The Manchester Connection

The Cluskey Hopkins Band
and Traditional Jazz in Ireland

Des Hopkins

My own lifetime in music began in the Fifties. My family lived in the east coast town of Bray, close to Dublin. My farther was a semi pro dance bandleader, drummer and violinist. Mother played piano. I followed their footsteps and began drumming in the late fifties. My younger brother Billy began playing a little later. Influenced by all I saw and heard in " The Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman Stories" Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong etc. I had just formed a school Jazz Band when the family, like so many others in Ireland at the time emigrated to England. We settled in Oldham, close to Manchester.

At about eighteen years of age I worked for a time as an apprentice electrician, and formed a Jazzband in 1958 in the Oldham area. The Panama Jazzband, playing mainly working men's clubs. The jazz scene in Manchester was thriving at the time, as explained by Jack Swinnerton, in his excellent articles on the Manchester Sports Guild, in recent issues of Just Jazz.

I answered an ad in The Manchester Evening News and auditioned for the drum chair in Johnny Tippetts Jazzmen, formally Keith Pendleburys Band, taken over by Johnny in 1958. one of the popular local bands of the time. The audition was in The Sportsman's Market Street, mentioned in Jacks piece on the Sports Guild. I Joined Johnny's band and spent three enjoyable years on the Manchester jazz scene. I was dep in many of the great Manchester area, bands of the time, some happily still going strong. The Red River, Zenith Six, Tony Charlesworth, Tony Smith, Pete Haslem, Dizzy Burton, The Jazz Hatters, Southside Stompers and many more fine bands. I still meet Mart Rodger and the Boys, every year in Norway, and always remained in contact with Johnny Tippett, and our former trumpet player, the late "Blackjack" Goodier.

Through the trad boom years, Johnny Tippett's Band played, as did many of the local bands, The Cavern Liverpool, The Bodega, etc., (anyone remember The 2 J's?) and toured extensively, in the North of England. Most of The Northern Bands were semi pro, to go pro, as I wanted, one would have to head south for London.

I choose to return to Ireland, where a thriving Showband industry was in full swing, with over two hundred professional bands crisscrossing the country earning excellent money playing mainly dances. These Bands played every kind of music, and usually had a good front line, so some Dixieland was played. It was usual to have Monday our night off. On this night the musicians from different bands who could, played jazz in various pubs. The Showband boom, as with the trad boom in the UK, fizzled out about 1970. Some musicians stayed in the music business; hence, The Cluskey Hopkins Band was formed. Thankfully still making a living playing music.


It was at The Cork festival, in 1983, that we invited UK trumpet man Mike Henry, then with The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, to sit in with us. He liked what he heard and has played with us ever since. Mike invited his good friend, Paul Hart, to play the following year in Cork. Paul also has been with the band on a regular basis on festivals, and recordings. We had a change of trombone in 1998, and invited another noted UK musician Bob Hunt to join us, Bob Is now our regular bone man. He has written some magnificent arrangements for the band. As Bob and Mike are now most of their working year with Chris Barber they still record with us and play with us on the summer festivals.

For Cork this year, on trumpet, we were delighted to have with us the renowned, Enrico Tomasso. We also have a regular super sub, in the legendary Dublin trombonist, Jack Bayle. A long time friend of mine, Barry Cluskey, plays Clarinet and Saxes. My Brother Billy plays, Bass Guitar, we find that this instrument well played, together with Pauls superb Violin. gives a clean and unique sound to the band. Birmingham based Brian Mellor is with us on Banjo and Guitar. I play drums, all in all a fantastic band that I am privileged to lead.

The band has played some dates in the UK. Touring in 97, and 98, we played the 100 Club, Nottingham, and Upton Jazz Clubs, plus The Wigan Festival. We also played Stockport for Mart Rodger. Most of our dates are around Ireland. And we have accompanied many noted musicians over the years, when they visit Ireland as solo artists, including Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, and Peanuts Hucko. We visit Norway every year in August for the Silda Festival Haugesund, and The Stavanger Trad Weekend every January. Last year we had a very successful visit to The Dresden Dixieland Festival Germany. The band have recorded Three CD'S.

Jazz in Ireland

My thanks to Barry Clare for the review of our CD's (The Cluskey Hopkins Band) in the October issue of JUST JAZZ. Magazine

In Barry's opening sentence he claims not to know very much about The Jazz scene in Ireland. May I inform your readers with a little information on our circuit.

Unlike most UK trad bands, the majority of the musicians in Ireland are professional, this has a drawback as regards playing the music of your choice, as we have to play everything from jazz to pop, country, Latin, etc. and every kind of gig to maintain a living.

There are no trad jazz clubs as such, and very few bands get to play to a total jazz audience. The modern jazz scene is quite different with many fine musicians of international standard including the acclaimed guitarist Louis Stewart. There are a good number of clubs mainly in the Dublin area that regularly feature visiting players from the UK and US. A thriving Dublin Jazz Society exists, with very little interest in Dixieland. The term trad is seldom used.

As regards trad, we are the lucky ones. In 1986 our band was singed by the Guinness Brewery and renamed " THE GUINNESS JAZZBAND" or " The Cluskey Hopkins Guinness Band" they booked us over the years to play in various pubs, corporate functions, race meetings ect, throughout the country, promoting (and of course, to be seen, drinking their very fine product) about four or fives gigs a week., well paid. Nice one, one would think, although we could play jazz, our punters were non-jazz. We were on a mission and did manage to convert many to enjoy what we had to offer.

There is in Ireland quite a following for trad, they mainly attend one off gigs, and concerts by visiting artists such as the three B's, DSC etc. In addition to ourselves, there are a few more pro bands. One local musician, clarinettist Paddy Cole, leads a fine band, and is a household name, as the" King of Jazz", from his celebrity status on TV and Radio. He, also, has to mix his programme on the live circuit. Cork has an excellent band "The Cork City Jazzband." The North West town of Sligo is home to, "The Jazz Lads" another very good band, that visits Germany on occasions. Dublin bandleader Jim Farley is a musician with incredible talent, playing clarinet and the Saxes. Another name on the local scene is the excellent ragtime pianist " Professor" Peter O'Brien, an Encyclopaedia of Jazz knowledge.

The Cork Guinness Festival is world-renowned. Since 1978 it has attracted over 50,000 visitors to the City each October, our band has played all but the first. The content of the Cork festival is mixed with every sort of music that could possibly be called jazz. The trad content is small but over the years we have had many big US names including Turk Murphy, the Worlds Greatest Jazz Band, Wild Bill Davison, Bob Haggart, Peanuts Hucko etc, and all the name bands from the UK and the continent, at one time or another.

A relatively new, all trad festival, in the historic midland town of Birr, is now running two years with tremendous success. Organized by the editor of one of our National newspapers "The Sunday Independent" clarinettist and jazz fan, Aengus Fanning.

This festival has had Acker Bilk, as star attraction in the fine concert hall, both years. Not bringing his band, just the legendary Stan Greig on piano, with our own Billy Hopkins on Bass. Mike Henry, Trumpet. Bob Hunt, Trombone, and myself on Drums. It was an honour to play with these Gentlemen of Jazz. The 2003 festival programme will be announced shortly, well worth checking out.

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