‘Grown up music‘ and ‘irresistibly groovy’ are oft-heard epithets which pretty much sum up the ethos of Stagalee.
The band’s name derives from a variant of the title an old blues song by a guy called Harold Logan in 1895... a murder ballad in fact… not that this fact signifies anything more sinister than an association with, and love for, the origins of the music!... and the musical taste of the band’s founder Victor McCullough.
Victor hails from the northern coastal town of Portstewart in Co. Derry, as does Errol Walsh who took on the mantle of band leader after Victor moved on to other things.
Victor formed the band in Tralee and some time later, after struggling with an increasingly fluid membership, he asked Errol to join him there. By the time they parted company and had both left Kerry, they also left behind an inspirational legacy for the budding young players in the town.
Some pretty cool players migrated through the ranks before Errol arrived, including Donie Moore (a native of Tralee) and Pat Crowley from Kinsale, both of whom later toured with Mary Black Errol eventually moved the core of the band to Dublin in search of wider audiences and a wider choice of musicians.
When Errol took over the running of Stagalee in Tralee he quickly drafted in Eoghan O’Neill, a precocious young bass player from Cork who later formed part of the inimitable Moving Hearts fronted by the legendary Christy Moore and later by super-talented singer/songwriter Mick Hanley.
Eoghan’s intricate bass lines fed into Errol’s penchant for black American soul and funk and the band started leaning in a new musical direction, adding sax and percussion to the mix. When this version of the band opened the show for Thin Lizzy at Dalymount Park in 1977 they created quite a stir. They also attracted the attention of the entrepreneurial Billy McGrath who suggested other Dublin players like Dave McHale on keyboards and sax, and Greg Boland who made his return to a very different outfit! This lineup recorded the 1978 hit single “Give a Little Love” with Paul McAteer drafted in for the recording session and later as sometime live drummer too as Donie had, by this time, returned to Kerry.
Fran Breen later took over the drum stool from John Farrell for a period (before Fran eventually moved to Nashville to play with Nancy Griffith, Lucinda Williams and a host of other US acts) He and Gavin Hodgson from renowned Scottish band Cado Belle, with whom we had toured when they first came to Ireland, became the band’s new hot rhythm section. This aforementioned tour where Stagalee and Cado Belle were on the same bill brought about the beginning of a firm relationship between the two bands which would later result in three of them eventually moving to Dublin to join us after the demise of Cado Belle. Gavin was the first to make the move as he picked up the baton from Eoghan who had transferred over to the newly formed Moving Hearts.
The ubiquitous and hugely talented James Delaney signed on as the band’s keyboard player alongside Jamaican born drummer John Forbes who came to Ireland with a Swiss crew called ‘Chicken Fischer Band’. John found the laid-back Irish nature and the pretty Irish ladies as irresistible as they found him and so he stayed on in Dublin!
Gavin had earlier retired from the band after suffering a short illness and was replaced by Tommy Moore who added a great vocal strength as well as his dynamic bass-playing and around the same time noted Dublin horn player Carl Geraghty was honking it out with us as a one-man horn section on tenor and baritone saxes.
Jazz and blues singer Honor Heffernan also brought a talented and sassy presence to the stage for a period of time http://www.errolwalsh.com/stagalee (Mark 3 or 4 pic)
Colin Tully, another Cado Belle stalwart, had now also migrated to Dublin to boost the horn section to two alongside Carl Geraghty and augment Jame’s playing on Clavinet. Colin is a wonderful sax player and a pretty damn good keyboard player. He later won a significant degree of fame in Ireland (and internationally) when he played sax on Shay Healy’s Eurovison winning “What’s another Year”... he later went on to write the music for the movie ‘Gregory’s Girl’ which became a huge success after which Colin moved back to Glasgow to hook up with fellow Glaswegian John Martyn.
The revolving door between Dublin and Glasgow soon moved again and Honor was succeeded by Maggie Riley who had fronted Cado Belle at the invitation of Colin and myself (no pics I’m afraid).
Maggie went on to make the hit single “Moonlight Shadow” with Mike Oldfield
The theme of ‘fluidity’ seems always to have run through Stagalee in terms of membership and by the time they bowed out of existence and succumbed to the impact of the punk era, the number of classy musicians who played in the band over time was almost impossible to count!
Billy McGrath had been a very creative and efficient manager and at one point the band had several hot residencies and a hectic schedule around the country’ s college and club circuits on both sides of the border.
Stagalee was a hard working and extremely busy band and they enjoyed a decade of success at a time when the live music scene was both exciting and financially rewarding. Their home base for 1978 and part of 1979 was their legendary jam-packed Thursday night residency at McGonigles in Dublin’s South Anne St. ….
Oh the stories we could tell!!