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Kevin M McDermott


Crossabeg, County Wexfordi, Ireland

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Mermories of an Old Dance Band


Kevin M McDermott

Musicians all in evening dress
Packed tight, like linen in a press,
Into a car that’s smoking black.
Three in the front, four in the back.
The dickey bows and shiny shoes,
The smell of sweat, hair oil and booze.
The cases stuffed in every crack,
The double bass tied on the rack.

Like sardines in an airless can,
Away we’d drive to some townland.
The many miles of potholed road,
Put shocks and springs on overload.
With jokes and songs we passed the time,
And worried by the engine’s whine,
We hoped that it would take the strain,
To get us there and home again.

Jim says, "We must be there by eight,
He checks his watch; "We could be late,
So make sure you unload the car
Before you sneak off for a jar".
At last we find the halls location’
In a place devoid of population.
Just a chapel, house and pub,
At least we’d get some beer and grub.

The dance hall lit by tilley lamp.
A twelve volt battery powered amp,
That sometimes crackled, spat and spluttered,
With every word the compere uttered.
The dancers came from miles around,
And many from the nearest town,
To see a band from ‘far away’,
And pay ‘two bob’ to hear then play.

A mud encrusted entrance door,
Leads us to a dance hall floor,
Where groups of men with fags in hand,
Eyed the girls and watched the band
Assembling instruments on a stage,
Where lack of space can lead to rage,
And curses from musician’s tongues,
Berate the drummer and his drums.

Now the time had come to start,
Jim stands to croon, ‘Heart of my Heart’,
Around the hall the dancers move
Like a needle in a record’s groove.
The place fills up. A sea of faces
Watch as the band goes through it’s paces,
And loudly cheer the Waltz and Samba,
The Quicksteps, Fox-trots and the Rumba.

By now the dust from dancing feet,
Hangs heavy in the stifling heat.
Enveloped by it’s hazy cloak,
Musicians start to cough and choke.
We watch the moths buzz ‘round each lamp,
We smell the stale perfume and damp,
As moisture down the wall did flow
And sparkled in the lamp light’s glow.

At last we take a welcome break,
The stout arrives up in a crate.
No cup nor glass and no corkscrew,
The drummer’s stick will have to do.
With one good push the cork goes down,
A squirt of foaming liquid brown,
Rises high, at least two feet,
And ruins a four page music sheet.

Refreshed, we start to play once more,
The dancers surge around the floor
But very soon the time had come,
To say ‘goodnight’ and send them home.
"And now the last dance if you please",
The crowd thins out as couples leave.
We play a waltz and then we thank them,
And ask respect for the National Anthem.

With sweaty clothes and dripping faces,
We’d tidy up and load the cases,
And when the loading was complete,
We all sat down to try and eat,
The never changing Dance Band supper,
Tomatoes, ham, tea, bread and butter.
Then having checked the car and load,
We bade farewell and hit the road.

The journey home is through the rain,
The conversation starts to wane,
Soon from the back seats, not a peep,
As everyone nods off to sleep.
The driver fights to stay awake,
We talk, and watch the grey dawn break,
I clutch ten shillings in my hand,
My wages from that old dance band.