Recollections of a Limerick Musicman

ger-cusack

Ger Cusack

My name is Ger Cusack. I come from Prospect in Limerick City and I’ve been involved in music for most of my life.

I went to the Model School and sang in Mr. Silbourne’s class and due to him I sang solo on Radio Eireann. The programme was recorded at the Good Sheperd Convent and broadcast nationally giving me a taste of what it was like to perform for an audience.

We lived at 35 Lenihan Avenue and the Brownes lived at number 8. I knew the lads well; Joe , John, Willie. At that stage they had formed the Lizzards Skiffle group. Skiffle was very popular at that time due to Lonnie Donegan. They asked me to join the group and we played at St. John’s Pavillion, the Hop, the Mechanic’s and various county halls.

The late Peadar Crowley managed the group at the time. He later managed the The Empire Showband. Joe Browne then started working with Paddy Benson’s group. They also came from Lenihan Avenue.

Kevin McMahon from Weston had a band called The Londonaires. Joe and John joined them and they played at St. Marys, Todsy’s Ballroom which was the place to go at the time. At that stage I joined Billy Connays band as did Willie Browne. Billy later became lead singer and lead guitarist with Ireland’s favourite group- Reform. They were a very talented three piece, with Willie on guitar; Joe Mulcahy, bass and Don O’Connor, drums.

empire-showband-limerick

The Empire Showband in Cruises Hotel 1965. Ger Cusack; Pat Falahee; Michael Cleary; Harry Hockedy; Fred Hockedy; Johnny Hockedy; Mick Heney (RIP); Jim Whelan (RIP)

The Showband boom had started and so the Empire Showband were formed. At that stage the Clipper Carlton, the Royal, the Capitol, the Dixies and Donie Collins were packing the Stella, Dromkeen and every hall in the country. A new musical era was born.

Limerick had the the Monarchs, the Empire, Donie Collins, the College and the Cavaliers in the very early 60’s. At this moment there is a very big revival in the Showband Show.

It all started for me well before that in the People’s Park with the wonderful Boherbuoy Band, who this year are 150 years old and under the baton of Mr. Paddy McCormack.

I’ll never forget hearing overtures like William Tell – Poft and Peasant and wonderful marches by John Phillip Sousa. Wonderful sunny days. But then all days were sunny.

Being able to help with the instruments when they finished was terrific. And the ice cream in Tommy Sulivan’s Kiosk was something special.

Limerick is considered to be a very musical city and rightly so. We have produced names like Catherine Hayes, Christopher Lynch from Rathkeale, Susanne Murphy – who was once a member of my very good friend’s group We Four – the late Larry Hogan and now we have Dolorous O’Riordan and the Cranberries, who have taken the world by storm. Also Billy Whelan who is known worldwide as the man who wrote Riverdance. I knew him well when he lived in Barrington Street. Richard Harris asked him to write the music for his film Bloomfield which was premiered in Limerick at the Savoy in 1970.

I’ll never forget that night having a chat with Billy at the bar before the screening. The Lions Club were involved in the running of the show and I was booked to play at the function afterwards. Richard had an invited audience which included: Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees, his wife at the time Lulu; Jenny Linden; Kim Burfield (the child star of the film) and Honor Blackman, who played Pussy Galore in the Bond Film.

Bunny Carr, who was the MC for the occasion, announced that there was a bomb in the cinema and everyone was asked to leave. I remember going to Geary’s Hotel (now Aubars) for a pint. The gas thing was, when I came back, most people were in the bar in the Savoy. There was no bomb. But I thought if there was, wouldn’t the bar have been blown up as well?

We must not of course forget that Richard Harris himself topped the American Charts with McArthur’s Park written by Jimmy Webb.

The Monarchs topped the Irish Charts with O Holy Night and Beautiful Peace written by Dennis Allen. They were: Tommy Drennan; Bryan Meehan; Dermot Heraty; Frank Hogan; Brendan Moynihan; John The Man Frawley and Jim Connolly.

The Donie Collins Band had the likes of the great Mick Falan and Austin Gratham. People like Jack Glynn went to Mitchelstown to play drums with the Maurice Mulcahy Orchestra. As did Mick Cambell on Trumpet. Dennis O’Loughlin went to Dublin to join the crystal Ballroom orchestra and later joined Dermot O’Brien and the Clubmen. John Browne headed off to Tuam to join Gerry and the Ohio.

Harry Hockedy started playing drums with Houston Wells and John Parrott. Brendan O’Loughlin went to Dublin to play bass with Express Showband. Brendan now lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Johnny Hockedy joined the club scene with the Grannies Intentions. Jack Costello and Johnny Duhan were also members. Johnny has written some wonderful songs and now lives in Galway. Jack lives in England.

Frank Hogan jnr. Played with the Swingtime Aces from Galway. Frank snr. Played in Todsy’s in the late 50’s and later had a shop in Sarsfield Street. As I mentioned earlier, Todsy’s was the place to be in the late 50’s and early 60’s. We used to drop into Ma Curtin’s pub, now the Locke Bar, for a pint of cider. And I mean a pint! Because that’s all we could afford. You’d have to keep your half a crown ready for Todsy’s.

The Ballroom still stands and is still in use where they play bingo now. It is also the home of St Mary’s Prize Winning Fife And Drum Band.

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