THE DUBLINERS were formed in 1962 by Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke, and Barney McKenna and initially were known as The Ronnie Drew Ballad Group.
Drew didn’t like the responsibility of leading a group, but Kelly was reading James Joyce’s Dubliners and from then on they were billed as The Dubliners.
They played a residency at O’Donoghue’s Pub in Dublin but were encouraged by their friend Dominic Behan (Brendan’s brother ) to tour England and Scotland. After performing at the Edinburgh Festival in 1963 they met Nathan Joseph of Transatlantic Records and signed with the influential label.
Buoyed by their success in Britain they moved on to the Major Minor Label and signed with the internationally-renowned Scott Solomon Management and The Dorothy Solomon Agency. In 1968 The Dubliners had two Top 20 hits with ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ and ‘The Black Velvet Band’ and appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the band regularly toured of the US, Canada, and Europe, but then a series of tragedies struck in the early 1980s when early member Bobby Lynch committed suicide, Luke Kelly died of a brain tumour, and Ciaran Bourke passed away after a long illness.
In 1986 The Dubliners asked their collaborator and friend Eamonn Campbell to join the band and he has remained an integral part of the line-up since.
“I first met the lads in 1967 when we were on tour together in England,” Campbell tells me. “We kept in touch and used to meet in various hostelries around Dublin like Sheehan’s, Neary’s, and McDaid’s.
“I had great time for Luke Kelly, he was a great guy. He absolutely loved rock‘n’roll and I remember him telling me the first record he ever bought was ‘Blueberry Hill’. The summer before he died he got me to bring down the guitar to the bar of this place they were playing and we found a little corner and sang rock‘n’roll songs into the wee small hours.”
Following the loss of so many key members The Dubliners were at their lowest point in the late 1980s but Campbell provided the impetus for a fresh beginning. He suggested they collaborate with The Pogues on a new album.
“I remember that afternoon well,” Campbell says. “Ronnie Drew called to where I was living in July ’86 and he said The Dubliners were going to be 25 years together in 1987. I suggested working with The Pogues and I remember Ronnie’s reaction was ‘The Pogues? My Jaysus!’ Anyway we went over to London to where The Pogues were recording that September and the rest is history. It worked out great.”
The Pogues/Dubliners’ single ‘The Irish Rover’ was a Top 10 hit and the collaborators made a special appearance on The Late Late Show in 1987. Ronnie Drew left The Dubliners to pursue a solo career but returned in 2002 to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary.
“Paddy Reilly toured with us for a couple of years and he was a great addition,” Campbell says. “Ronnie wanted to go off and do his own thing for a while and then he came back for 40 years of The Dubliners.
“It was a great project because Jim McCann also came back and the album featured old recordings by Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke, and Bobby Lynch. Actually I think for a long time Bob had been kind of overlooked in the history of The Dubliners but that album celebrated his role in the band. Being in The Dubliners isn’t like being in a group it’s more like being part of a family.”
On Sunday October 17 Eamonn and his band of brothers will be making their way to Galway for a fundraising concert in aid of An Taibhdhearc Theatre. The show at the Radisson Hotel will feature Campbell, Barney McKenna, Sean Cannon, John Sheahan, Patsy Watchorn, and a host of special guests.
Campbell feels a poignant connection to Co Galway and its hinterland considering he was partially responsible for the well-known local anthem.
“I’ve always loved Galway,” he says. “I produced and arranged a lot of records down through the years and probably the biggest one was Paddy Reilly’s version of ‘The Fields of Athenry’. About 12 years ago the wife and kids and I spent two weeks in a holiday home just outside Spiddal and everyone really enjoyed it.”
The Dubliners may have lost major figures such as Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew but they’re still going strong and will be in fine voice for their upcoming concert.
“I’ll be 64 this year so I’m the baby of the group,” Campbell says with a laugh. “I hope loads of people come out to see us.”
Doors open at 7pm on Sunday October 17 and the show kicks off at 8pm. Tickets are €40 (subject to booking fee ) and available from An Taibhdhearc (091 - 563600 ); Radisson Blu Hotel (091 - 538300; Ticketmaster/www.ticketmaster.ie (0810 - 719300 ), and Zhivagos