Hall Of Fame Recognition For Limerick's Tommy Drennan
At All Ireland ShoBiz Hall Of Fame Online Gallery, which is an accessory category under the auspices of Irish Heritage, we focus on the household names of times past who stood centre stage night after night chanting their melodies of songs to ballroom dancers, who just wanted to Rock ‘N’ Roll all night long. If you were lucky enough to pick up a partner, make a follow up date and become husband and wife, that was a real bonus. In our quest to identify former ShowBand Singers, one name prominent amongst a galaxy of stars, was that of Limerick’s Own TOMMY DRENNAN, a front line singer who added sparkling performances to all his gigs.
Tommy Drennan was born and reared at 21, O'Donoghue Avenue, Janesboro, Limerick, and started school in the Presentation Convent, before moving to the Christain Brothers School in Sexton Street. "There was a very strong music culture in that particular school and they produced many musical shows. As a 10 year old pupil Tommy is quoted as stating “They used to show films in the hall and before the film would start, I might be asked to sing a song or two. I would have been about 10 at the time. I joined the Redemptorist choir up in the Fathers when I was 11 as a boy soprano.
O Holy Night
A recording at that time at Mount St. Alphonsus Church, would later assist Tommy make number one in the charts with his greatest hit, 'O Holy Night'. Quoting Tommy, "Every Christmas there was a recital given by the choir from the altar and Fr. John Torney was the choir master and he used to make tapes on an old Grundig tape recorder. He made quite a lot of recordings and he gave me a tape of myself singing O Holy Night. I took it home and put it into an old suitcase where it remained for years".
Many years later in 1972 when Tommy and his band, The Monarchs, were travelling home to Limerick in the small hours after a dance in the North of Ireland, they listened on the radio to a well known jazz singer. The particular record was made up of two separate recordings, one when the singer was very young and the other a recent rendition. Chatting in the band wagon on the homeward journey from a gig. Tommy told his colleagues about the tape he had which was recorded in his younger days as a boy sporano. He stated we we could do something similar.
Nearby was Castleconnell Hall, home territory of the famed Ahane GAA Club and this was a huge venue and a few days later we were due to play there during a festival. Tommy brought along the old tape and Ray Heraty brought along his recording equipment before the gig and we did the second verse of ‘O Holy Night’ and joined it to the first verse recorded in 1953 when I was 11.
The magic recording was sent to EMI in Dublin, whom The Monarchs were recording with at the time and they were knocked out by it. They did a recording in Dublin with an orchestra of the second verse and then amalgamated it with the 1953 recording. It went straight to number one at Christmas 1972, outselling the Beatles. It remained at number one for five weeks. Ever since it is widely played on radio stations around the country, particularly at Christmas. O Holy Night was Tommy Drennan's and The Monarchs single anthem.
So began the All Star illuminating musical career of one of Ireland’s leading ShowBand singers, TOMMY DRENNAN.
"Next dance, Please" & The Freshmen
Before venturing on the road with showbands, Tommy joined the Gilbert & Sullivan and Limerick Operatic societies in Limerick. "Tom Henn, who lives in Marian Avenue, was one of the main movers behind the Gilbert & Sullivan Society. There was also Peter Quinn, who worked with a travel agency office and his wife, Maisie, who played the piano. When Tommy was studying for the Leaving Cert, he had a part in The Mikado and he had won lots of medals at Feile Luimni and various Feis Cheoil and singing was all he ever wanted."
Left Freshmen For Good Reason
After emigrating to Dublin Tommy received an invitation from UTV in 1962 to appear on a programme called Teatime with Tommy. The host was Tommy James and he played the piano. It was a guest request show.At the time The Freshmen, from up north, were looking out for a lead singer.
The Freshmen’s lead singer, Derek Dean, had decided to return to college to complete his studies to become a teacher. Somebody had seen the Limeick performer on the UTV show and made contact and asked if he would join the band. The showbands were huge at the time, so Tommy hit the road with The Freshmen in 1963 and remained with them for about a year. Billy Browne was also with them at the time and the others included Sean Mahon, Davey McKnight and Damien McElroy.
A moment and incident that shook Tommy, occurred in his native city, when the Freshmen were on their way to the Majorca Ballroom, Crosshaven, Co. Cork and passing through Limerick city enroute. In another interview Tommy is quoted as stating “I was engaged to Alice Dillon who was working in the Limerick Leader. I asked the lads to pull up for a while so I could meet her, but they wouldn't and out near the Regional Hospital, I insisted that the van stop. I got out and that was the end of it."
Birth Of Monarchs ShowBand Legacy
Word spread that Tommy had departed The Freshmen and this was early 1964 and Jim Connolly had formed The Monarchs with Ray Heraty, Bryan Meehan and Frank Hogan and they used to play in the local Limerick rugby clubs. Tommy Drennan and The Monarchs became one of the top Irish showbands during the next eight years, drawing thousands every night to halls and marquees all over the country.
The Monarchs played in Irish dance halls in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and London and in the middle of the week worked the working men's clubs in the north of England in places like Hartlepool and the mining towns in Yorkshire.The Monarchs and Tommie’s big hits included O Holy Night, Boolavogue, The Promise and the Dream and Love is a Beautiful Song.
Come 1972 and with his own band, Tommy Drennan & Top League, it was back on the road again but by now counter attractions to Irish ShowBands and low standards in many ballrooms, contributed eventually to the demise in popularity for ShowBands. Many highly rated singers such as Tommy Drennan, turned to their own solo careers in cabaret, when the fizz stopped bubbling for the ShowBands. With a Golden Soprano Voice gifted to Tommy at birth, life in ShowBiz proceeded.
The Monarchs were one of the biggest crowd pullers in the land
"Next dance, Please", triggered a buffalo charge in which girls were grabbed as though they were garments at a new year sale. That raucous diversion will never be forgotten by those who wandered through those sweaty but engagiing nights.
Halls and marquees had precarious electricity systems which often weren't up to the high voltage demands of the electrified equipment of the showbands. Tommy Drennan is quoted as saying "I recall one St. Patrick's night in a marquee when the electricity went -- they drove a car into the middle of the dance area and parked it with lights on to allow the dance to proceed. Fortunately we had a fine accordion player, Gerry Fitzgibbon from Adare, so we were able continue with Gerry on accordion, Davy McCormack on trumpet, and the drums. And as there was no microphone during the black-out, all seven of us in the band would shout out: 'Your next dance please.'
But another problem arose when a crowd formed near the stage calling on Tommy to sing Little Boy Lost which was a big hit for them at the time. "All I could do was kneel down on the edge of the stage and sing to those who could hear me. Those at the back of the hall hadn't a clue what was going on." The Monarchs drew particularly big crowds in Wexford, partly due to the success of their hit Boolavogue.
"We could play in County Wexford for a whole week and get packed houses every night. I remember one Sunday night in Adamstown we had over 4,000 in the massive hall there. "At the time Ireland was a single nation as far as radio was concerned. If you got a record played on Radio Eireann it was heard all over the country, in every town and village. If you had a play on radio, you were listened from Donegal to Dingle, unlike nowadays with so many stations. And the success of the band business was the way it could get this blanket coverage throughout the country."
Compiled by Derry JF Doody
for All Ireland ShoBiz Hall Of Fame