Friday, February 3, 1995

Sorrento Dance Band

As a young fellow living in Offaly Street in the 1950's I can recall the great sense of pride felt on hearing a Radio Eireann broadcast which featured a musical contribution from the local Sorrento Dance Band.

The band was started in 1946 by Paudence Murphy whose parents lived across the road from our house. His father Paddy, a hackney driver, and his mother Mary had nine children of which the eldest was Paudence. At one time or another most of the other members of the family featured in the band. The band's first engagement was in the local cinema in Offaly Street where the proprietors prompted by a recently imposed entertainment tax introduced live music as a means of avoiding the tax. Paudence Murphy on saxophone, John Murphy on drums and Jim Dargan on guitar played every night for six weeks of that first engagement using the opportunity to perfect their musical skills. The cinema was generally empty until minutes before the start of the evenings film thereby affording Paudence and his band members the ideal conditions for practising their music. One regular who always arrived early was Paddy Behan of St. Joseph's Terrace who sat throughout the band's limited repertoire always waiting for his favourite "Roses from the South" to be played.

Bookings for Sunday night dances from 8.00p.m to 12.00 midnight in the local Town Hall soon followed. The Sorrento augmented its personnel with the addition of Paddy Keenan on accordion, Gabriel O'Brien on saxophone and Joe Hayden on banjo. Practice makes perfect they say and the long sessions in the local cinema and the Town Hall bookings soon paid off with the band getting its first major break playing in the Gym of the Curragh on St. Patrick's Night 1947 before 1,500 patrons. In 1949 the band went temporarily out of business. In the meantime Paudence played with a number of Dublin bands before returning to Athy to join Joe O'Neill's famous Stardust band.

In 1950 the Sorrento was reformed with Andy Murphy, a cousin of the leader on tenor sax and clarinet, his namesake Andy Murphy a brother of Paudence on drums, Michael McFadden on accordion and vocals and doubling up as M.C. Over the years the band's personnel grew. Brendan Murphy, a trumpet player, joined his brothers Paudence and Andy. By now Andy was also playing trumpet while Michael McFadden had added the trombone to his repertoire. Dinny Pender played the drums. At other times another cousin John Murphy played alto sax with his brother Stephen Murphy on piano and Tim Farrell on tenor sax and vocals. In the mid 1950's the Sorrento went for the big band sound with two trombonists and two trumpeters.

Female vocalists who joined the all male band at various times included Paudence's sister Ena as well as Mary Fleming, Pattie Carey and Mary Dargan. The 1950's was the heyday of the show dances, the Firemans Ball and the carnival marquee dances, all of which featured the Sorrento Dance Band at one time or another.

In the late 1950's Casey Dempsey joined the Band and he invariably brought the house down with his impressions of Maggie Barry. Eamon Walsh joined the Band in 1962 and other members during the 1960’s included Mrs. McCormack of Portlaoise on piano, Tom Quinlivan from Kildare on piano, Teddy Fleming on trumpet, Brendan Doran on drums and yet again Paddy Keenan, this time on drums.

Possibly the highlight of the band members’ career was the 1961 opening of Dreamland Ballroom when they played relief to the legendry Victor Sylvester and his orchestra. I remember that night when with about 3,500 others I crammed into the new hall paying my admission money to the future Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. The Sorrento Band played the first two hours or so and then the stage revolved bringing into view the finest dance orchestra in these islands to replace our local heros the Sorrento Dance Band. This so far as I can recall was the first and only time the revolving stage was used in Dreamland Ballroom. The band played for another year finishing in 1962. Paudence Murphy regrouped the band in 1963 with George Robinson on accordion, George’s uncle, also George Robinson, on drums and at various times Tony Cardiff, Joe Newman and John Haskins on guitar. The band was active until 1968 when Paudence retired from the dance hall scene and emigrated to England. He was the eldest of the Murphy family, all the members of which had emigrated to England before himself.

Paudence is now retired and living in London. The Sorrento Dance Band was part of the great musical tradition of the town which gave us over the years many street bands and some excellent musical combinations

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