Miami 2008 Tour

On September 16th 2008 The Miami Showband returned to Vicar Street in Dublin for a very special concert to say “thank you” to The Irish people for their love and support for over three decades. The three legendary figures of the showband era were accompanied by three of the greatest musicians this country has ever produced, Johnny Fean (Horslips), Gerry Brown (Dana) and Barry Woods (The Real McCoy). On the following night, September 17th 2008, the Miami Showband travelled north for a sister concert at The Royal Opera House in Belfast in a symbolic gesture to finally reunite their massive fan base that was spread throughout every city, town and village on this island. The public demand for these concerts is the ultimate proof that the music of The Miami Showband has indeed outlasted the sound of the guns that attempted to silence it and drive a wedge between two great communities. The profits from both concerts were donated to the “Children in Crossfire” charity.

The Miami back on stage again in 2008 in Belfast

Miami Showband UCL Concert Hall, Limerick 15 Nov 2008

Miami Showband UCL Concert Hall, Limerick 15 Nov 2008


The contribution of Irish showbands to the social development of this country was important and immense. As our young people grew in confidence and asserted themselves in the twentieth century, their signature tune was undoubtedly played by the talented and enthusiastic young men and women that, night after night, reproduced the sounds of the era in the ballrooms throughout the length and breath of the country. Times were innocent and exciting. Their journey mirrored and, sometimes, drove the musical taste of a young population. Some, like their fellow musicians in classical orchestras and traditional jazz bands, were content to cover the music of others while some attempted to incorporate their own original ideas, arrangements and compositions into their nightly repertoire. Naturally, “he who pays the piper calls the tune” and usually even the more adventurous showbands toed the line and played the familiar songs of the day.

One of the bands that managed to carry its audience along as it developed into a modern world class act was The Miami Showband. No other band in the world has the pedigree or history of The Miami Showband. Undoubtedly it has achieved mythical status and the names of its musicians are indelibly written into music and social folklore; its sacrifice forever burned into the soul of a country. Nevertheless, it would be all too easy to let the legend obscure the music; but it was the music that really mattered to the millions of people around the world that constitute “the Irish Diaspora” and loved The Miami Showband from the very beginning. During the sixties and seventies, hundreds of thousands of adoring fans packed the dance halls and concert venues throughout Ireland, the UK and the USA to catch a glimpse of and listen to The Miami Showband. This band, more than any other, embodied the popular music and style of their era.

It is universally accepted that The Miami Showband reached its artistic pinnacle while fronted by the young and outrageously talented Fran O’Toole. He had it all, a magnificent soulful voice, musical genius, fabulous image and a personality to match. He was accompanied by the very best young musicians in the country. Des Lee, Stephen Travers, Ray Millar, Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy were loved by their countless fans and respected by their peers. They were unstoppable until fate intervened and took the young lives of Fran, Tony and Brian. It was indeed “The Day the Music Died”.

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Caught Live

The Miami Showband,  University Concert Hall,  Limerick,  Ireland – Saturday November 15th 2008.
by John O’Regan, Limerick – freelance journalist, broadcaster, lecturer

Ireland’s showband boom had at least 600 working bands travelling the length of the country from Ballybofey to Dingle and back again in its 1960’s heyday. The showbands consisted of outfits of six to eight musicians neatly dressed in suits fronted by a charismatic front man or woman who peddled the hits of the day to eager audiences that wanted primarily to dance and mate.

The big names from the Irish show band period were Brendan Bowyer, Joe Dolan and Dickie Rock who fronted The Royal, Drifters and Miami Showband respectively. The Miami Showband was fronted by Dickie Rock until his departure in 1972. They challenged The Royal Showband for supremacy of the ballroom circuit and established a reputation for being a team effort as much as a vehicle for its front persons. They continued life until dissolving in the mid 80s

One of the leading lights was the Dublin based Miami Showband. To ears outside Ireland The Miami Showband is probably better known for being the unlucky innocent victims of a loyalist bomb attack when returning from a dance in Banbridge Co. Down in August 1975 at the height of the Northern troubles. Three members of the band Fran O’Toole, Tony Geraghty, and Brian McCoy were killed outright while two others Des McAlea escaped with minor injuries while bassist Stephen Travers was critically injured to an inch of his life and suffered traumatic recurrences and illnesses long after the event. This incident brought sectarian violence to a new height of social depravity.

In Irish show business terms this is referred to as The Miami Showband Massacre and left a poignant and permanent void in Irish musical terms.  A reconstituted Miami Showband struggled on into the 80s before becoming part of Irish social history. Move on to 2005 and a reunion of the three remaining members Des Lee (McAlea), Stephen Travers and Ray Millar occur in Dublin’s Vicar Street and the results are described by promoter Jim Aiken as ‘the greatest showband concerts ever staged’. 2007 saw the publication of Stephen Travers memoir of the 1975 massacre ‘The Miami Showband Massacre – A survivors search for the truth’. The unveiling of ‘The Miami Showband Permanent Memorial’ on Dublin’s Parnell Square brought further impetus for a reunion tour. It was to be three years later when the return happened with the proceeds going to charity. Two concerts in Dublin and Belfast allowed sufficient interest and fuelled further thoughts of a full scale reunion tour.

 

In 2008 a new line up was quickly formed with ex Horslips guitarist Johnny Fean, Barry Woods on sax/keyboards and Gerry Browne on vocals and keyboards and The Miami Showband played their first Irish tour in over 30 years. This return tour benefits Children in Crossfire a multi national charity devoted to disabled children in Africa and South America. Seeing Des Lee, Stephen Travers and original drummer Ray Millar who survived the fatal ambush in 75 by driving home on his own is tantamount to a historic event. Adding Johnny Fean to the recipe is a further slice of Irish music history while Barry Woods is a showband survivor and Gerry Brown’s sister Rosemary is better known as MOR artist Dana –this line up is bound to raise eyebrows as well as curiosity.

