Paddy Cole chatted to David Hennessy about his new memoir, why the prevalence of drugs made him decide to leave Las Vegas, why they would be uneasy travelling back from the north after the Miam Showband massacre and why he took issue with what Bob Geldof said about the showbands being ‘crap’.
At 80 years old, Paddy Cole from Monaghan has told all about his long career in music in a new autobiography. Saxophonist Paddy started playing the Maurice Lynch Band when he was only a teenager.
When he was handpicked to join the Capitol Showband, it was the start of a more successful and lucrative time for Paddy as the band would score number ones and play on esteemed shows like Sunday Night at the Palladium.
In 1971, Paddy would move his family to Las Vegas where he performed with Brendan Bowyer, Tom Dunphy and Twink in The Big 8 who were so good even Elvis came to see them perform.
On returning to Ireland he would start up The Paddy Cole Superstars.
It was in 1964 that the Capitol became the first showband to play the BBC’s Sunday Night at the Palladium. This was a huge honour and undoubtedly a highlight of Paddy’s career.
Paddy told The Irish World: “They reckon there was something like 30 million people all around Europe watching Sunday Night at the Palladium at that time in the 60s.
“That was a huge one.”
However, their appearance on the show was marred slightly by a bad taste joke as comedian Norman Vaughan introduced them by joking that the BBC had had to walk the Irish act around the block to sober them up to play.
“We weren’t all that happy about it being honest. We were there in our own right as performers. When Norman Vaughan said that, the curtain then went up and we just went into doing our spot and we got a great reception. It was only afterwards some people said that they didn’t think it was nice. It was a slight on Irish people. I didn’t dwell too much on it but I wasn’t too happy about it I have to be honest.”
Asked for his proudest moments, Paddy says: “Last year in my home town of Castleblayney they unveiled a mural to me. These things normally happen after you’ve slipped off the perch but it’s nice to have it in your lifetime. To have that mural, I say my father, mother and older sister would have loved to see that but I’m one of these people that believe they know things like that are going on.
“Another one was when there was a televised show from the National Concert Hall when I got the Hall of Fame Award.
“I was always into New Orleans jazz. To bring my own band to New Orleans and see the posters in the window of the jazz clubs was a big moment.
“Looking back now, Helen and myself might be looking at a movie and it might be about New Orleans. I have done seven or eight trips to New Orleans. It’s wonderful how it hits you all the places that you were lucky enough to go and see. Now in my older years I can sit and look back and think about these things and say, ‘My God, we had a wonderful life’.”
The Capitol Showband scored three number ones in a row between 1964 and 1965 with Down Came the Rain, Born to Be with you and Walking the Streets in the Rain. This was also a time of personal happiness for Paddy as it was also the time he married his soulmate Helen.
“We put down a deposit on a house and like everyone else we were paying back the mortgage but my mother and Helen’s mother used to be talking about how lucky we were, a young couple like us in 1965, to be able to buy our own house and car.
“When I joined the Capitol Showband, I was sending a lot of money home every week because i had six sisters, five of them younger than me. It was a big household to look after and it eased the burden big time when I was sending the money home.
“Later on in years I was delighted to be able to do little things for the family. I took my father to America. Things like that I look back on and I say, ‘Thank God I did that’. He loved being in America that time.”
Paddy had a strong bond with his father. Music was a big part of that with Paddy’s father also being a musician.
“I dedicate the book to my dad. He was my hero. He taught me how to play the sax, to drive a car, fish for trout. He was my hero and I’m sorry I never told him. I always regret that.
“In my day you didn’t tell your dad, you didn’t hug your dad even. Now my son meets me on the street he hugs me but we grew up in an age where that just didn’t happen.
“Several people have said to me, ‘Your dad would have known that you loved him and other people have said he was very proud of that way I finished up being a musician himself and knowing that he had started me. It must have been a good consolation to him.”
It was Paddy’s father who gave him some advice that he heeded throughout his career and that was to never drink before going onstage.
“He was dead right. The way he put it he didn’t pull any punches. He said, ‘You might think you’re sounding good but everybody else will know you’re not. That was always in my mind even in Vegas.
“We were doing three concerts a night and we had long intervals in between and the temptation was there which Brendan, by his own admission, fell victim to.
“You would have an hour and a half between shows. Brendan would go and have a couple of drinks. We would go and drink coffee which kind of backfired on me as well because I was drinking so much coffee that I finished up having to go to a doctor. He nearly went bananas when he heard the amount of coffee I was drinking. I had the shakes.
“My Dad gave me sound advice like that. He was a great guy.”
In the showband era, Paddy describes a music scene in Ireland that was free of drugs. Sadly this is no longer the case and Paddy has seen musicians and bands destroyed by drugs and their prevalence in America was a big factor in his returning home.
“There was no drugs at all. The bands had the name of being heavy drinkers but I know guys in the bands that never took a drink in their lives.
“One of the guys that was in the Big 8 with us, Dave Coady started a band of his own in Vegas. Friends of mine heard that band and said it was brilliant.
“Subsequently some years later I met Dave Coady in Vegas. I was back visiting and he was now a dealer in one of the casinos. I said to him, ‘I believe you had a fabulous band. Whatever happened?’
“I never forgot it. He said to me, ‘I couldn’t keep a drug-free band’. That hit me big time. Years ago there might be some lads messing in the showbands and they would say, ‘I had to get rid of your man. He was drinking a bit’. Dave Coady couldn’t keep a band that was drug free. They were all on drugs. That was a sad thing to hear.
