A musical journey that began four decades ago in St Michael’s Villas, Ennis, was celebrated recently when Clare County Council awarded a Civic Reception to past and present members of Stockton’s Wing.
This was a wonderful tribute attended by band members, councillors, officials, guests from the world of music as well as family and friends. On behalf of the council Carmel Greene introduced the band and told how the name came from a line in Bruce Springsteen’s song ‘Backstreets’ from the album ‘Born to Run’: “Slow dancing in the dark on the beach at Stockton’s Wing, where desperate lovers park to meet the last of the Duke Street Kings”.
Ennis lads Paul Roche, Maurice Lennon, Kieran Hanrahan, Tommy Hayes and Tony Callinan formed Stockton’s Wing in 1977 soon after winning the trad section of a Limerick talent competition, the rock section was won by a yet unknown Dublin band called U2.
Addressing the assembled admirers, Paul Roche acknowledged that it was “great to be recognised by your own” and told of the group’s humble beginnings playing with St Michael’s Céilí Band. In the Ennis of his youth, Paul recalled that the band was frowned upon by their contemporaries who were listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
One of his great memories was the time when their manager Oliver Barry told them to be at a certain pub in Dublin on a Friday afternoon. The lads arrived not knowing what to expect but the pub was closed, however, they were shown upstairs and began to play. Sometime later people were arriving downstairs and soon the band were joined by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior, Liza Minnelli and company.
According to Paul, Sammy was smitten by their music and invited the band on stage with him the following day. After a few days away, Paul finally arrived home in the early hours of the morning. “My wife woke and asked how we got on. I told her I was with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Junior and Liza Minnelli…”
“Get into the bed and try not to wake the kids,” she said not believing a word of it!
Singer/songwriter, Mike Hanrahan, joined the band in 1979 taking Tony Callinan’s place. Growing up in Ennis, his father had worked in the council’s stores and Mike never expected that one day he would receive such an award from Clare County Council.
Mike’s musical journey began shortly after beginning work in an Ennis coffee shop run by the youth service. There he met Maura O’Connell and they formed the Natural Disaster Band. He also met PJ Curtis and often visited his home in Kilnaboy where he learned a lot about world music.
PJ also introduced them to the Lombard Sound recording studio in Dublin, Ireland’s leading hits factory at that time. Addressing Deirdre Costello, director of Lombard, now known as Westland Studios, Mike said the band couldn’t afford the studio’s daytime rates so Deirdre used to let them record all night at a much cheaper rate.
Around that time Oliver Barry became their manager, friend and mentor. Mike said Oliver taught them all about the music industry and introduced them to many well-known personalities. Mike also mentioned Kilmaley man Tommy McGann who emigrated to the US in the 1970s on his way to owning a string of pubs in Boston from where he showcased a host of Irish talent.
According to Mike Hanrahan, Tommy McGann was pivotal to Stockton’s Wing’s success as he brought them to America to play in the Shamrock Bar which he owned. “Little did we know then that in a couple of years we would be headline acts in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and New York. I directly attribute this to the help Tommy gave us as a young band and he remains such a key figure in the history of the band.”
After 40 years on the road, Mike said he was delighted to be home to receive this award with all the original members of the band. “I never expected to be touring the road with a bunch of guys who are so open and ready to take on the challenge of taking the music to a different world.”
In particular, he singled out Maurice Lennon who became his great friend and paid tribute to Maurice’s dad Ben, who was seated in the front row of the audience. Mike also paid a moving tribute to his brother Kieran that was loudly applauded saying he never knew that the curly-haired boy in the family would one day end up with a doctorate in music. “My brother Kieran is a stalwart of TradFest in Dublin, a stalwart in Scol Eigse and a stalwart of traditional Irish music and I am so proud of him.”
Mike name-checked many of the band members down through the years beginning with new additions Tara Breen and Karol Lynch and including Steve Cooney, Fran Breen, Myles Drennan and his brother Andrew, Tony Molloy, John Walsh, Tony Callanan, Danny Byrt, Steven Flaherty and Robbie Casserly.
Mike said he was accepting the award on behalf of all band members, past and present, people like his dad who had supported the band from the beginning, Tommy McGann, PJ Curtis, Bill Whelan and Shay Healy. “We also accept this award on behalf of our music, we had an energy and drive to create a new sound, we are still creating that sound and it’s a great pleasure to do so. He added, “There’s a group of people I have to pay real credit to and that’s our close families including my parents Jackie and Mary.”
Paraphrasing Bruce Springsteen, he said, “long may there be slow dancing on the beach at Stockton’s Wing and long may there be desperate lovers who park to hear the last of the Duke Street Kings.”
In an email to the Clare Courier, Mike said, “On behalf of Stockton’s Wing may I extend my sincere thank you to Clare County Council for honouring past and present members with a Civic Reception on October 9th celebrating 40 year’s contribution to music both here in Ireland and abroad. In thanking the Mayor of Clare, Tom McNamara, elected members and council officials, we express our gratitude to the people of Clare at home and beyond. The evening was full of emotion, warmth, kindness, friendship and so much pride.
“Of all the honours received in a long career, there is none better than to be recognised by your own people, in your hometown and amongst your dearest family and friends. We are truly grateful for the genuine support we receive from the people of Clare who are with us every step of the way, cheering every success and forever constant with absolute encouragement.
“We remember especially those who are no longer with us but forever in our hearts. Thank you all so much. We are humbled and honoured by this beautiful recognition of a life’s work in music and song.”
On behalf of Clare County Council, CEO Pat Dowling congratulated Stockton’s Wing on their contribution to Irish and folk music at home and abroad over the last 40 years. “You are most definitely the voice of Irish music worldwide and ‘Beautiful Affair’ is one of your best and one of my favourites. I warmly congratulate past and present members of the group on your outstanding success and on the well and truly deserved honour bestowed on you. We are all extremely proud of you.”