The Passing of Big Tom – A Tribute by James Reddiough

 In Music & Dancing

The world of Irish Country Music was under a deep shadow this week at the passing of Big Tom McBride. The Mainliners and he played together from 1963 to 1975 and when they broke up in May 1975 the very successful band made front page headlines on the Evening Press. By 1989 the Mainliners had re united with Tom before this Big Tom and the Travellers were the major attraction and made chart success from 1975 to 1989.

1963 was the start year for Tom and the Mainliners and they made their break in May 1966 on the Teilifis Eireann Show Band Show and the song was Gentle Mother that would chart for Tom in 1967, and the next success was Old Log Cabin and the rest is history as Big Tom would enjoy hit recording after Hit recording into the late 1960’s. By 1968 and 1969 the man they called The King of Country Music and the Gentle Giant with his easy going manner and mellow voice and the Mighty Mainliners with their magic sound and beat took country music by storm and in a June interview in 1969 with Teen Scene in The Western People here in Mayo Big Tom said “We hope we can continue to please our thousands of fans for many more years”. These were the days when dancers were willing to pay 8s to see Big Tom and the major show bands of the day.

Big Tom’s fame spread all over Ireland from the Western Shore of Mayo and Galway and east to Dublin and Wicklow and south to Cork and north to Derry and he recorded in Nashville and was well known on the US country Scene and he would record the songs of Porter Wagoner and Stonewall Jackson during his career. He was the undisputed King of Country Music at national and indeed further afield and was the star of airwaves and screens both at regional and national level.

Here in the west in Mayo he played all the major ballrooms, the Starlight in Westport; the Royal in Castlebar and the famous Pontoon near Foxford as well as Kiltimagh and Claremorris and his first Mayo gig was in The Grove Ballroom Bonniconlon near Ballina where he would play two dates in 1967 April and November to packed halls.

He continued his popularity with The Travellers during the 1970’s and the 1980’s until the reunion with the Mainliners in 1988 and they went on a tour of the Ballrooms and dance venues in the 1990’sa and 2000’s that now dubbed Tom the Legendary Big Tom until his receipt of the Country Music Hall of fame in 2016. Yes they made a comeback in the 1990’s reliving the sounds of the 1960’s and 1970’s. They played Ballghdrereen, Kiltimagh, Pontoon Bridge Hotel, Castlebar and Claremorris among venues all over the country and to the diaspora also. Over the years they have smashed all box office records often attracting up to 8,000 dancers in any one venue.

In 1977 the first of many tributes to Big Tom over the years was penned by Michael Commins Big Tom is Still the King for Susan McCann and they took the recording to Number One here in Ireland. In recent years, indeed in the last ten, Big Tom has justifiably taken on the mantle of Legend and Father of country music in Ireland. His songs are played on all Local radio Stations and on the many TV shows and channels dedicated to Country music in this country. He recorded a duet with Margo last year that proved very popular a Love to last through the years.

Four Country Roads, Tubbercurry My Old Friend, Five Thousand Miles Away from Sligo, Ashes of Love and many more resound through the years of memory as we remember his life and career and give thanks for it.

May his gentle soul rest in peace for all the joy he brought lovers of music everywhere.

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