The Swinging Sixties

by Archie Raeside

The Trumpeter

When 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.


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