Brose Walsh

Memories of 1960 US tour by Mayo's famed Brose Walsh Orchestra

PART ONE: by Tom Gillespie

SIXTY-three years ago (October 8, 1960) The Connaught Telegraph carried a two-page feature on the pending tour of America by Brose Walsh and his orchestra.

The feature read: The forthcoming tour of America by Brose Walsh and his ever-popular international orchestra focuses attention on some very interesting facts concerning the rise to fame of this noted bandleader and his orchestra, which enjoys the distinction of being one of the leading dance bands in Ireland for many years past.

For the past 25 years the name of Brose Walsh has been a household word throughout the length and breadth of Ireland.

This year (1960) is the silver jubilee of the formation of his orchestra and it is only fitting that the biggest event of his career - the tour of America with his orchestra - should take place to mark the silver jubilee as the leader and director of this famous Irish dance band combination. It is a worthy culmination to a quarter of a century of success in the dance band and show business.

The Brose Walsh success story began 25 years ago when he was a small boy with big ideas and two million miles travel on the road to success before him.

Brose estimates he has travelled close to that distance with his orchestra since he first took to the road.

The story of his rise to fame is a simple one for he got his first taste of music in the simplest possible manner. When he was a boy of 10 years there was a ‘Yankee wake’ in his house prior to his sister Nora (Mrs. Nora Hanlon) and his brother Jimmy leaving for America.

Brose was enthralled with the music, singing and dancing in the kitchen as he lay in his bed.

When the party was over and everyone lay sleeping, Brose arrived in the kitchen early the following morning and to his great joy he saw a melodeon which was left in the house by Mrs. K. Jennings, Logakilleen.

To the discomfort of the members of his family, he set to work with the melodeon and after practising day and night for a few days the instrument was left in the house, he soon learned to play a few tunes.

Impressed by his interest in music, his parents purchased an accordion for him, and it was then his real musical career started.

Musical instruments and musicians were few at the time and even though he was only a young boy there was a big demand for him to play at weddings and country house dances. The reward he received for playing was tea - every hour of the night.

After leaving school he was apprenticed to a carpenter in Michael Gibbons' workshop in Frenchill and while serving his apprenticeship he practised on the accordion during mealtimes and every spare moment he had.

During that time he also found time to practice on the violin and it was not long until he proved himself an expert at traditional Irish music. He was also a light baritone, his pleasing voice making a hit everywhere he sang.

Brose was one of the carpenters employed at the Horseshoe Hall, Frenchill, when it was in the course of erection, and it was in this hall that the wheel of fortune moved in his favour.

The Horseshoe Hall was at that time a very popular centre for dancing and one night when a band failed to turn up for the dance, Brose was called on to come to the rescue.

With his accordion and violin and a set of drums he made a one-man debut. His first effort as a one-man dance band was such a great success that on the following Sunday night he was booked to play in Cong. On this, his second outing, he had bigger ideas and his one-man band was augmented by three accordions, violin and drums.

His third appearance with his full orchestra was also in the Horseshoe Hall and over 900 patrons turned up to hear him. It was then he started on the first rung of the ladder that eventually brought him to fame.

His band played for a number of years in country dance halls around the county and in Galway when he gradually continued to build up his band and added saxophones, trumpets, etc., to it.

In addition to the other instruments, he learned to play the saxophone, which he generally plays as leader of the band.

During the war years he experienced all kinds of difficulties travelling around the country to dances when petrol was rationed.

Just after the war, he got his first big break when he was engaged to play nightly at the County Cinema, Castlebar, when there was a special variety show as part of the programme. With this nightly performance it was not long until Brose built up a first class combination, and it was from then onwards he started fulfilling big engagements all over the country.

While the County Cinema booking was perhaps his first break, it was there he also got his first big setback. He was just after spending over €500 on purchasing a complete new outfit, which included amplifiers, a set of drums, new saxophone, accordion, etc., when the County Cinema was burned to the ground and everything was destroyed.

Through a defect in insurance, there was no compensation and it was a question of back to scratch. With borrowed instruments, the band played on in the true tradition of showmen. Through hard work, Brose soon overcame the setback, but he has never forgotten the people who loaned him instruments, showed kindness and gave him a break.

He met with success after success everywhere he went, which included every part of the 32 counties. In 1950 he received his first invitation to go on a English tour. It was the first time a west of Ireland band crossed the channel and his visit to the leading English cities, including London, was a wonderful success. On a number of occasions during the past few years he has paid return visits to England with equally remarkable success.