The Majestic days of the dance halls when the local showbands ruled the roost

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Majestic days of the dance halls when the local showbands ruled the roost thumbnailThe Majestic Showband from Keady

THE showband scene was a uniquely Irish phenomenon. From that moment in the mid 1950's when the Clipper Carlton Dance Band from Strabane, stood on stage, pushed their music stands aside and introduced an element of movement, colour and show into their performance, the showband movement was born.

The effect on dancers was electrifying and boys and girls in their thousands thronged the ballrooms of Ireland to catch a glimpse of this new sweeping sensation.

The thriving little market town of Keady set in the rolling drumlins six miles beyond the City of Armagh was not to lose out. It had two dance bands, The Majestic and Zodiacs. And there was a third,The Clippertones.

Whilst drawing most of its members from the Newry/south Armagh area, they were fronted by Jim Hughes from Caramoyle, outside Keady, who also had a brother in the band. All three bands played regularly in St Patrick's Hall, Keady and at the local carnivals.

The ground rules for showbands like the Majestic were set. The magic formula was in fact quite simple; a little comedy, some sentimental ballads, the latest pop hits, lots of beat and plenty of movement.

The Majestic was perfect with its timing. They hit the road in the early days of 1960's as the showband revolution was gaining more and more impetus. The band soon became part and parcel of Keady's history.

It was a seven-piece band. The members were all from Keady with the exception of lead guitar player Jimmy Uprichard who lived in Portadown.

Leo Nugent was the trumpet player, Paddy McSherry played tenor saxophone, Kevin McNaney was on bass guitar, Paddy Green was the drummer, Patsy Woods, played rhythm guitar and was also lead vocalist and the late Brian O' Neill plied his trade on alto sax and clarinet.

The idea of forming the band was mooted by close friends Patsy Woods and Leo Nugent whose interest in music was germinated as boy members of Canon Peter Pentony's famous church choir in the town. Another member of the choir was the legendary Tommy Makem.

In the formative years the band had no place to practice and had to settle for the railways banks before leasing the Old A.O.H. hall.

Tom Lenagh, a well known community and parish activist was approached by the lads to become their manager and he accepted, and became a father-like figure as band were all so young at time. Tom arranged the bookings and drove the minibus. Mick Connor was the relief driver.

The acquisition of Jimmy Uprichard was to prove invaluable, his guitar solos were very much part of the band's repertoire. He specialised in Duane Eddy numbers like Guitar Boogie Shuffle which usually brought dancing to a still.

Paddy McSherry was the band's young Elvis Presley; how he could move those hips and rock 'n' roll around the stage!

The Majestic Volkswagen van with it's flashing sign on top soon became a familiar sight throughout the highways and byways travelling to and from gigs. They were never short of bookings, the big home venues being St Patrick's Hall, Keady and The City Hall in Armagh.

The band played in the R.G. McCrum Institute in Milford on the night the news winged its way from Dallas that President John F Kennedy had been assassinated. The dance had been organised by the UTA Social Club and the date Friday, November 22, 1963, remains a standout one.

Towards the end of the 60's the band began breaking up with some members going their separate musical ways.

Back in late 1998 the Majestic got together again for a few nights of nostalgia and to pay tribute to founder member Brian O' Neill who earlier that year had lost his brave battle with illness.

Known as 'The Barber' he was a gifted musician. Many a morning he had no sooner locked the door behind him coming home from a gig until he was up and away again to work baking those famous Keady loaves.

Those reunions were occasions mingled with sadness and joy and hundreds of fans from a decade long gone flocked back to St Patrick's Hall in Keady to get a whiff of the past.


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