seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Irish Tenor Josef Locke

Joseph McLaughlin, Irish tenor known professionally as Josef Locke, dies in Clane, County Kildare on October 15, 1999. He is successful in the United Kingdom and Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s.

Born in Derry on March 23, 1917, McLaughlin is the son of a butcher and cattle dealer, and one of nine children. He starts singing in local churches in the Bogside at the age of seven, and as a teenager adds two years to his age to enlist in the Irish Guards, later serving abroad with the Palestine Police Force, before returning in the late 1930s to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Known as The Singing Bobby, McLaughlin becomes a local celebrity before starting to work the UK variety circuit, where he also plays summer seasons in English seaside resorts. The renowned Irish tenor John McCormack (1884–1945) advises him that his voice is better suited to a lighter repertoire than the operatic one he has in mind, and urges him to find an agent. He finds the noted impresario Jack Hylton (1892–1965) who books him, but is unable to fit his full name on the bill, thus Joseph McLaughlin becomes Josef Locke.

Locke makes an immediate impact when featured in “Starry Way,” a twenty-week summer show at the Opera House Theatre in Blackpool, Lancashire, England in 1946 and is rebooked for the following summer, then starring for three seasons at the Blackpool Hippodrome. He appears in ten Blackpool seasons from 1946 to 1969, not the nineteen seasons he later claims.

Locke makes his first radio broadcast in 1949, and subsequently appears on television programmes such as Rooftop Rendezvous, Top of the Town, All-star Bill and The Frankie Howerd Show. He is signed to the Columbia label in 1947, and his first releases are the two Italian songs “Santa Lucia” and “Come Back to Sorrento.”

In 1947, Locke releases “Hear My Song, Violetta,” which becomes forever associated with him. It is based on a 1936 tango “Hör’ mein Lied, Violetta” by Othmar Klose and Rudolf Lukesch. The song “Hör’ mein Lied, Violetta” is often covered, including by Peter Alexander and is itself based on Giuseppe Verdi‘s La traviata. His other songs are mostly a mixture of ballads associated with Ireland, excerpts from operettas, and familiar favourites.

In 1948, Locke appears in several films produced by Mancunian Films, usually as versions of himself. He plays himself in the film Holidays with Pay. He also appears as “Sergeant Locke” in the 1949 comedy What a Carry On!.

In 1958, after Locke has appeared in five Royal Variety Performance telecasts, and while he is still at the peak of his career, the British tax authorities begin to make substantial demands that he declines to meet. Eventually he flees the country for Ireland, where he lays low for several years. When his differences with the taxman are eventually settled, he relaunches his career in England with tours of the northern variety clubs and summer seasons at Blackpool’s Queen’s Theatre in 1968 and 1969, before retiring to County Kildare, emerging for the occasional concert in England. He later appears on British and Irish television, and in November 1984 is given a lengthy 90-minute tribute in honour of the award he is to receive at the Olympia theatre commentating his career in show business on Gay Byrne‘s The Late Late Show. He also makes many appearances on the BBC Television‘s long running variety show The Good Old Days.

In 1991, the Peter Chelsom film Hear My Song is released. It is a fantasy based on the notion of Locke returning from his Irish exile in the 1960s to complete an old love affair, and save a Liverpool-based Irish night-club from ruination. Locke is played by Ned Beatty, with the singing voice of Vernon Midgley. The film leads to a revival in Locke’s career. A compilation CD is released and he appears on This Is Your Life in March 1992. He performs in front of the Prince and Princess of Wales at the 1992 Royal Variety Show, singing “Goodbye,” the final song performed by his character in the film. He announces prior to the song that this will be his final public appearance.

Locke dies at the age of 82 in Clane, County Kildare on October 15, 1999, and is survived by his wife, Carmel, and a son.

On March 22, 2005, a bronze memorial to Locke is unveiled outside the City Hotel on Queen’s Quay in Derry by Phil Coulter and John Hume. The memorial is designed by Terry Quigley. It takes the form of a spiraling scroll divided by lines, representing a musical stave. The spiral suggests the flowing melody of a song, and is punctuated by images illustrating episodes in his life, including Locke in police uniform, Blackpool Tower, Carnegie Hall, and the musical notes of the opening lines of “Hear My Song.”

