Leaders reunion and Pavilion days

AS part of the celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the opening of the 116-house McHale Road development in Castlebar in August 2005, The Leaders showband staged a nostalgic reunion at the end of May that year, writes Tom Gillespie.

Four of the five members of the group, who were hugely popular in the late 1960s/early ‘70s, were from ‘The Road’.

They were the late Jimmy Deacy (drums), Bob Madden (guitar) and brothers Stephen and Paddy Jordan (guitars). Saxophone player Joe Bernie from St. Bridget’s Crescent in the town completed the line-up.

Their manager was my late Connaught Telegraph colleague P.J. Hennelly, whose chutzpah and enthusiasm opened many ballroom doors for the young musicians.

P.J., before he joined The Connaught Telegraph as general manager, was a legend in the entertainment business and was as equally energetic in the newspaper sector.

Jimmy Deacy went on to play with the Brose Walsh Band, Bob Madden, my school mate from St. Patrick’s National School, Castlebar, is still in the music business in Ballina, while Joe Bernie is still very much involved in the entertainment scene in Galway.

The Jordan brothers, too, Paddy in America and Stephen in the UK, are also playing away.

This photograph of The Leaders with P.J. holding the microphone was taken in the old and long since demolished Tennis Pavilion, next to Celtic Park in Castlebar.

The Leaders played regularly at ‘hops’ there and also used the venue to practice their musical routines.

In the days before high-tech digital electronic equipment and lighting, The Leaders relied on a simple amplifier and speaker and their talent as musicians to wow patrons.

Before the onset of ‘live’ bands all we had was a record player and a selection of LPs (long playing records) and single records with an ‘A’ and ‘B’ side when we attended the hops in the Pavilion. The ‘live’ bands, and in particular the showbands, played covers of the hits of the day, many of which were recorded by them and charted here in Ireland.

The popularity of the showbands was a blessing for the likes of The Leaders and other local groups who went on stage as relief bands before the big acts came on.

P.J. Hennelly got The Leaders on stage in many halls around the county including the Royal Ballroom, Castlebar, the Starlight in Westport, Pontoon Ballroom, the Palm Court, Belmullet, Midas, Ballyhaunis, Moyland, Ballina, and the Crystal in Kiltimagh.

After The Leaders disbanded, P.J. went on to manage Nan (Monaghan) and The Jets, who had great success on the ‘relief’ circuit.

The Leaders reunion took place in the Welcome Inn Hotel on May 30, 2005, and as Peter Killeen, of Castlebar Community Radio (CRCfm) recalled in the Castlebar Parish Magazine, many came from all quarters of the town and county and filled the spaciousness of the Fáilte Suite, and friendliness and bonhomie was the ambience that wafted through the assembled multitude.

They were there, the survivors of the Swinging Sixties, the Hungry Fifties and the even Hungrier Forties, with sprinklings from the Glam Rock Seventies and the Electronic Eighties, not just for a night of nostalgia, but to pay tribute to a group of musicians who provided some of the musical backdrop to an era from the late ‘50s to the early ‘60s in which they had sprung from gawky teenagers to adults.

The night itself was to be a tribute to Jimmy Deacy, one of the finest drummers to come out of Castlebar, who had provided the tympanic beat for The Leaders.

Peter Killeen recalled: ‘I had some fore-knowledge of what might be in store on the night because during the week, Paddy Jordan and his wife Barbara, and brother Stephen had arrived at CRCfm for a chat ‘on-air’ with Johnny Oosten on his morning programme, the Chat Room.

‘Paddy and Stephen had been central players in The Leaders and I had a very pleasant 15 or 20 minutes chat with them before they went down to the studio, and we reminisced about the times before Paddy and Stephen had taken the emigrant trail in the ‘60s.

‘Paddy had brought an acoustic guitar with him to CRCfm and he played and sang a few numbers, his voice and mastery of the guitar as good as ever.’

As of the band’s reunion, the great moment arrived and The Leaders took to the stage.

Bob Madden had brought his wonderfully talented daughter, Karen, along to complement the group on keyboards and vocals.

There was an audible hush as we waited for them to start, and then, almost suddenly, there was the one-two-three from the drums and the night began.

They were flawless in their delivery and belted out old favourites one after the other.

What was really incredible was the fact that they had only a few hours practice. Their voices and the music were so in unison that a stranger hearing them would assume they had been playing together every week for the past 50 years.

The reason for this perfection was, of course, that these were musicians of real talent who could blend together effortlessly.

* Pictured, The Leaders showband, in the tennis pavilion, Castlebar, in the early 1970s. From left: Jimmy Deacy, Joe Bernie, Bob Madden, P.J. Hennelly (manager) and brothers Stephen and Paddy Jordan.

* Read Tom Gillespie's County Town column in our print edition every Tuesday

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