Limerick’s University Concert Hall is one of Ireland’s premier venues. Tonight the Miami Showband backline is minimal as befitting the halcyon showband period. One drum kit a couple of guitar amps, two keyboards, two saxes and several mikes that’s it – no fancy electronic gadgets or massed banks of amplification. This is an unpretentious gig save for a video screen behind the band showing highlights from their heyday.  The ‘Joy to the World Tour’ has come to town with a minimum of fuss and an understated sense of occasion.

The Miami Showband’s aim now is as was – to entertain. These guys served their time in the sweat soaked ballrooms of romance across Ireland. Musically the diet is 60s and 70s pop classics, good time party music delivered with an assured professionalism that signifies their trade. The waistlines may have evolved yet the music still has that fizz and electric energy that characterised their heyday.  From the kick off the show was delivered in a no frills manner – all six members trooped on stage at 8.00 p.m. and save for a 15 minute interval delivered two hours of classy unfussy entertainment.

The repertoire covered all points west of 60’s/70s  songbooks – Beach Boys, Love Affair, Dion, Mud, Bay City Rollers it was all here with nods to contemporaries Brendan Boyer, Joe Dolan and The Freshmen’s Billy Brown –the latter out Beached Boys the Beach Boys at a Dublin gig in 1966. Generous helpings of their back catalogue dotted the programme – nods to Dickie Rock and their mid 60s prime in ‘Baby I’m Your Man’, ‘There’s Always Me’ and nods to their breakaway band The Sands – ‘Knock Three Times’, ‘Help me Rhonda’ and ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’. These were belted out with an assurance and the customary skill.

Original members Lee, Travers and Millar held court but The Miami were always team players and new members Barry Woods and Gerry Brown contributed their share. Johnny Fean’s guitar soared sweetly while his solo vocal on Fats Domino’s ‘Be my Guest’ reminded of seldom heard chords. Pity there wasn’t a Horslips musical nod apart from Stephen Travers’ acknowledgment of his contribution to Irish music – a ‘Dearg Doom’ or ‘King of the Fairies’ or ‘Shakin All Over’ would have done well – maybe next time?

Highlights? Hearing hits like ‘Simon Says’, ‘60s covers like ‘Everlasting Love’, the twin sax work of Des Lee and Barry Woods on a deliciously sweaty and intense ‘Resurrection Shuffle’, Des Lee’s emotive reading of Fran O’Toole’s classic ‘Love Is’, Barry Woods’ hilarious asides and multi-instrumental skills, Gerry Brown’s breathy vocals – and the banter – these guys were having a ball and everyone was invited.

Miami Showband gigs were always a mix of poignancy, fun and professionalism-this was no exception. As the final vigorous strains of ‘Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet’ an Irish No. 1 saw them depart the stage the lights went out to focus on a black/white video of their one time friend and vocalist Fran O’Toole singing his own composition ‘Its Over, Goodbye’ from a 1975 RTE TV broadcast. Watching the then teenage O’Toole deliver a poignant ballad with a touching sensitivity reminded many of what was lost that tragic night in 1975. The fact that three of his fellow Miami members are together 30 years on is fitting enough – that they have formed a new and vibrant Miami Showband is even more tantalising. The Miami Showband in 2008 offers a slice of Irish musical and social history and a serious good time is guaranteed which makes nostalgia so much more fun.

John O’Regan
12 December 2008

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Comment

Hi all from Copenhagen, Denmark,

Every success as you continue with great live music. Thank you for all the enjoyable performances down the years.

Very best regards,
Seamus Brogan – Regent / Palladin Showbands, Donegal
www.seamus-brogan.dk

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Comment

Hi Steve,
Great to hear from you and to see all that has been happening with the Miami. It is one band I have never forgotten and had times been different would never have left. But that’s life. I am not complaining as I am still having a great time. I live in Perth in Western Australia and have been here now for 22 years.

I have had a band here for 15 years which finished 7 years ago. I now enjoy a solo career using backing tracks and just finished my first Australian Tour. I have now been all over this great country and have been asked to go east to New South Wales in January 09 to take part in the biggest music festival in Oz. I did it last Jan. and they have asked me back again.

I have recorded 4 CD’s over the past few years. One is a CD of 14 of my own songs which gave me a buzz I must say. Have just finished another CD of covers which will be out beginning of Jan 09. I have had the opportunity to play a 3 month season at the Dynasty resort in Bali and also had a successful tour of South Africa 3 years ago.

For now enough about me. I am very pleased you have got the Miami running again and hope all the gigs so far have been successful. Great line-up that can’t go wrong. Would love to have been there.

Well that’s enough from me for now.

Keep in touch,

Cheers, Jimmy
Jimmy Harte, first lead vocalist with The Miami Showband

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Comment

To all the band members not forgetting the sound and light personal a great night had by all at the Clifden Station House Hotel last night. What a sound. The Miami are back bigger and better. Roll on 2009 and hopefully Galway city or maybe some small town within Co. Galway.
Galway Bay FM ,MWR and Shannon Side Radio Stations i’m sure would plug the event if needed. Anyway it was nice to meet you Gerry, Stephen and Ray. May our paths meet again. Well Done and as they say keep rocking.

Ken, Glenamaddy, Co. Galway.

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