‘End of an era’ as showband great Brendan Bowyer dies

By David Hennessy

Legend of the showband era Brendan Bowyer passed away last week.

The Waterford man was known for fronting the Royal Showband, once topped a bill that included the Beatles and counted Elvis as one of his fans.

Brendan died surrounded by his family at his home in Las Vegas last Thursday. X Factor judge Louis Walsh was just one of the many famous faces who paid tribute when the news broke.

Fr Brian D’Arcy, who was involved in the showband scene as an enthusiast and journalist, said that Brendan was instrumental in the rise of the showband scene.

Fr Brian D’Arcy told The Irish World: “It’s a big, big loss. It’s the end of an era.

“When you can say that the Beatles played support to you and that Elvis came to see you so he could one of the songs you were doing- There aren’t many acts in the world that can say that, never mind Irish artists.

“Brendan was the first of the showband singers and he’s the last of them as well.

“We would have been good mates an awful long time. It’s an awful sad loss.

“To be perfectly frank about it, Brendan Bowyer was the showband era. In ’59 there was no business, it was just people having dances but Brendan with six other young fellas from Waterford were lucky enough to all hit their peak at the same time. They got together and TJ Byrne managed them and they created an industry that allowed people like Joe Dolan and Dickie Rock and all the other showbands to make names. By the mid ’60s, there were about 10,000 people directly employed by showbands.

“He was the one.

“They were an amazing band. They were the first showband to record a record. They had five numbers ones. The Huckle Buck went straight into number one and remained there for 12 weeks and also went to number one in Australia. They were the first band to make a film, they were the first Irish band to make an album, they were the first at everything, they really were and of course they were the first to go to America for a permanent residency in Las Vegas.

“He was a very shy, very humble guy. Man of faith too, I have to say and his children have done well in America.

“You couldn’t say enough about Brendan Bowyer. Nobody came close to Brendan.

“Bowyer was the man, The Royal Showband were the band.”

Mick Byrne, who owned The Galtymore where Brendan performed on numerous occasions said that he remembered the dance floor coming ‘alive’ when Brendan came to the iconic venue.

Mick Byrne told The Irish World: “I was very sad to hear it. He was a very nice man. He used to come over regularly to us and he would always fit in one night at the Galty on a UK tour. Very sad.

“He was a very professional man and a very nice man. He was such a nice man. He always had time for everybody.
“I remember the crowds that would turn up to see him and when he would break into The Hucklebuck, the dance floor would come alive giving it their best.

“He was a great entertainer and always gave the people what they wanted.

“He was Ireland’s Elvis, then made it big in Ireland and then headed to Las Vegas and had a huge career out there.
“It’s certainly the end of an era.

“My sincere condolences to all his family.

Brendan was known for fronting The Big Eight as well as the Royal Showband. He was 81.

The Waterford man died at his home in Las Vegas surrounded by his wife Sheila, his three children and two grandchildren.

X Factor judge Louis Walsh paid tribute saying: “One of the first records I ever bought was ‘The Hucklebuck’ and it is still an Irish pop classic. He had a great life, he was a great artist and he had a great career.

“He was one of the greats. It was Dicky Rock, Brendan Bowyer, and Joe Dolan – they were showband greats.

“He was a great singer.”

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan T.D. paid tribute saying: “I am extremely saddened to hear of the passing of Brendan Bowyer. He could justly claim to be in the very top echelon of performers of the dancehall era. His comparison to Elvis Presley is not an overstated one.

“So many romances, marriages and happy memories were created during many years of joy and entertainment that Brendan brought to this country and his adopted Las Vegas. He set a high bar and inspired so many other performers that followed. He will be so sadly missed.

“My sincerest condolences to Stella – his wife of 53 years, his three children, Brendan Jr, Aisling and Clodagh, as well as his extended family and thousands of devoted fans. Hearing the Hucklebuck again will give us mixed feelings, a nostalgia of happier times gone by tinged with sadness.”

The High Kings singer Darren Holden said: “Rest easy Brendan Bowyer. Ireland has lost its very own Elvis and our first true Rock ‘no Roll superstar. There’s a hucklebuck in heaven tonight.”

Former Waterford Mayor Mary Roche tweeted in tribute to the Hucklebuck hitmaker: “Very very sorry to hear of the passing of Brendan Bowyer.

“Rest In Peace Brendan. There’ll be Huckle-Bucking in heaven tonight.”

Once dubbed Ireland’s Elvis, Bowyer was born in Waterford but had lived in America for almost 50 years. He and the Royal showband were stars of the showband era. They were one of the most dynamic live acts of that era and drew massive crowds to ballrooms all across Ireland and Britain.

The were so popular at one stage that The Beatles were the support act for them when they played in Liverpool on April 2, 1962 – just six months before the release of ‘Love Me Do’.

Bowyer famously advised the four “to stick with it and you will make it.”

Bowyer had five number ones during his career, including famous hit The Hucklebuck.

After leaving the Royal Showband in the 1970s, Brendan relocated to Las Vegas where his idol and most famous fan Elvis Presley used to come and watch him perform.

Brendan would later recall that, after he relocated to Las Vegas, one of his “treasured memories of this time” was when Elvis Presley came to see him.

Confirming the news last Friday morning, the family said: “It is with deep sadness and regret that we announce the passing of Brendan Bowyer. Ireland’s most beloved International entertainer for 62 years.

“Brendan passed away peacefully in Las Vegas on the late evening of May 28th, 2020. He was surrounded by the unending love of his wife of 53 years, Stella, his three children, Brendan Jr, Aisling, Clodagh, and his two grandchildren, Liam & Nora Stella.

“Brendan was hoping to get back to his homeland, Ireland, one last time. He was 81-years-old.”

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