D O'B: I was very
surprised, but not my manager, Jim Hand , who forecast a hit. It
was, I suppose, suited enough to my sort of "ceili band" image
and background. It was a massive hit for me and really opened my
eyes to what one good hit song could do for one's
probably set the scene for other such bands like Brendan Shine
and perhaps Foster and Allen. Fronting a showband (with an
accordion) may have been difficult had you not had a good voice
and presentation. Which of your hits did you feel most
comfortable with as a recording artist?
D O'B: I played a
lot of trombone in the band, even recorded with it. However, I
was always asked to "play more accordion". Dublin 1962 and The
Galway Shawl are my favourites as regards my recordings. And of
course "The Merry Ploughboy".
Trombone and accordion are two rather diverse instruments. How
did you get your start with each?
first. I did piano from the age of 14 at the Convent of Mercy,
Ardee. Always fancied the accordion, God knows why , and used to
borrow the only one in town to grapple with. Figured out all the
buttons myself and was off and running pretty quickly. I always
was interested in Dixieland jazz, we had a trumpet, a clarinet
and a banjo in the band so I opted for the trombone. I loved it,
and became quite competent on it. Never play it
Your sports career and your entertainment career overlapped -
certainly a sports injury or even a rigorous training schedule
could negatively effect ones music career, while at the same time
the lifestyle of a showband musician could impact ones
performance on the playing field. Did you ever experience any
conflicts between the two and if so what were they and how did
you resolve them?
D O'B:There was a
constant conflict, with lots of people advising me to quit
football, some chance. I had a bad injury in 1953 and did not
play again for the county until 1957. I still had a day job then,
the music was part time. Early in 1957 I decided to give the
football priority and it was a good decision. The only precaution
I took was to tape the index and middle fingers of my right hand
together as I felt these were the most important. I got many
knuckle injuries and broke my right thumb once and a finger on my
left hand. In 1960 when I broke the finger, I decided to quit
county football. I was getting older, a bit slower, getting very
busy with the band hence more and more late nights.
you still maintain an interest in sports and are you presently
involved in any way with gaelic sports?
D O'B: I have an
interest in all sports and am a keen golfer. I have no
affiliation with any club but hope this changes when I return to
a new residence in Co. Louth very soon.
soon are you anticipating returning to Ireland?
D O'B: Early October
Will this be a permanent move for you?
D O'B: No, just the
You've played with and/or fronted a few bands over the years -
when and how did you get your start as a professional musician
and could you list the bands you've played with?
D O'B: I got my very
first gig for money with a ceili band from the Ardee area. The
wages were one pound per night. I also did a "spot" with the
local dance band at the time (circa 1951!), The Maple Dance Band.
They offered me 3 pounds per night, but I preferred the ceili
music. What an idiot.
In 1951 I
joined The Emerald Ceili Band, out of Slane, Co. Meath. The wages
were as before, one pound per night, whether you were playing at
a local venue or as far away as Cork. I stayed with them until
August 1953, when I was fired. I was injured playing in the All
Ireland semi-final agaist Kerry and could not perform with the
band that night as I was in hospital. I was fired on the spot. It
was a blessing in disguise.
A couple of
weeks later I had a visit from a man from Newry called Vincent
Lowe. He was the leader of the famous Vincent Lowe Trio and was
looking for a new accordionist. He had heard me on Radio Eireann
on my first broadcast and offered me the job. Had I been still
with The Emerald, I would not have left out of loyalty. Lowe paid
me 5 pounds per night and we were working 4 to 5 nights a week. I
was earning around 4 pounds per week as a clerical officer with
Meath County Council. Quite a rise in the world you might
I've played with [are]:
- The Clann
na h-Eireann Ceili Band.
- The Maple
Dance Band-one gig.
- The Emerald
- The Vincent
Malachy's Ceili Band (my own and first band, called after the
nun who taught me music in Ardee).
O'Brien and his Clubmen.
