In 1975 The Miami Showband were riding high in the Irish music scene, known as The Irish Beatles and credited with being Ireland’s #1 band. The showband scene had enjoyed huge popularity from the late 1950’s, through the 60’s and on into 70’s… until one fateful night in July 1975. Here we discuss the background and the devastating aftermath of what became known as The Miami Showband Massacre.
Led by singer Dickie Rock and later by Fran O’Toole the Miami Showband had thirteen Top 10 singles, including seven number one records in the Irish singles chart. From their debut #1 in 1963 a cover of Elvis’ ‘There’s Always Me’ until that fateful day in 1975 The Miami Showband reigned as Ireland’s premier ‘showband’. In the 1950’s the Irish music scene was dominated by Ceili bands, orchestras and ballad singers and it was from all those influences that the ‘showband’ in the 60’s/70’s took their sound. There’s an excellent history of the progression of the Irish Showbands on the aptly named Irish Showbands site. The term would come to be used to cover many different bands and styles but in its very early days, in the 1950’s it was used to describe a show where a band would play two sets with another act in the middle, more than likely a comedian. Success didn’t come easy for the Miami Showband travelling the length and breadth of Ireland every night to play anywhere from village halls to large city venues. The hard work paid off with several high points for the band like representing Ireland in the 1966 Eurovision Song Contest and appearing on British TV on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Band members came and went and by 1975 all the original members had left and the new line up of the now bell-bottomed, wide-collared Miami Showband comprised of Des Lee, Brian McCoy, Tony Geraghty, Fran O’Toole, Steve Travers and Ray Millar.
Steve Travers joined the band at 24. Six weeks later half the band would be murdered.
The band were a ‘mixed’ band meaning they had members who were both Catholic and Protestant and from both sides of the border. Politics was not on the agenda for them. All they cared about was the music and bringing joy and excitement into peoples lives. It is estimated at the height of the showband scene there were over 650 fully professional groups operating across the island. At the time violence in the north and censorship in the south were rife and folk longed for a escape and they found it through music. Later Punk would fulfill the same role in bringing people together. As Stephen Travers explains
“There was no sectarianism at these dances, people left their religion at the door.”
So popular were they that they breezed through Police and Army checkpoints on the border often being recognised and asked for autographs. No stranger to the London Irish scene either performing regularly at famed London venues The Galtymore and The National to packed houses. There really was no one to touch them at the time. London Celtic Punker Gerard recalls
“I was only 12 and I knew very little about them, but I could realise something terrible had happened, the sombre mood about the place, people involved in the entertainment business (like my relatives in Galway) were shocked and very scared. Bomb scares were a regular part of a night out to our pub. They were seriously worried that these murders would escalate things. They were scared that the places the Showbands played in would become a target, like Seapoint ballroom in Salthill.”
It’s hard to fathom how popular a band they were and the Showband scene was. Ireland was littered with these places at the time and they were absolutely central to rural nightlife as well as cities.
(the BBC documentary The Day The Music Died)
On the 31st July 1975 the band had played another successful gig in the northern town of Banbridge. After loading their gear drummer Ray Millar bid farewell and headed off on his own back to nearby Antrim. The bands manager Brian Maguire got in the van containing the groups equipment and set off just a few minutes ahead of the remaining five band members on the trip back home to Dublin.
None of the band members were killed in the bomb blast. Des McAlea was thrown over a ditch by the force of the explosion, suffering minor injuries and managing to make good his escape across fields. Fellow band members Fran O’Toole, Tony Geraghty and Brian McCoy were not so lucky. They survived the blast but the gang were intent on killing and opened fire. Stephen Travers was hit and was seriously wounded, the bullet that struck him breaking into sixteen pieces. Tony and Fran had tried to help him off to safety but were unable and as Stephen lay there pretending to be dead he could hear the men chase down his friends in the neighboring fields and despite their pleas for mercy murder them in cold blood. Brian McCoy, hit by machine gun fire, was the first to die. Tony Geraghty was shot four times laying helpless on the ground. Frontman Fran O’Toole died after being shot twenty two times. The gang walked around the aftermath of the explosion kicking at bodies to ensure that they were all dead. Seriously wounded, traumatised and terrified, Stephen decided to lie still as he was approached. Luckily for Stephen, just as he came near, one of the other soldiers shouted that
“those bastards are dead. I got them with dum-dums”.
The soldiers then departed the scene, and despite suffering horrific injuries Stephen survived the attack.
For those of you with Netflix the Miamia Showband were featured as part of eight ReMastered music documentaries. ReMastered claims to “investigate high-profile events affecting some of the most legendary names in music” such as Bob Marley, Johnny Cash and Sam Cooke. March 2019 saw The Miami Showband Massacre come under the spotlight and Stephen Travers’ search for the truth of what happened on 31st July 1975.
The Miami Showband Massacre: A Survivor’s Search for the Truth – by Stephen Travers and journalist Neil Fetherstonhaugh, was published in 2007.
The Miami Showband web-site.