The Caroline Showband

Did Ronan O’Rahilly ever initiate a band?
by Martin van der Ven

About Ronan O’Rahilly, the driving force behind Radio Caroline, many stories circulate. Some of those say he also was the manager of some reknown pop groups and singers. By know these tales all have been disproved. Still, as Martin van der Ven tells, O’Rahilly once may have started a band: the Caroline Showband.

Ronan O’Rahilly

Radio Caroline’s own Showband. Rumours have been circulating around the Irish Radio Caroline founder Ronan O’Rahilly regarding his alleged involvement as a “manager” of British pop groups and artists. Various authors have repeatedly and incorrectly pointed out that O’Rahilly, as the alleged manager of Georgie Fame, tried in vain to have his records played on Radio Luxembourg, for example. Without a doubt, O’Rahilly was an influential mastermind behind the scenes, who in the first half of the sixties was heavily involved in the famous London Scene Club, a meeting place for the mod and northern soul scene. The Rolling Stones, the Who, Zoot Money and Chris Farlowe also performed there. Accordingly, there are references to O’Rahilly’s close connections to the Animals, Alexis Korner, Alan Price and probably Van Morrison.

An Irish phenomenon dating back to the late fifties was the Irish Showbands. Until then, traditional music dominated in Ireland or one could also listen to big band orchestras and ballad singers. Rock n’ Roll from the USA and Great Britain then changed the taste, especially of teenagers, so that “Irish Showbands” played rhythm and blues and also pop music to get people onto the dance floor. There is some evidence on the internet that Ronan O’Rahilly, who was born in Greenore, Ireland, founded the Caroline Showband in December 1964 (about nine months after his legendary offshore radio station, Radio Caroline, took to he air). (Beirne-Kennedy, 2001-2020; GMS Productions, 2009; The Archivist, 2020)

Poster (YouTube-Screenshot)

A band, its members and a highlight. In December 1964, the same month Radio Caroline started its programmes, the Irish Sunday Independent reported that Jim Craig of Kilkenny-based Caroline Enterprises had approached Dublin-based drummer Kevin Brady to form a show band. The debut took place at Dublin’s Gresham Hotel on 22 December 1964, with the original line-up consisting of Kevin Brady (RIP Dublin, drums), Earl Jordan (Buffalo, New York, vocals), Tony Kearns (Drogheda, sax), Reginald Dunne (Dublin, guitar), Kevin Gregan (Dublin, bass), Tony Coffey (Dublin, keyboards), Harry Burrows (Birmingham, sax) and Michael Burns (Sligo, trumpet). According to the author of the Caroline Showband Story their manager was Frank Traynor from Dublin (GMS Productions, 2009). The Irish Showbands Archive, on the other hand, reports:

“The band would be managed by Caroline’s representative in Ireland at the time, Kilkenny born Jim Craig.” ((Beirne-Kennedy, 2001-2020)
The US-American Earl Jordan was probably the most famous musician of the band. (YouTube, 2020) He later sang with the Les Humphrey Singers in the seventies. Former band member Mel Dean (who joined the Caroline Showband in 1966) reported to the operator of the website Irish-Showbands in 2009 that the Caroline Showband was put together by O’Rahilly:
“They also had the support of pirate radio station Radio Caroline which helped promote the band as much as it could and at one point it was reported they had recorded twelve songs to be played on the station.” (GMS Productions, 2009)
One of the highlights of their early success was a gala ball at the Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow, attended by Irish-born Princess Grace de Monaco.

Label of the single “Co-co Joe” (YouTube-Screenshot)

A disastrous barbeque. The Irish Broadcasting Hall of Fame wrote in April 2020:
“While the showbands were hugely popular with a certain generation of music listeners and goers and in rural Ireland, the rural popularity of Radio Caroline and with the showband fans was relatively weak. (…) This need to expand their reach and incidents around a barbeque held in Brittas Bay that led to violence, in July 1965, The Caroline Showband and Jim Craig end their association with Radio Caroline. Shortly after Jordan would leave the band, they would take on a new manager and would be renamed.
“The barbeque was a PR disaster for Radio Caroline in Ireland in 1965. In June 1965, Radio Caroline through its subsidiary Club Caroline advertised and sold tickets for a barbeque to be held on Dalkey Island. The club was run by Dennis Binns and Jim Craig. The event was to take place on Saturday June 26th 1965.

“The tickets were an immediate and popular success. Over one thousand tickets at a guinea each were sold and the plan was to transport guests across to the island by boat from Coliemore Harbour. Several acts promoted by Radio Caroline, including the Caroline Showband, were to appear on the bill. A week before the events the local council stepped in and announced that no permissions had been sought or given for the event to take place within their jurisdiction. The Gardai were placed on standby to prevent the event taking place in the upmarket area of South Dublin.

“With mounting opposition with the local community, Caroline’s organisation in Ireland decided to change the venue and moved to a privately owned beach at Brittas Bay in County Wicklow. Unfortunately, the event in Wicklow was not all smoothly run, the lighting failed and the grills failed to work. In the early hours of the morning, according to one newspaper report ‘just be before dawn’, frustrations and excess consumption of alcohol led to violence and the intervention of the Gardai riot police.” (The Archivist, 2020)

In the following years there was a coming and going with many changes of band members and responsible persons and in 1967 also a move to England with performances mainly in Irish clubs in London, Manchester and Birmingham. After 1968/69, the already sparse traces are lost, which — once again — leave many questions about O’Rahilly’s commitment open. I strongly recommend the various sources listed below for the Caroline Showband with numerous photos and also a YouTube video.

• Beirne-Kennedy, Francis (2001-2020), “The Story of the Caroline Showband.” In: Irish Showbands Archive. Retrieved from on December 3th, 2020.
• GMS Productions (2009), “Caroline Showband Story (1964-’67 in Ireland, -1977 in the UK).” In: Retrieved from on December 3th, 2020.
• The Archivist (2020), “The Irish legacy of Ronan O’Rahilly and Radio Caroline.” In: The Irish Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Retrieved from on December 3th, 2020.
• YouTube (2020), “Earl Jordan Caroline Showband.” In: YouTube. Retrieved from on December 3th, 2020 .

From. Soundscapes — Journal on Media Culture
volume 23, december 2020