accordion and he was signed up. Pauric Patten worked in Gillespie’s Drapery and was a great mouth-organ player, who soon took up the clarinet and tenor sax with some style. Sean Hunt from Ballyhaunis who worked in Gowna, filled in on bass guitar. Mickey Brennan took up the biggest brass instrument, the trombone, and soon mastered that art. Sean Maran was an accordion player who could tackle the traditional music and he also learned the saxophone. For a crooner, they chose the very talented man-about-town, the late Tony Doyle.
Rehearsals went on each Saturday night in Leonard’s, when Jack and Josephine (R.I.P.) had to vacate the house. The band got bookings in Cloonacool, Aclare and all the local halls and went down well in St. Brigid’s Hall. However the ‘Show Dance’ was one dance they could not get booked for. The Show Dance usually drew big bands like the ‘Melody Aces’, but in 1959 all that changed when the Clefonaires were booked, attracting the biggest crowd ever at a show dance. They played at all the top nights, such as St. Stephen’s night etc. with a 10-piece band. More travel took is toll on daytime jobs and the band were reduced to just a 7-piece and a name change to the Clefs Combo. Finally, after a great run of several years, they broke up. Mickey Brennan went with Pauric Patten to Jack Ruane’s showband and Victor’s Showband, in turn. Carl Neilsen, Mickey and Pauric formed the band that is still playing, “The Jazz Lads”.
That is the history of the Clefonaires Showband, who were the most popular band in the 1950s and 1960s. They came a long way from a skiffle group to a big name band for those ‘trend-setters’ who played to so many happy dancers way back then.