Hucklebucking at the tea dances

Irish showbands in Britain, 1959–1969


  • Rebecca S. Miller Hampshire College



Britain, Clipper Carlton Showband, dance halls, Bridie Gallagher, immigration/emigration, Ireland/Irish, Northern Ireland, pop music, rock'n'roll, showband(s)


Showband music emerged in Ireland in the mid-1950s as a hybrid genre that drew on popular music from Britain and the United States. Consisting of electric guitar and bass, drums, piano, a horn section, and a charismatic lead singer, showbands performed an eclectic mix of covers of rock’n’roll, pop songs, country and western, songs from the English Top Ten, and an occasional Irish popular song. Learning the newest hits from American and British radio broadcasts, showband musicians brought new sounds and provocative choreographies to their dancing audiences, ultimately revolutionizing popular entertainment in Ireland. In Britain, showbands were popular among the thousands of young Irish who emigrated there from the 1950s through the 1960s. Irish showbands in residence in British dance halls and on tour from Ireland underscore hybridity at its most inventive with the host culture serving as both an object of imitation as well as a source of creative transformation. Showbands offered a vital network that connected their largely young, immigrant audiences throughout Britain. Showband music served as a progressive and generative force in Ireland’s changing social, cultural, and economic landscape; in Britain, the genre translated into a more conservative expression among the emigrant Irish, but one that served as a bridge between Ireland and contemporary British culture.

Author Biography

Rebecca S. Miller, Hampshire College

Rebecca S. Miller is Professor of Music at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, where she teaches ethnomusicology and radio journalism. Her first book, Carriacou String Band Serenade: Performing Identity in the Eastern Caribbean (Wesleyan University Press, 2007), examines political upheaval and performance in Carriacou, Grenada. Miller is completing a second book on popular music (dance orchestras and showbands) in Ireland between 1930 and 1975. An applied ethnomusicologist, Miller has documented and presented the traditional arts from a number of immigrant and refugee communities throughout the United States. Her work has culminated in publications, recordings, festivals, and award-winning radio and video documentaries.


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How to Cite

Miller, R. (2016). Hucklebucking at the tea dances: Irish showbands in Britain, 1959–1969. Popular Music History, 9(3), 225–247.