A biography of the singer, entitled Josef Locke: The People’s Tenor, by Nuala McAllister Hart is published in March 2017, the centenary of his birth. The book corrects many myths that the charismatic Locke circulated about his career.


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Birth of Val Doonican, Pop & Easy Listening Singer

Michael Valentine Doonican, singer of traditional pop, easy listening, and novelty songs, who is noted for his warm and relaxed style, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on February 3, 1927.

Doonican is the youngest of eight children of Agnes (née Kavanagh) and John Doonican. He is from a musical family and plays in his school band from the age of six. His father dies in 1941, so he has to leave De La Salle College Waterford to get factory jobs fabricating steel and making orange and grapefruit boxes. He begins to perform in his hometown, often with his friend Bruce Clarke, and they have their first professional engagement as a duo in 1947. He appears in a summer season at Courtown, County Wexford. He is soon featured on Irish radio, sometimes with Clarke, and appears in Waterford’s first-ever television broadcast.

In 1951 Doonican moves to England to join the Four Ramblers, who tour and perform on BBC Radio shows broadcast from factories, and on the Riders of the Range serials. He also begins performing at United States Air Force bases. The Ramblers support Anthony Newley on tour and, recognising Doonican’s talent and potential as a solo act, persuades him to leave the singing group and go solo. He is auditioned for radio as a solo act, and appears on the radio show Variety Bandbox. Soon he has his own radio show and is performing in concerts and cabaret. In the late 1950s, he becomes one of the artists managed by Eve Taylor, the self-described “Queen Bee of Show Business,” who remains his manager until her death.

After seeing Doonican in cabaret in London in 1963, impresario Val Parnell books him to appear on Sunday Night at the Palladium. As a result of his performance, Bill Cotton, then Assistant Head of Light Entertainment at BBC Television, offers Doonican his own regular show. The TV shows are produced by Yvonne Littlewood and run for over 20 years. The shows feature his relaxed crooner style, sitting in a rocking chair wearing cardigans or jumpers, sometimes performing comedic Irish songs as well as easy listening and country material on which he accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. Being variety shows, his TV programmes give a number of other performers, such as Dave Allen, early exposure. Regular guests include Bernard Cribbins, Bob Todd, the Norman Maen Dancers, the Mike Sammes Singers, and the Kenny Woodman Orchestra. At its height The Val Doonican Show, which features both American and British acts, has 20 million viewers. In the United States, The Val Doonican Show airs on ABC on Saturday evenings from June 5 to August 14, 1971.

The Palladium performance also kick-starts Doonican’s recording career. Between 1964 and 1973 he is rarely out of the UK Singles Chart. The album Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently reaches Number 1 in the UK Albums Chart in December 1967 and knocks The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band off the top of the chart. The 1966 single release “Elusive Butterfly” reaches a UK chart peak of #5 and #3 in Ireland. In all, he records over 50 albums. After a time with Philips Records in the 1970s he also records for RCA Records. He also sings the theme song to the film Ring of Bright Water.

Behind the scenes, Doonican is described as “a perfectionist who knew his limitations but always aimed to be ‘the best Val Doonican possible.'” He is sometimes compared to American singer Perry Como, though he claims his main influence is Bing Crosby. He appears on Royal Variety Performance three times. On December 31, 1976, he performs his hit song “What Would I Be” on BBC One‘s A Jubilee of Music, celebrating British pop music for Queen Elizabeth II‘s impending Silver Jubilee.

Doonican wins the BBC Television Personality of the Year award in 1966. He is the subject of This Is Your Life in 1970. Eamonn Andrews meets him at the 18th green of the South Herts Golf Club as Doonican plays a round of golf. He writes two volumes of autobiography, The Special Years (1980) and Walking Tall (1985).

Doonican officially retires in 1990 but is still performing in 2009. He has a second home in Spain and is a keen golfer and a talented watercolour painter. Another hobby he enjoys is cooking. In June 2011, he is recognised by the Mayor of Waterford bestowing on him “The Freedom of the City.”

