The Western All-Stars, 1963

After the war, there was a bit of a building boom of dance halls around the country. Radio had introduced popular music to the general public and more and more people wanted to move to the music, so dance bands began to form. Some of those in Galway were Des Fretwells’ Band, Maxie Dooley’s Musicmakers, The Bill Keaveney Orchestra, and Gerry Cahill’s Dance Band. They played the popular music of the day, were mostly seated on stage and reading the music from stands in front of them. Then along came Bill Haley and rock and roll and everything changed. The showbands had arrived. Music stands were forgotten, musicians played standing up and literally began to move with the times.

Some of the Galway bands of that era were the Arabians, Bermuda, Boys and Girls, the Raindrops, the West Coasters, the Galway Blazers, the Philosophers, the Swallows, the Tides, the Astrals, the Bandits, the Wild Breed, the Olympic, and the Tribes.

Our photograph today was taken at a Corinthians dress dance held in the Southern Hotel on December 5, 1963, and shows Jimmy Lydon addressing the crowd. The band are the Western All-Stars which was jointly founded by Gerry Macken and Ronnie Burke. These two used to play in the Sacre Coeur nightly during the summer, then form a band during the winter.

The line-up we see onstage are, from left: Joe Dolan, a Corkonian who grew up in Newcastle. He was a fine musician and painter who played lead guitar with this group. His real love was folk music. He became famous with Sweeney’s Men in the 1960s and wrote some very good songs. He was always referred to as Galway Joe. Next is Joe Lally, who started his musical career playing guitar with the Arabians, a band which included four members of the Dooley family. They eventually amalgamated with their brother Maxie’s band to form the Olympic Showband. Joe eventually left the Olympic to become a founder member of the Philosophers. He went to Africa in 1967 and spent the rest of his career teaching in the Bish.

Aidan Foley came to Galway to work in the bank. He was a trained pianist who also played guitar and bass guitar, a versatile musician, he was always in demand. Hugh Watson was the lead singer, blessed with a great voice, near perfect pitch, well suited to the songs of the early 1960s, especially the Beatles. Ronnie Burke was the drummer with a crooner’s voice, very adept at old ‘standards’. Dave Hogan was the pianist and vocalist. He began his career in O’Connor’s pub in Salthill with Christy, Tony, and PJ O’Connor. They were the most popular form of entertainment of the time, the music of the day played by local musicians. Gerry Macken was a Dubliner, an outstanding trumpet player, and very good vocalist, and sang old jazz numbers. He had a wonderful knowledge of music and when he could no longer play the trumpet, he switched to keyboards.

Hugh Watson grew up in Market Street where his father had an electrical shop. Hughie went to the Bish, played a lot of sport and was a very good competitive swimmer. He may well have had a musical career ahead of him, but he gave it all up and went over to Derby to work for Rolls Royce. He married Maggie and they had two sons, James and Thomas. He came back to Galway regularly to catch up with old friends. He died in Derby recently. Solas na bFhlaitheas dá anam dhílis.

 

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