- The Dermot
Sister Malachy must have been a quite a special lady . What was
unique about her and why did you decide to name a band after
D O'B: She was a
very special lady, indeed. I went to her when I was 14. She took
to me right away. She taught me so many things and used to call
herself my second mother. I really think she regarded me as the
son she never had. She knew I would be going off to work when I
left school at 18, so we did two years work every year. I owe her
an awful lot. She died in 1952.
We also have
in the database, "The Dermot O'Brien Band" and "The Dermot
O'Brien Showband " (the latter is from a directory of showbands
from 1964, I believe) were those slightly different incarnations
as the band grew or just variations on the name?
D O'B:The band
never went by either of those names.
What precipitated the change from Ceili band to showband and how
did you choose the name "Clubmen" - is one correct in guessing
there's a sports connection there? Also, what was the band's
D O'B: I went to the
USA with our team (Louth 1957) in 1958. I played "the box" at a
few functions and was invited back to the USA by Bill Fuller who
owned The Crystal Ballroom and The Ballerina in Dublin and,
later, The Old Sheiling. He had ballrooms in New York, Boston,
Chicago and San Francisco and I played for him for 6 months in
On my return
in March '59 I was at a loose end for a while and was invited to
play with a small band who played every second Sunday at The
Lourdes Boy's Club, in Drogheda, which was run by Fr. Kevin Connolly - an old teammate from
1953. It was so successful, Fr. Kevin at my instigation ran the
dances every Sunday. They were a huge success and when we got our
first professional engagement, we were delighted but had no name.
The tail wound up wagging the dog so to speak and Fr. Kevin when
consulted said "why not Dermot O'Brien and the Clubmen?" and so
We played a
sort of mix of country, hillbilly & accordion dance tunes.
The line-up was all acoustic. Alto sax, banjo, string bass,
drums, and accordion.
the picture Brendan O'Loughlin submitted would be
from a little later on - as the band appears to have more of a
"traditional" (if that word can apply to showbands) showband
D O'B: Yes. The
ORIGINAL band were not full-time pros and only lasted until I
went pro in 1962 when the professional band was
Going professional was the dream for almost every band. For some,
the dream did come true, but for many it didn't. What factors
contributed to making the transition successful for
D O'B: I had a good
band. My GAA connection was a big help. When I went pro in March
1962, my diary was full to the end of September, and it stayed
that way. We worked hard and gave value for money and got on well
with the public.
When showband alumni get together, all sorts of stories get
bantered about. One hears about unusual venues, road trips that
went horribly wrong, band rivalries, practical jokes, and more.
You can probably think of many such stories from your years with
the Clubmen, but is there one that stands out in your
D O'B: The one that
comes to mind is I was in London airport with my manager Jim Hand
(an awful trickster). We were waiting for our luggage at a
carousel when Jim says excitedly, "look Dermot, it's Brian
Epstein"! It was indeed the Beatles manager. Without hesitation
Jim says "come on". He marched right over with me in tow and says
"Brian! How's she goin?" with his hand stuck out. Epstein had no
option really but to shake hands. "This is Dermot" he says "he's
doing huge business in Ireland and here" (England). He then
rattled off some of my attendance figures to the shell shocked
Brian and finished by asking "Are yiz doin' The Ploughboy?"
"We're doin' all YOUR stuff". I'll never forget the look on
you're a person who's always liked to keep busy or to use a
cliche - kept many irons in the fire. Is this still true today,
and if so, what kinds of projects/ventures are you presently
D O'B: I'm preparing
a Christmas album, my very first such one.
I am in the
middle of a TV special being recorded here by an crew from T na
G, which is the Gaelic speaking TV station in Ireland. They are
filming here in Boynton Bch., Ormond Bch., (where I am gigging on
Sat.) and Nashville next week, where I am recording the
weekend I will be in Cleveland, Ohio and then we head for Ireland
March 20th where we will be until October.
When will the
cd be released and when do you anticipate the TV special to
D O'B: Christmas CD
will be ready this year and the TV special will air also at
interview questions © 2003 jivenaires.com
/responses ©2003 Dermot O'Brien