Doonican dies at a nursing home in Buckinghamshire at the age of 88 on July 1, 2015.


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Birth of Siobhán McCarthy, Television & Stage Actress

siobhan-mccarthySiobhán Mary Ann McCarthy, television and stage actress, is born in Dublin on November 6, 1957. She is perhaps best known for her role as Roisin Connor in ITV1‘s prison drama Bad Girls. Her television credits include Lovejoy, The Big Battalions and Holby City.

McCarthy originates the roles of the Mistress in Evita in 1978 in London‘s West End, before later returning to the show to play the title role. In between, she joins the vocal harmony group Wall Street Crash (1980 – 1983) where she performs several times at London’s Talk of the Town, at the Casino in Monte Carlo, and in two episodes of Royal Variety Performance (1980 and 1982). She is also the first to play Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! in 1999, for which she is nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

McCarthy’s other roles include leads as Mrs. Johnstone in Blood Brothers, Svetlana in the original London production of Chess, Fantine in Les Misérables, Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar and Deborah Warner’s Medea.

More recently McCarthy plays the roles of Velma Von Tussle in the London production of Hairspray (February 2010 – March 2010) and Joanne in the Southwark Playhouse revival of Stephen Sondheim‘s Company.

McCarthy is married to theatrical sound designer Andrew Bruce, and resides in London with her husband and two children, Kieran and Juliet.


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“Riverdance” Performed for the First Time

riverdance-1994Riverdance, a theatrical show consisting of traditional Irish music and dance and featuring Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley and a score composed by Limerick native Bill Whelan, is performed for the first time on April 30, 1994, as an interval performance act during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre in Dublin.

Riverdance is rooted in a three-part suite of baroque-influenced traditional music called Timedance composed, recorded, and performed for the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest, which is hosted by Ireland. At the time, Bill Whelan and Dónal Lunny compose the music, augmenting the Irish folk band Planxty with a rock rhythm section of electric bass and drums and a four-piece horn section. The piece is performed, with accompanying ballet dancers, during the interval of the contest, and later released as a Planxty single. Whelan has previously produced EastWind, an album by Planxty member Andy Irvine with Davy Spillane whose cross between Irish and Southeastern European folk music proves an influence on Riverdance. Thirteen years later, Bill Whelan is invited to do the intermission piece for another Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, and composes Riverdance. In the book The Humours of Planxty by Leagues O’Toole, Whelan says, “It was no mistake of mine to call it Riverdance because it connected absolutely to Timedance.”

The 1994 performance earns a standing ovation from the packed theatre of 3,000 people. As a result of this success, Riverdance is invited to perform at the prestigious Royal Variety Performance at Dominion Theatre, London, in the presence of Prince Charles on November 28, 1994.

At Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest and Eurovision Song Contest’s Greatest Hits events, the seven-minute performance is named as one of the most popular interval acts in the history of the contest.

An audio recording of Riverdance enters the Irish Singles Chart at number one on May 5, 1994, and remains there throughout the summer, eventually totalling a record eighteen weeks at #1. In response to the Rwandan genocide of May/June 1994, a video of the Eurovision interval performance is released by the Irish broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann under the title Riverdance for Rwanda with all proceeds going to the Rwanda Appeal Disasters Joint Appeal Committee.

The success of the Eurovision performance leads husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty to consider how to develop the piece. They decide to produce and direct a stage show, expanding the Eurovision piece and Bill Whelan’s composition. In November 1994, tickets are sold in Dublin for the first full-length performance of Riverdance, which opens at the Point Theatre on February 9, 1995. The show runs for five weeks and is a sell out with over 120,000 tickets sold. It stars the original lead dancers from the Eurovision performance as well as many from the dance troupe featured in the Eurovision performance.

Riverdance continues to be performed all over the world, in a diminished format and in smaller venues. Current productions are geared towards smaller theatres, whereas past productions have been performed in large theatres and arenas. Sets have been simplified and some numbers contain fewer performers than in past productions.