Sunday, 28 June 2020

An Irish Elvis and so much more!

I once remarked to Brendan Bowyer that he was responsible for the sexual revolution in Ireland.

He gazed back with that slightly worried look that creased his face whenever he feared he was being criticized.

I hastily reassured him that it had all to do with the packed floors of dancers who had no choice but to cling to each other whenever his Royal Showband appeared in the 1960’s.

And with that we both dissolved into laughter at the memory of jammed sweaty nights in Wexford’s Parish Hall.

Back then, The Royal were synonymous with excitement and glamour. The Miami, The Capitol and The Freshmen were as accomplished but the men from Waterford had Brendan Bowyer.

With that big voice and personality he- seemed to explode from the stage. He could rock like Elvis and yet could bring his classical instincts to bear on show-stopping versions of Love Thee Dearest and Jerusalem.

He had a special charisma that I recognized later in the young Springsteen – the ability to make you feel that he was singing just to you. All you had to do was gaze around at other audience members and you could tell they were under the same spell.

When I left Wexford for ultra-cool Dublin I stopped seeing showbands, and their long social and musical reign was coming to a close when I departed for New York.

Brendan and his new outfit The Big Eight missed this demise for they moved to Las Vegas around the same time and went on to even greater fame on the strip.

I never forgot Brendan nor the effect he had on me as a star-struck boy.

Fast forward to the 1990’s, I became friends with his two daughters, Clodagh, a New York based actress, and Aisling who sang with her father’s bands. And so I wrote him a fan letter.

He couldn’t have been more gracious and was fascinated that someone from left-of-center Black 47 would have an interest in him.

One night in Salt Lake City he showed up at a punk club to see Black 47. It was one of those rowdy mosh-pit affairs and Brendan was thrilled with the rawness of the scene and the band’s “performance.”

I don’t think he ever fully understood what it meant for me to have The Royal Showband’s renowned vocalist in the audience. It was a squaring of the circle, as it were.

We had something in common. I knew what it took for him to come from a small city like Waterford and make it in Vegas. Such things don’t come easy. You often lose as much as you gain on the way.

Brendan wasn’t one to blow his own horn so late one night I wrote his story. I called it Break Like Crystal - in reference to his Waterford roots. 

I wanted a fast-forgetting world to know what he had gone through – and accomplished. He loved the song and soon after he showed up in New York and we recorded it with members of Black 47. 

He fit in instantly with this motley crew for Brendan was a bandsman and came alive around other musicians.

He asked me as producer how I wanted him to treat the song. 

I just said, “Be yourself, Brendan. It’s your story, sing it from the heart like you always did in Wexford’s Parish Hall.”

He smiled, took control, and nailed the song on the first take. He also knocked off a heartfelt version of Black 47’s emigrant anthem, American Wake, both of which are available on YouTube.

And then he was gone, off to some gig in The Bronx or wherever. I sat there at the controls and mixed that great soulful voice - full of wonder and life - that I’d first heard as a chiseler back in Wexford.

Here’s to you, Brendan, you’ll always be a legend. Thanks for the memories, man, and for blazing a path that so many of us followed.

Then I heard Elvis and it changed everything
And I set off on at the age of 19
To follow a rock ‘n’ roll dream
I don’t break like crystal

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