The word spread like wildfire up the narrow streets and down the mucky lanes – Roy Orbison was coming to Wexford!
It wasn’t that we were unsophisticated; Brendan Bowyer and Dickie Rock had jammed the Parish Hall on many occasions. But Roy Orbison was a horse of a different color – wasn’t he the next best thing to Elvis!
However, we were uncertain of the etiquette for such an occasion; normally we danced to showbands for four continuous hours. The Parish Hall Committee soon set us straight: a local band would play until Mr. Orbison arrived from Arklow where he was engaged to do a similar 40-minute show. He would then move on to Waterford for a final late night performance.
We were informed that we should not dance while this legend was performing but give him the same rapt attention and reception we afforded President John F. Kennedy on his visit in 1963.
I was very relieved by the non-dancing edict as I was going through a rough patch with the fair sex. “Hooking up” was tremendously complicated in those distant days, as 99% of this activity was initiated in dancehalls where a strict protocol had to be observed.
It began with requesting the pleasure of a lady’s company for a set of three dances. In those scant ten minutes of twists, two-steps or waltzes you were expected to beguile her with your manliness, comedic chops, and career prospects. Should she have found your presentation acceptable it was then incumbent upon you to request her company for a further set.
Unless she had fainted from boredom during this second set you then inquired if you could buy her a “mineral;” if she accepted, you escorted her to the balcony. It was usually plain sailing from then on: you walked her home at the end of the night and were rewarded with the chastest of kisses.
I knew the routine; the problem was – none but the lame, the overweight, and the criminally insane would dance with me. It wasn’t just me – most girls wouldn’t dance with any of my friends.
To be declined thirty times in the course of an evening was routine for a young man. Many of these refusals were courteous enough, although I remember one lady stating that she would be delighted to dance - if I could find her a partner. Another was more to the point, merely muttering, “Would you ever shag off!”
I don’t know why women of that generation were so choosy. My grandmother proclaimed that she had never refused a gentleman a dance. My mother too seemed puzzled but reassured me that I’d “grow out of it.”
The Parish Hall was packed when Mr. Orbison’s backing band took to the stage. They were obviously English for they gazed upon us much as my grandfather did when appraising poorly castrated bullocks.
They then began the intro to Pretty Woman and we craned our necks as Mr. Orbison strolled on stage followed by an assistant bearing his guitar. A vision in shades and gold lamé suit, the legend stretched out his arms not unlike Jesus on the cross. The guitar was slipped over his shoulders and he began to sing.
Oh, what a voice! At the song’s conclusion he stood stock still while we cheered as though Wexford had just wiped the floor with Cork in the All Ireland Hurling Final. Mr. Orbison then proceeded to string together one after another of his hits.
He never acknowledged us and it was hard to say if he was enjoying himself but we were exultant. Some even compared the experience to witnessing the Blessed Virgin at Lourdes.
The set built to a climax with a rousing reprise of Pretty Woman, and suddenly Mr. Orbison was gone without a word of farewell. A committee member later confided that he was at least 2 miles down the road to Waterford before we gave up roaring for an encore.
I looked around the hall. The mirror ball still spun and the local band had begun playing. But something had fled and with it my ability to accept thirty refusals a night.
Soon after I emigrated to New York City. Roy Orbison had apparently set me free.