OF THE many showbands to come out of Enniskillen during the genres’ height in the mid 1950s to the late 1970s, ‘Gene and the Gents’ was one of particular prominence.
The band celebrated the 50th anniversary of their formation on Monday, and saxophonist Paddy McDermott, who moved to Enniskillen when he was 18, recalled the band’s rise in the Irish circuit.
“The band was a breakaway of The Skyrockets. I was there for nearly six years with Cecil Kettyles, but decided I wanted to do something on my own.
“Our first gig was in the Swan Park ballroom in Monaghan. The band was a breakaway of ‘The Skyrockets’. I was there for nearly six years with Cecil Kettyles, but decided I wanted to do something on my own,” Paddy explained.
The band featured Dermot Doherty, trombone; Peter Watson, drummer; Paddy McDermott, tenor saxophone; Barry Scully, bass; Tony Gallagher, rhythm guitar; and Henry McCullough, lead guitar.
The ‘biggest part of the jigsaw’, Paddy went on, ‘we’d no lead singer’.
The group put an advert in the dance band column of the Irish Independent for singers to audition, and got over 50 replies. They were particularly intrigued by one from a South African studying law at Trinity College, Dublin.
“His name was Dushy Anthon Chetty, and we brought him in first just for the hell of it, to see what he was made of.
“And the minute we heard him and saw him, we knew he was our man – and the auditions were cancelled. He had never sang in a showband in his life – and left college to join the band.”
The band’s manager was Fergus Sherlock, from Navan, and after their first show, the band’s diary began to fill up, so they enlisted the help of Enniskillen man, Joe Maguire, as road manager.
“We were certainly different – we’d Gene on one side, the first Asian guy to be in a band, and Henry on the other side with his long blonde hair, which was unusual as well.
“As soon as the band started, it was nearly always five or six nights a week right through the whole year, Belfast Cork, everywhere.
“Locally, the Town Hall on a Saturday night was a big one. There are still people who say ‘Do you remember the night in the Town Hall?’”
The band released three records: Puppet On A String/Sweet Little Sixteen (1965), The Way You Wrinkle Your Nose/I Came As A Stranger (1967), and C’mon Everybody/Hound Dog (1969).
In 1966, Henry, who took a heart attack in 2012 and has been left ill following, left and found himself performing among well-known artists including Paul McCartney and Wings: He was replaced by Pete Cresswell.
Paddy left in early 1968 and was replaced by Mal Kearns on tenor saxophone, vocals (born Malachy Kearns). Barry Scully left in early 1969, and was replaced by Davy Quinn until the band split in April 1969.
Summing up on the band’s life, Paddy concluded: “It was very very exciting. It was great seeing a place during the day and going back to play and the place packed. You’re in a minibus with seven guys everyday of the week – there was no big rows – and it was all about the music.”