When DAVID DWANE started an entertainment column for the Westerners in 1984, he could never have imagined that he would end up interviewing some of the biggest names in popular music.
Noel Redding, Brian Downey, Kevin Rowland, Louis Walsh and Tommy Fleming are some of the internationally acclaimed names I have come across personally in my 30 years of writing the weekly entertainment column of the Western people.
Between 1984 and 2019, those nearly one million words I had printed featured countless talented songwriters, singers, musicians and DJs from Mayo, across Ireland and beyond.
While working as an advertising sales representative with the Westerners in the 1980s, I was also making music in pubs and hotels in the West. My interest and love for music started when I was a child and continues to this day.
the Westerners did not carry regular entertainment news, although it had the most comprehensive entertainment advertising section of any regional newspaper. So I approached Terry Reilly, the editor, with the idea of writing a weekly entertainment column.
The first of my weekly columns was published in the March 28, 1984 edition, and continued through the January 7, 2019 edition, with a break from late 2007 until July 2012.
The live band craze that swept dance halls in previous decades had faded by the 1980s. Nightclubs and music bars were opening across Mayo, one of the first being The Georgian on Clare Street, Ballina, built by Molly and Seamus McGuire in 1976.
Over the next three decades, Molly became a leader in developments in the entertainment industry in the region, always keeping pace with changing trends nationally and internationally. She created Mayo’s first nightclub called Pearls on Bury Street. During the 1980s, Ballina DJs like Dermot Rice, John Moyles and Ray Mac often knocked on the door of my office on Kevin Barry Street with news of even more radical ideas for attracting clubbers to its venues.
DJs like Brendan Redmond, Kevin Webster, Chris Carroll and Johnny Oosten have also hit some nice spots in the area with their music.
Other notable innovators who brought a new wave of live music and clubbing to Mayo include Pat Jennings in the TF Royal and the McHughs in the Inn (Castlebar) scene, Paul Claffey in Midas (Ballyhaunis) John and Mai Julian (Swinford), Kathleen and Tommy Higgins (Claremorris), Mick Higgins (Kiltimagh), Brendan Padden (Belmullet) and the Murphy Brothers (Ballina).
But the DJs far outnumbered the singers and musicians who performed mostly in smaller pubs, and I’ve had the pleasure of writing about so many of these bands, some full-time, some part-time. Local artists were pumping out traditional sounds, usually in the areas of country and western, ballad and pop, and every summer weekend night in the mid-1980s you could get up to to 50 different bands performing in pubs, clubs and dance halls across Mayo. These also included professional outfits like The Champions, Brush Shiels, Tweed, Big Tom, Tequila Sunrise, Roly Daniels, The Kaye Twins, Shaun O’Dowd, Gloria, The Indians and Rock Stewart.
Typically, local bands didn’t release recordings, as the studios were very expensive. Anyway, your usual pub band didn’t write their own material. But rock bands did. Mama’s Little Junkies (Westport), The Aftermath and Thunderbolt (Ballyhaunis), Johnny Towey and The Celtic Rock Band (Kilmovee), Last Remark (Castlebar) and Mother Hubbard and Risky Business (Ballina) were among the best known local rock bands . in the 1980s/1990s era.
In 1988, I approached Kevin Bourke of Mayo Rehab with a view to directing the first Westerners/Rehab Entertainment Awards, with proceeds going to this outstanding charity. the Westerners chose The Beaten Path, Claremorris as the venue for what we thought would be a major event. And it was!
We invited an audience to vote in eleven categories, including Best Singer and Best Pop/Rock Group.
the Westerners/Rehab Entertainment Awards Concert drew a stellar line-up of top Irish artists to accept their awards and perform on stage on Tuesday 15th November. Among them was Brush Shiels, who took home the title of Best Rock/Pop Group. Brush’s live performance included a surprise appearance from Thin Lizzy’s Brian Downey on drums.