“My eldest son Pierce was going to school there and these guys were at the school gates giving them sweets and the sweets were drugged. Then they would charge them 50 cents for a sweet and then they would move it up to a dollar. They were getting them hooked at 4 or 5 years of age.
“One time we were at home and myself and Helen were having a chat and I said, ‘You know Helen, I think we should stay here. I don’t think we should go back’. I had no other gig or anything lined up. Helen was thrilled. She actually blessed herself when I said that to her. We never thought we would always be there. We knew we would be back living in Ireland at some stage.
“A lot of the guys that didn’t make the break are now living in Vegas and they’re sorry they left it that bit too late for coming back home. There was nothing for them to really come home to then.
“I was lucky enough. When word spread I was leaving the Big 8, Tony Loughman got in touch. He wanted to form a band and the Paddy Cole Superstars became a hugely popular band and were popular in the north of Ireland until the Miami guys were murdered and that put a stop to anybody going across the border and playing for a long time. We were the first band to go back up again and were welcomed by all sides of the community.”
Paddy writes in his memoir about hearing the dreadful news that his friends in the Miami Showband had been attacked and some of them killed when they were travelling back from a gig in Northern Ireland in 1975.
This put a stop to showbands travelling north of the border until Paddy and his band discussed it and decided to return to play gigs there. Although they were welcomed, he describes the eery feelings it evoked.
“It was terrible. Steve Travers is still a great friend of mine. You would be very wary after that.
“Even when we started going back up the north, we would be travelling back at night and you were always conscious if a car was coming behind you. You felt a bit uneasy for a long time after that. Even though I was raised up beside the border and saw all that from a young age after the Miami when you heard about the collusion you were conscious of the fact you were travelling through very quiet roads late at night and you never knew what was going to come.”
Paddy also responds to the comments of Bob Geldof who referred to the showband years as a ‘musical desert’ and said, ‘the showbands were crap’.
“I took issue with the fact he had never heard a showband. Bob Geldof to me is a mouth almighty anyway and his infamy is around that, being controversial and mouthing off.
“People that I know say he’s not a bad guy. He made that remark and my thoughts at the time were about all the fabulous musicians that played in showbands. I’ve always been surrounded by great musicians. If he only knew the musicians that were in those bands. Some went on to play in the orchestras, some to cabaret scenes for top acts from abroad. Like any other profession there would have been some good and some not so good.
“Steve Travers took real exception to it and he challenged Bob Geldof that the two of them pick up their bass guitars and for somebody to spring tunes that they hadn’t played before on them and see who would play and who couldn’t play but of course Bob Geldof never took up that challenge.
“You will get people who love to be controversial because then people are talking about them. Bob Geldof, I can take him or leave him. He’s not a guy I know and I’m not that worried about not knowing him to be honest wtih you.”
You would think being called Paddy Cole might provide some indemnity against being sacked from a band called The Paddy Cole Superstars. Well, you would be wrong because Paddy was sacked for being ‘too old’ at the age of 40. He can look back and laugh about it now.
“I can look back on it now and say, ‘Well they were trying to go into a different genre of music. They figured, ‘We’ll get a younger guy in’.’
“I started doing cabaret scene in Dublin and that band of Colm (Hughes) and the boys only lasted a very short time. I think they were ahead of their time.
“Colm gets on to me now and again and calls me a liar,” Paddy laughs. “That it never happened and I say, ‘Why was I not in the band then?’
“I can laugh about these things now and at the time I was probably a little bit pissed off but not overly.”
Paddy came from humble beginnings in Castleblayney but while times were tough, he describes it as as a happy childhood.
“They were very tough times. Nobody had any money but we weren’t aware of that because everybody was in the same boat. No other families had any money.
“I had a very happy childhood. We weren’t aware of the fact that we were poor. They were tough times for everyone.
“There was a big TB scare in Ireland at the time and- a bit like now with the Covid- You were avoiding people. You were saying, ‘That person had TB, stay away from them’.”
Paddy writes in the book of how much he enjoyed making the trip across the water to the UK.
“We always got a great reception in London whether it be the Gresham on Holloway Road or Kilburn or Cricklewood or Camden, all those big ballrooms. We played all those places and they were always packed.
“Invariably you would meet guys you had been to school with and in the Capitol Showband we had two guys from Donegal, two guys from Galway, a guy from Cork, two guys from Dublin and myself from Monaghan so we got people from all over Ireland following our band. That paid off big time for us.
“We loved going to England at that time. We were always made very welcome and have very happy fond memories of those trips.”
And Paddy was always aware that he was lucky to be playing music as he could so easily have been breaking his back on the building sites like those who came to those London shows.
“I was very conscious of the fact that I was very lucky in showbusiness. I’d say, ‘Paddy, you’re a very lucky man that you’re in a job that you love doing’. I used to know of people that hated going into work.
“I was very lucky.
Writing the book was tinged with sadness for Paddy as so many of his former colleagues have left us. Of the eleven musicians and crew that were involved with the Capitol Showband, Paddy is one of only two still here.
“I think of them now and again but it’s with affection. I think of them and I start to laugh and think about things that happened.
“You will get lonesome at times. Everyone else has gone but I’m hanging on. It’s white knuckle time but I’m hanging on.”
King of the Swingers by Paddy Cole is out now.