The Miami Showband
Kings of the showband scene
The Miami Showband was one of the leading lights of Ireland’s showband scene throughout the late 1960s and 1970s. Showbands were a uniquely Irish phenomena, with programmes featuring Dixieland, big brass arrangements and comecy numbers, as well as the usual quicksteps, foxtrots and rock‘n’roll. They played in dance halls and theatres throughout Ireland and were household names.
The Miami Showband was one of the great Irish showbands, fronted at their peak by the charismatic figure of Dickie Rock. Rock, a Dubliner, was one of Irish music’s biggest names, competing in Eurovision in 1966. He had acted as the figurehead of the band since the early 1960s.
The band was actually formed before Rock joined in 1962. In a manner reminiscent of today’s pop industry, The Miami Showband was formed by Tom Doherty, a music promoter. Doherty set out to lure the cream of Ireland’s musical talent into ‘the greatest band in Ireland’. Rock’s arrival followed the departure of Jimmy Harte to seek his fortune in America. Rock was joined in the band by Murty Quinn, Joe Tyrell, Tony Bogan, Clem Quinn, Tommy O’Rourke, Denis Murray and Martin Phelan.
The Miami Showband quickly carved out a niche for themselves with romantic ballads, rapidly catapulting Rock to pin-up status. Soon they were supporting Petula Clark in London, as well as maintaining their gruelling Irish schedule. Songs such as ‘There’s Always Me’, ‘I’m Yours’ and ‘From the Candy Store on the Corner’ gave the band consecutive number one hits, and secured their position as one of Ireland’s premier bands.
The showband scene was a phenomenon all over Ireland and saw bands travelling to play in key venues such as Romano’s in Belfast, Caproni’s in Bangor and the Arcadia in Cork.
Almost inevitably, popularity brought with it pressures. In 1967, The Miami Showband split, with Rock’s demands for more money sending Murty Quinn and four others off to form The Sands as a successful alternative band.
Rock continued with a new line-up under The Miami Showband name, and scored further chart successes until he eventually left the band in 1972, still unhappy with his financial rewards. Following Rock’s departure, Fran O’Toole took over responsibility for lead vocals in the band, supported by Belfast man Des McAlea and Antrim’s Ray Millar. The Miami Showband never really reached the same heights without Dickie Rock, but continued to tour extensively.
It was in 1975, some years after the band had reached its peak, that the Miami Showband achieved fame of a different kind. Whilst travelling to the Republic of Ireland after a concert in Banbridge, the band’s tour van was halted at a military checkpoint.
In fact, the checkpoint was manned by loyalist UVF paramilitaries, apparently intent on forcing the band to ferry a bomb across the border. In the confusion, the bomb exploded prematurely, killing band members O’Toole, Brian McCoy and Tony Geraghty. McAlea escaped across fields and raised the alarm. Steve Travers was left for dead but later recovered. The UVF gang was also killed.
The tragedy rocked Ireland because the band were such household names, and it had a deep impact on many Irish performers who felt that it could easily have happened to them. Neil Jordan’s film Angel was partly inspired by the tragedy of The Miami Showband.
In June 2000, The Miami Showband once more returned to the headlines for the right reasons when their outstanding contribution to Irish music was recognised with their induction into the Irish Music Agents Hall of Fame.