The Swinging Sixties
I entered the Technical Training Squadron of the Irish Air Corps in
1955 and living at Baldonnel Aerodrome, my trumpet went with me. No
doubt my family were pleased not to have to listen to my practice
sessions for a while. My ‘room mate’, Tom Murphy and those in
adjoining rooms, however, uncomplainingly endured the noise for a
while. One of the ‘senior apprentices’ offered me the use of a
‘mute’; perhaps he was trying to tell me something in a diplomatic
way. Eventually, our chief instructor and Flight Sergeant in charge,
suggested the Billiard room might be a better place to practice as
it was located some distance from the living quarters.
Two years after graduating from the Technical
Training Squadron, I was on duty one night at the Officer’s Mess
gate and was visited by two former student colleagues. My visitors
were Paddy O’Meara and Seanie Kinsella. “We are thinking of forming
a Showband and thought you might be interested - what do you
think?”. I liked the idea and was pleased they considered me for the
job of trumpeter so I said, “count me in”.
The original ‘line-up’ included Paddy O’Meara
playing tenor sax and piano, Seanie Kinsella on drums and myself on
trumpet. Then came Arthur O'Neill playing tenor and alto sax, Myles
Mooney singer and song writer, Eirnie Berkenheier Bass guitar and
Mick Mc,Namara completed the vocals.
Colonel W.J.Keane, our commanding officer, gave
permission for us to use a room in the dining block for practice. In
order to play in most dance halls and ballrooms around the country
it was important to become a member of The Irish Federation of
Musicians, so they were contacted and a date set for us to take the
test. First we were questioned individually in the theory of music
and then as a band, we performed a couple of numbers. Having passed
the test and gained admittance to the federation we turned our
attention to image. Like other Showbands, we appeared clean-shaven,
well groomed and wearing white shirt, bow tie and a blazer, complete
with pocket crest.
Nobby O’Reilly, our manager, asked if I could
take himself and his girlfriend to a gig north of the border, so on
this occasion I borrowed my father’s Standard 10 because my own car
was a two seat-er sports model. Heavy rain during the night had
flooded the road at a number of locations and passing under the
Railway Bridge at Drogheda the car came to an abrupt stop and a wall
of water shot over the car. The dip in the road had flooded to a
depth of a foot (300mm.) or more.
The first priority was to dry the distributor cap
terminals and plug leads. Lifting the bonnet I got on with removing
the distributor cap and wiping it as dry as possible with a
handkerchief. As I was replacing the rotor arm, a Show-band mini-bus
pulled up alongside and the driver asked if we needed help. We were
towed around the streets of Drogheda until the engine came to life
and we continued on our way. The delay meant a later than planned
return to Dublin and by the time I reached Dunlaoghaire the sun was
rising. After driving as quietly as possible along Bernie’s road in
Dalkey, we both treaded softly as we approached the front door.
Bernie placed the key in the door lock while I held up the hinged
weatherboard, so as not to make any noise as the door was opened. It
transpired that no one in the household knew what time we had
arrived home and all was well.
Like most Airports and airfields, Baldonnel
Aerodrome is located away from the city and although only 6 miles
distance, not well served by public transport. One of our colleagues
had the foresight to buy a van and converted it into a mini-bus
which became a popular means of getting to town.
With the obvious disadvantages of our band
travelling in separate cars, we became customers of the new
transport service. As ‘Del Boy’ in the Television sit-com would say,
“You know it makes sense”.
As there was high Security at the border between
the Republic and the North of Ireland - I recall seeing many a car
or motor cycle being refused entry. We would avoid making it known
that we were all serving members of the Irish Defence Forces. Each
time we joined a line of vehicles at the border there was a little
apprehension as to whether we would be turned back or not. In my
experience playing at dances north of the border were very enjoyable
and without incident.
My involvement with the Airchords Showband came
to an abrupt end when I was selected as the official photographer to
accompany the first Irish United Nations troops to serve overseas
since the foundation of the state. Details of my roll and of the
members of the 32nd. and 33rd. Battalions, in
what was an historic and groundbreaking operation for the Irish
Defence Forces are recorded in my book, THE CONGO-1960. It tells how
the mission launched the country onto the world stage and chronicles
the professionalism, resourcefulness and courage of those who served
in what was a high-risk assignment.
My final performance with the Airchords took
place on 13th.July1960, exactly 44 years to the day
between the last gig and the launch of my book, is that a
coincidence or what?
It is worth mentioning some of the highlights
during the band’s lifetime. “A Knock at the Door” was their first
record and featured songs composed by Myles Mooney and Danny Ellis.
Two years later, they were at number one in the Irish Charts with
“Treat My Daughter Kindly”. Shortly before the band went off the
road they had their second number one with “When We Were Young”.
Although my time with the Airchords was relatively short, I have
fond memories of the ‘Showband era’ during the swinging sixties.