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The Countrymen - Antrim - Title graphic

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BETWEEN GARAGE AND ROCK N'ROLL - A SHOWBAND APPRENTICESHIP

 

By Paul Fynes

 

Reading and exploring [this] website I realize that as a teenager playing in showbands I wasn't just living my life, I was part of an era. An era that has passed with time and been replaced with computers, X-boxes, skateboards and a music business that often has more hype than talent.

We all played guitars as young teenagers and dreamed of being in rock bands like The Stones, The Beatles, or The Who. We had bands that rarely played outside of a garage and never got paid any more than a few shillings for any gigs we did manage to get. Somewhere between this and the rock stars we wanted to be was the Irish Showband scene. These bands were good, they played a lot and made good money. I would go the The Flamingo Ballroom in Ballymena to see the bands and check out their gear.

When I was 17 or 18, I joined The Red Admirals as the bass player. Now I would like to say that I was a good musician and The Red Admirals were lucky to get me but the reality was something quite different. I was a mediocre player at best but, I was young, willing to learn and...I was catholic. Being catholic meant that I could play on a Sunday night without any problem and...Sunday night was a big money night so it was important from a business point of view.

Playing with The Red Admirals taught me about being a member of a group (team). Being responsible for my part and being the youngest member I suppose the other guys looked out for me. Playing automatically helps you become a better musician and among my friends I suppose I had status because I played in a real band that had gigs, a van and made money.

A year later The Red Admirals broke up and some of the guys wanted to start a country band. I was less than thrilled at the prospects. In my mind I was a rocker and the idea of playing in a country band just didn't sit well. What would my friends at school say? I did have one major problem that helped me make up my mind .... I still owed my parents money for the big WEM 30 amplifier I bought. Playing was my only source of income. I decided to join this new band called The Countrymen, but I sure wasn't going to tell my friends at school.

As fate would have it, this band was the most successful band I have ever been in. We had lots of gigs, often 3 or 4 per week. We had developed a good fan base and ... we were making good money. At the risk of sounding smug (which I was) I was conscious of the fact that I was probably making more money than my teachers at school. (Note to taxman: The last statement is a total lie and is typical showbiz hype). My musical taste widened significantly and I was very proud of my time in The Countrymen.

I was raised to be practical (a curse that still hounds me today) and I realized I wasn't particularly talented and where would I be when I'm 40? Like many ex showband members, I knew I needed to get 'a real job' or I would end up old, fat and still trying to be hip on stage. So I quit the band and got a job in industry.

I'm in my 50s' now, still playing in bands in Nova Scotia and appreciative of the apprenticeship I enjoyed in showbands. When I made my decision to leave the showbands before I became old with no dignity, I hadn't considered that some one would invent a music form consisting of scratching a record to a beat and calling it RAP. I hadn't considered that my idols, The Rolling Stones, would still be playing with dignity firmly intact into their 60s'. I hadn't considered that being a rocker has more to do with attitude than age, and I certainly hadn't considered that a generation would feel the same way.

©2003 Paul Fynes

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