On the night, Linda Martin won Best Female Vocalist, Brendan Quinn won Best Male Vocalist, and Best Country Group went to John Hogan. Other winners and performers were Brose Walsh, Johnny Carroll, Fantasy, Ray Mac, Paddies Return and comedian Frank Forde. RTÉ’s Michael Lyster took part in the event.
When Dexys Midnight Runners frontman Kevin Rowland came to Ireland to work on new material, finding peace on the shores of Lough Conn, near Cloghans, Ballina, he called our office to give me an interview in January 1989. Kevin and his band had a huge hit with Come On Eileen seven years prior, taking the No. 1 position on the Irish and UK charts. In the United States, the single knocked Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean off the top spot.
Our interview was short and gave little more about the songwriter struggling with addiction issues than was already in the public domain, other than confirming that Come On Eileen was autobiographical. He said it was an account of his teenage sexual relationship with a girl, something as a young Irish Catholic in England that he had felt guilty about at the time.
“I honestly don’t think sex is really dirty right now,” he added!
In December 1992, Michael Burke, who ran the Cill Aodain Hotel, Kiltimagh, invited me there to meet Noel Redding, who had been bass player with Jimi Hendrix. Noel, then living in Ireland, was performing alongside local band Manhattan. We had a short chat and, despite playing on classic Hendrix albums like Electric Ladyland, the exchange revealed a very humble musician.
What’s App, Email or even SMS Text requests from radio listeners were almost unimaginable when Brendan Redmond launched his weekly pop show Dial-A-Disc on Midwest Radio (MWR), shortly after the local radio station started broadcasting in July 1989. At the time I was also presenting a music program on MWR called Album Tracking and was impressed by the superb professionalism of this young DJ from Castlebar.
For many years the Westerners Entertainment Column released the A-Z list of songs from which listeners could choose to have their favorite track played – along with a request – on Brendan’s show. The magic number to ring was 0907-30169. When MWR expanded its franchise area in November 1991 to include Northwest Radio (NWR), Brendan’s show also increased its audience and was a highlight of the station’s schedule for teens from Mayo to Donegal. When his show ended in 2006, applications were being accepted by SMS!
Weekly competitions were an integral part of the entertainment section, often attracting hundreds of mail-in entries. I developed a great relationship with record labels and PR companies who provided vinyl (later CDs), VHS videos (later DVDs), and concert tickets as prizes. We even gave away tickets to a Frank Sinatra show in Dublin in 1991.
The publication of such a competition in 1994 prompted the owner of the Westerners to call me home. Rita Devere Durcan was a distinguished and caring owner, quite conservative and devout Roman Catholic. I was ushered by his housekeeper into the splendid front room where this week’s edition had been spread out on the table. Rita pointed to a contest I held for six copies of Christian Slater’s True Romance video and, in particular, the description that read “Win your own copy of this erotic thriller.” Needless to say, she wasn’t impressed that her diary had such a racy title, proceeding to berate me!
It wasn’t my first offense though. Six years earlier, I had offered the book Death Quest by L. Ron Hubbard as a prize. I was told that any further mention of this science fiction writer and founder of the Church of Scientology would not be tolerated!
Tommy Fleming was a name that had been in my writing since his early days on the music scene. In April 1993 I told a story when he and his band Jarrog backed The Memories at a show at Travellers’ Friend, Castlebar. Over the next 25 years I wrote about Tommy as he became not only a leading figure on the Irish entertainment circuit but also an accomplished performer on renowned international stages such as the Sydney Opera House and Carnegie Hall .
In May 2001, I interviewed Louis Walsh. Louis and I had a business relationship starting in the late 1980s when, as a music promoter, I organized concerts in Ballina with acts he ran. Louis had requested that we do the interview face-to-face at one of his favorite Dublin haunts, The Four Seasons Hotel. He was leading Westlife at that time, on their way to earning a place among the top 10 most successful boy bands in the world. And it was only a few months before he started a new career as a TV show judge.
The shape of the music scene has changed a lot since the early 2000s, with even more twists and turns since then. But that’s a story for another day.