ONE OF the darkest days of the Irish music scene occurred on July 31 1975 when three members of The Miami Showband band were killed by UVF paramilitaries at a fake army checkpoint outside Newry.
Lead singer Fran O’Toole, guitarist Tony Geraghty, and trumpeter Brian McCoy were all machine-gunned down while bassist Steve Travers was gravely wounded by a dum-dum bullet.
Following the attacks live music was adversely affected and for many years a number of major bands refused to play Ireland. However, in defiance of the paramilitaries and their actions The Miami Showband has re-grouped many times since that day and the current line-up features Travers, ex-Horslips’ guitarist Johnny Fean, and acclaimed musical arranger Gerry Brown in their ranks.
The band has always had a large fan base in Galway and they play Clifden’s Station House Theatre tomorrow at 10pm.
From the early 1950s to the mid-1970s showbands were an integral part of Irish social life. Indeed, even Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney were fans of the showbands.
“Paul McCartney was a big fan of an album I did with a band called The Crack,” Steve Travers tells me. “It was brought to him by Earl Okin, who toured with McCartney for many years. I’ve worked with Henry McCullough, who was in Wings with McCartney in the 1970s. There was always that kind of family scene among musicians.”
The Ireland of the mid-1960s and early 1970s was very different era and The Miami brought an element of glitz and glamour.
“In the early 1960s Irish people didn’t travel an awful lot so Miami seemed like a very exotic place,” says Travers. “Our band conjured up images of having a good time in the sunshine on long golden beaches and all the things that Irish people wanted to aspire to. A number of other showbands called themselves after American states such as The Nevada and The Ohio.”
The Miami were different from the other showbands as they wrote their own material. In the 1970s Fran O’Toole was a genuine Irish heartthrob and the band enjoyed hits like ‘Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet’ and ‘Love Is’.
“Many of the big American promoters were blown away by Fran O’Toole’s voice and they said it was comparable with any of the big soul singers,” says Travers. “By the time I joined The Miami it was very much a modern pop group, even though we were called a showband. I remember playing alongside bands like Pilot and The Bay City Rollers and our music wasn’t out of place with any of those groups.”
Yet just when it seemed that The Miami were about to embark on major success, the UVF struck. The details of the attack have never been fully investigated and there have been persistent allegations it was organised in cooperation with the British army. As part of the Belfast Agreement in 1998 the three gunmen convicted for their part in the massacre were released.
Happier times were ahead though and today The Miami have become popular once more as a touring act.
“Our popularity in Galway is such that when we re-formed the band a few years ago our very first gig was in Seapoint in Salthill,” says Travers. “Galway was always a very special place for us to play and always will be. I think our current show will be a bit of an eye-opener for a lot of young people who never heard a showband.”
One of the trump cards in the current line-up of is Horslips’ Johnny Fean.
“Johnny Fean is probably the greatest Irish rock guitarist of all time,” says Travers. “Horslips would have been a huge influence on The Edge and U2. Johnny contributed to and almost single-handedly invented Celtic rock and has been an inspiration to generations of guitarists. I’ve been working with him for over 15 years and in that time we’ve played around with almost every genre in world music.”
For more information and tickets contact the Station House Theatre on 095 - 30303 or go to www.stationhousetheatre.com