Boyle man Sean reflects on his ‘Joe Dolan years’

Sean Kenny of Boyle was a member of Joe Dolan’s band for the past couple of years. He talked to me of Joe last week and his obvious regard for the Mullingar icon shone through. Joe Dolan died on St. Stephen’s Day. Sean was a member of a Boyle band called the Jivenaires following which Sean went to Mullingar where he was to spend the greater part of his life. With Frank Montgomery (Monty as he became known in Boyle), Pat Hoey and Kyd Graham they became the permanent ‘relief band’ for Joe Dolan and The Drifters in the mid sixties when Sean first got to know Joe and his brother Ben Dolan.    Sean was asked to join the Drifters’ breakaway band The Times in 1968. Though the Dolans asked him to join the reformed Drifters Sean kept his original commitment to The Times. Monty, though not with The Drifters, played rhythm guitar on Joe Dolan’s first four number one hits: ‘The Answer to Everything’, ‘I Love You More and More Every Day’, ‘My Own Peculiar Way’ and ‘Aching Breaking Heart’.    Joe’s first four number ones were produced by Boyle man Gay McKeon of Boyle, himself a brilliant songwriter, his best-known song being ‘The Hucklebuck’, written with Willie Devine, also of Boyle. Sean’s son Conor was a member of the band for a five-year stint.   Thirty eight years later Sean was approached again to link up with the Joe Dolan band which he did for what was proposed as a short tour but it lasted nearly two years and included Joe’s final performances. They travelled the length of Ireland and Sean is loud in his praise of Joe Dolan as a performer and as a person. They played in Cheltenham in 2006 which was an interesting experience.    The band opened Shearwater Plaza Hotel on August 31 ’07 in what was Joe’s last full show. At a further show, in Abbeyleix, Joe felt unwell and apologised, saying it was the first time in over four decades he did not complete his gig. Sean says that while Joe was ‘huge’ in Ireland he was ‘massive’ in South Africa where he had around seventeen number one records, four being in their top ten at the same time.    ‘Make Me an Island’ was number three in the British Charts. He had number ‘ones’ in fourteen different countries. Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood, who went on to become noted song-writers, first gave Joe ‘Make Me an Island’. Sean says that the Mullingar Drifters was the first western band to play in Russia in 1978. They ‘did’ Vegas for two seasons in the early eighties. He was widely respected by his peers and Sean mentions Ronnie Drew, Shane McGowan and Paddy Cole as such.    Joe Dolan’s generous contributions to charity were referred to at his funeral Mass by Father Brian Darcy, chaplain to the showbands – and Sean endorses this. He also had great feeling and empathy for people with disability and many attended his shows, getting front row seats and going home with a Joe memento, a scarf or tie. Sean relates that as his funeral cortege passed through the crowded streets of Mullingar he heard a bystander call, ‘Goodbye Joe and thanks for what you did for Mullingar’. Joe had many committed fans and Sean tells me of a lady who attended 33 of the 34 shows of their Ireland tour. The reason she missed one, in Belfast Opera House, was because she could not get a front row seat!   We end our talk with Sean paying a final tribute; ‘He is irreplaceable, a dear and close friend, I am so saddened by his death.’  The sincerity of his feelings is palpable.