The big Joe Mac shows that he still has what it takes

Showbands veteran Joe Mac joins fellow classic acts for one night of good-old fashioned variety entertainment, writes Jo Kerrigan

REMEMBER the golden days of entertainment when good old-fashioned humour, along with classic music and song, were the order of the day? Well now it’s returning — for one night at least — to Cork Opera House next Saturday, with a variety show full of those classic acts you (or your parents) enjoyed so much.

Linda Kenny, the Cork Tenors, the Montfort Singers, Deirdre White & Lorraine Manley, and the Cork Arts Studio Youth Choir are all on the bill; joining them, though, will be the veterans of variety entertainment, the old pros who between them have seen everything, learned every theatrical trick in the book, and are still as lively as ever. Comedians Pat O’Sullivan and Noel Barrett, whose memories of pantomime would fill a book, the Donal Ring Ceili Band, almost 60 years in the business, and the one and only Joe Mac.

Now there is somebody who has been working the audiences his entire life and still shows no signs of flagging. Joe began playing with a small group of friends back in the mid-50s. Calling themselves The Dixielanders after the style of music they created, they later shortened that to The Dixies, and a legend was born. In the showband years, Joe Mac’s incredible vertical leap from his drum kit to the roof was the highlight at every venue.

How did he do that? Joe reflects for a moment. “I was fortunate enough to be in possession of a talent known as ‘high bum mobile drive,’” he says with a completely straight face. “I’d tuck my knees up around my neck and that made it look even better.”

Clowning and telling jokes came from childhood, he reveals. “You see I had this foolish face and big glasses, so of course I was bullied a bit at school. I discovered that playing the clown brought the bulk of them over to your side, so I kept on doing it!”

The Dixies were famous, but by the end of the 1970s, the dancing scene was changing. “I walked away from it all then because the kids were going to clubs and discos with DJs. It wasn’t my world any more.”

His heart was still onstage though, and one fateful day he met a friend (“I remember well, it was at the café in the Queen’s Old Castle”) who told him that Big Tom had drawn a crowd of 3,000 in Tralee the previous night.

“Well, I thought our time might just have come round again. I rang Sean Lucy, another of the original Dixies. He was a bit doubtful but we had a meeting and talked it over and decided to try it. We relaunched ourselves on St Stephen’s Night 1981 in the Arcadia. What do you know, the whole thing took off, and we went all over the world , Abu Dhabi, Dubai, the States, everywhere. We were doing all the ’60s and ’70s showband hits and Irish stuff too. They loved it.”

In between he found time to take on major stage roles in Jesus Christ Superstar, and Paint Your Wagon, both of which he enjoyed fully.

Retiring from the demands of constant travelling in 1990, he created his own small band, Joe Mac and Friends.

Now he plays several nights a week in Canty’s pub on Cork’s Pembroke Street, and also tours with the popular Showband Show. Golf gets a look in there somewhere too. “Well it’s great craic, you meet people and talk, and you’d always pick up a turn of phrase or a comment that you could use another time!”

At 80 next birthday, clearly Joe Mac isn’t thinking about retiring. “Sure why would I? What would I do with myself?”

The Cork Variety Artistes Show is at Cork Opera House on Saturday


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