Brendan Was the Undisputed King of Irish Ballroom

On stage, Brendan Bauer stunned his female fans in reckless abandon.

The name alone is enough to rekindle treasured memories of a long time ago when the ‘Royal Showband’ reigned supreme.

The band epitomized the glamor and silliness and in many ways defined sixties music in Ireland with ‘The Hucklebuck’, the particular song that was the soundtrack to our lives and one of the biggest dance tunes of the decade. Was.

I had the privilege of seeing and meeting Brendan on several occasions and interviewed him shortly before his death in 2020. He was proud of his association with the song.

“I first heard a Frank Sinatra swing version of it and thought it would suit my singing style. Despite recording it in only twenty minutes, it spent a total of twelve weeks in the Irish charts, seven of which were at number one. Looks like this is the song by which everyone remembers me.”

Brendan Bauer was born in 1938 in Waterford – the eldest in a family of four, with three sisters.

“I had a very happy childhood; My father was from Yorkshire and mother was from Waterford. They really met through music – Dad taught piano and violin at De La Salle College in Waterford.

“He was also a musical conductor who left England to tour Ireland with his family, the ‘Boer Operative Touring Group’. At the age of eight my father directed me to classical music and I would sing in the local church. There was a boy soprano in the choir. Music, of course, played a big part in my formative years.”

The story of the Royal Showband began in 1956. Michael Köppinger was still in school in Waterford playing the accordion part time in a local Seal band.

He was friends with Charlie Matthews, who played drums, Jim Conlan on guitar and Tom Dunphy on bass. He was a big fan of Skiffle and Lonnie Donigan was his hero.

He decided to join the Harry Boland dance band, where around this time Brendan was playing with trombone and piano with a local band called ‘The Rhythm Kings’.

At this time Boyer was particularly influenced by the ‘Clipper Carlton’ showband from Northern Ireland.

“It was to be my summer break from school in 1956 that I first heard ‘The Clippers.’ It was at the Atlantic Ballroom in Tramore and I was completely stunned by their talent and versatility – they stood out (all the time) The dance bands were seated playing their instruments).

“For an impressive sixteen-year-old it was pure magic. I can honestly say it was a defining moment in my life and this experience inspired me to become a professional entertainer.”

In 1957, with Gerry Cullin on piano and Ed Sullivan on trumpet, Boyer decided to join forces with the then Harry Boland dance band and change the group’s name to ‘The Royal Showband’. Boyer was upbeat but aware of the prestige of the big bands of the day.

‘We were all relatively young and inexperienced. In the first half of the fifties, it was about big orchestras like Mick Delhunty from Clonmel, Maurice Mulcahy from Michelstown, Johnny Flynn from Galway, Jack Ruen from Ballina and of course the Clippers – we had something to prove and were lucky. When a new manager came in.”

TJ Byrne, a musical instrument salesman from Carlo’s, saw the band at a gig, and after a discussion he took over management. Almost overnight, with Brendan as lead singer, they became the biggest attraction in the country. Boyer is full of praise for Byron’s business acumen.

“He certainly changed a lot of things for the better. He had good contacts and was highly respected throughout Ireland; you can see that the music scene in Ireland at that time was very fair and beautiful.

Suddenly, I was a lead singer in a top showband and from only performing on weekends, the band was now playing almost every night of the week. It all happened very quickly.”

‘The Royal’ didn’t use original material, only cover versions, mainly of American singers, but Boyer was philosophical about the whole thing.

“Nobody ever complained that the music wasn’t original; nobody ever complained that we didn’t sing the songs as well as the folk who wrote them.

“In the UK, Marty Wilde and Billy Fury also did cover versions of American singers. Everyone enjoyed the atmosphere – it was absolutely electric.”

They were in many ways pioneer days for musicians and singers who were in the process of experimenting with instruments and amplification.

‘We were the first showbands to use bass guitar (before 1959 it was always the old bull fiddle), and Gerry Cullin electric piano; Not only did it amplify our voice, but it was a tremendous relief because before that we were completely dependent on the piano and its position which was supplied by the ballroom at the time and was mostly out of tune. ,

The arrival of ‘Royal’ heralded a sea change in Irish entertainment, with their flamboyant style and strong brass section specializing in the popular music of the day: so much so, country became obsessed with ‘showband’, with Brendan Bauer as a superstar. Were.

“I think we provided two essential ingredients; Music for the dancers and a show for the rest. We put our heart and soul into it; It was an amazing time and we were well paid to do something that we enjoyed.”

In 1961, Tom Dunphy, who doubled as vocalist, recorded a bluegrass-tinted traditional tune called ‘Come Down the Mountain’ by Katie Daly. The tune became the first showband single to enter the Irish charts, and in doing so raised the band’s reputation even further.

By far the Royals were the most successful band in Ireland and England, with a little-known English group called The Beatles backing them in Liverpool. Boyer also offered words of encouragement to a certain Paul McCartney.

“It was 1962, and we were playing Liverpool Empire Ballroom. I remember a local group called ‘The Beatles’ was our warm up band for the night and after the dance I talked to Paul McCartney in the ballroom car park. He Was looking at our Mercedes Jeep and eating a bag of chips.

“I advised him to keep it and they might make it one day, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.”

A series of hit singles followed for Bauer with ‘The Hucklebuck’. ‘Kiss Me Quick’, ‘No More’ and ‘The Holy City’.

The band were the undisputed kings of Irish ballroom and have come a long way from the embryonic days, when they played with various groups in Waterford when they were young.

In the late sixties, the showband scene was in decline and, although still hugely popular, Boyer could see the writing on the wall. The entire music scene was changing, and disco was on the rise, yet Bauer & Co. were still mingling with the world’s biggest entertainers.

“We played on the American scene on several occasions with ‘The Royal Showband’ being huge in Las Vegas. In 1971, with Tom Dunphy, we left for Vegas and sometime later formed a band, ‘The Big Eight’. – Paddy Cole from the ‘Capital’ showband and ‘Twink’ a famous female singer join us. We did residency work in Vegas’s top night-spots for about 9 months of the year: and lots of corporate work in Ireland and elsewhere.

Boyer was now living with his family in Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world, when he was surprised to see Elvis Presley attend one of his concerts.

“I met Elvis on last occasion and was a huge fan of him from the days we grew up in Waterford. I had all his records and memorabilia and was absolutely thrilled when ‘King’ himself came to see us perform Gone. He jumped on the stage and shook his hip and left. A real gentleman.”

But there was another side to the showband’s story as well. Destiny is made and ruined. The drink was a showband accessory and claimed several casualties – with Boyer among them.

“I had my first drink in my early twenties and by the age of thirty, I had lost an entire decade with my family to demon drinking. You see, in Ireland alcohol was the drug of the sixties: it It dawned on me and everything got worse when I lost my best friend and mother in 1974, and then Tom Dunphy, who was tragically killed in a traffic accident near Carrick-on- in 1975. Shannon. The band was on tour in Ireland, I was with my manager at the Great Northern Hotel in Bundoran when I got the news that Tom had died. It was a terrible thing for me and of course for the wine, for a short time There was time. There was a great rest. I became an alcoholic.”

Thankfully, Bauer gave up drinking and got his family back in the last twenty years of his life and managed to get on the road again with his music. Sadly, most of the original ‘Royal’ showbands are gone. During the prolific showband years, Brendan Bauer was very much a part of the Irish landscape, a moveable icon with a style and singing voice that inspired a generation. ‘The Hucklebuck’ became the anthem of the sixties in Ireland. There are a lot of people who believe that without Boyer, there wouldn’t have been a ‘showband’ story to relate to.