THE COUNTRYMEN SHOWBAND, BALLYMENA, COUNTY ANTRIM, NORTHERN IRELAND
By George Dillon
I can recall reading somewhere that there was also a Countrymen Showband from Clara, County Offaly but the Countrymen Showband I am referring to here was based in Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland and played under that name for two decades between 1969 and 1989.
The Countrymen was formed in the late 1960s following the demise of the Red Admirals Showband, also based in Ballymena (there are also photographs of that band on this site). The Red Admirals was regarded more as a “pop” band and at that time the growing trend was towards Country and Irish music. Several members of the Red Admirals, sensing the change in the public’s musical taste, decided to leave and form a new band playing Country and Irish music. They named the new band “The Countrymen” in order to reflect the type of music they proposed to play.
The original band members were myself George Dillon (lead guitar and vocals), Harry Lynn (drums), Danny Otterson (keyboards and saxophone), Patsy McAuley (accordion and vocals), Paul Fynes (bass guitar) and Tony McConamie (lead vocals and guitar). George, Harry and Paul lived in Ballymena while Danny hailed from Maghera, Patsy from Loughgiel and Tony from Kilrea.
The band soon proved very popular and built up an extensive following playing in ballrooms, parochial halls, hotels, clubs and marquees throughout Northern Ireland with the occasional excursion south of the border. However the band always operated on a semi-professional basis.
Over the next few years several changes in the band’s line-up took place with Tony McConamie leaving to be replaced by Frankie Hamill from Draperstown as lead vocalist, Paul Fynes emigrated to Canada with his family and was replaced by Johnny Sayers on bass, Harry Lynn left to be replaced by Seamus Dillon and later BY Mervyn Bankhead on drums and Patsy McAuley quit to be replaced by Maurice Crum on accordion.
In 1976 the new line-up recorded an LP entitled “19 Great Songs” which helped showcase the band’s talented musicians and extensive repertoire.