Big Tom and his Mammy

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | April 20, 2018 1

Irish Country Music Legend “Big Tom” McBride died this week at the age of 81.  I always loved the fact that Big Tom McBride’s group was the “Mainliners” – More innocent times which his nostalgic music spoke to in the great Irish Showband tradition.

Tom McBride was no musical genius but his nostalgic easy listening style gained a huge following over five decades of trooping the boards at dancehalls and festivals throughout Ireland and beyond. It didn’t help his image among city slickers that his first hit was a treacly ballad  full of Mammy’s milk called “Gentle Mammy” and thereafter the joke was that it was Big Tom and the Mammy performing. But Tom MacBride, a farmer from Oram outside Castleblayney near the border with Northern Ireland, was nothing if not authentic and spoke to a rural Ireland where his roots lay. He was part of the hard working Irish Showband tradition which included Leo Brennan (father of Enya and Moya Brennan of Clannad) and the Slive Foy Danceband, Joe Dolan and the Drifters, Larry Cunningham, Dickie Rock and the Miami Showband and many more who cut their teeth travelling in coaches across the land and performing 3 hour sets in sweaty dance halls. They were hardworking musicians and if they could not entertain and get the crowd dancing they were not asked back.

The funeral of country music star Big Tom McBride has been told that “the king will live on”. Hundreds of people descended on Oram, Co Monaghan, to pay their last respects to the star, who died on Tuesday aged 81. Mr McBride’s children Thomas, Dermot, Aisling and Siobhán and his sister Madge led the mourners. Included among the attendance today were singers and performers from the Irish country music scene including Daniel O’Donnell, Margo, Philomena Begley and Dickie Rock. 

Irish country musicians were among mourners at the funeral of Big Tom McBride, with singer Daniel O’Donnell declaring: “The king will live on.” Big Tom and The Mainliners were formed in the 1960s and achieved widespread success, with Big Tom’s hits including Gentle Mother, Four Country Roads and Old Log Cabin For Sale.

Daniel  O’Donnell said today: “You think people like Tom are going to go on forever. And in the country music circle, there’s no question, that he was the king, and he will be the king. He may be gone, but the king will live on, in everybody’s hearts and certainly in his music. It’s a huge loss here for the people. The main factor is that he was one of the people, no matter where he went. He didn’t carry the title of king or stardom very well. He was a real down-to-earth man. And he just had a connection with people that you can’t explain, other than you’ve seen it and understood it and were present to experience it. And this is testament today with the amount of people that are here and the amount of people that were there on Wednesday to pay tribute to him. It’s an honour to be here.”

Big Tom’s coffin was draped with an Oram Sarsfields GAA flag. President of Ireland Michael D Higgins visited Big Tom’s family at the family home on Thursday evening. An Oram GAA flag, Big Tom’s Golden Disc, a tractor, a guitar, a fishing rod, and family photos were brought forward by family members to celebrate the star and his great loves. Fr Leo Creelman said it was a sad day for “the world of country music and for many, many people throughout our country and beyond”. He said it was “a heartbreaking replay of events” for the family, as they buried their mother — Big Tom’s wife Rose — earlier this year. “When Rose died a massive part of Tom went with her. He was lost, dazed and brokenhearted,” Fr Creelman said.

Big Tom McBride was the leading proponent of what has become known a Country and Irish music, derivative American C & W music often dripping with nostalgia for the Auld Country and reinforcing old certainties of a simpler time which never existed in reality. It appeals to an audience who  want choruses and funny titles, catchy melodies sung in yodelly-type voices, cheerful and proficient backing musicians, guys with nice teeth, girls with nice teeth and great hair, shiny dresses and shinier suits, and yeah, maybe a little schmaltziness and sentimentality. In a harsh modern world, it’s a comfort. The comfort it gives was in an Ireland where emigration was a harsh fact of life and where Official Ireland had a poor record of dealing with the realities of people’s lives and with providing young people with employment and opportunity. In its simple certainties it has become the music of the Irish Diaspora and the Ballrooms of Romance which were the social outlet of an otherwise very buttoned down and controlled Ireland. Indeed Big Tom McBride appeared on the last night of the legendary Galtymore Ballroom in Cricklewood which operated from 1952 to 2008. 

So if you’re not a fan of Stetsons, slide guitars and sentimental songs about lonesome cowboys whose best doggie has died and whose gal has done run offed on them the Country and Irish is for you. Derivative and musically banal it will not give you any answers for it asks no questions and reinforces a rosy eyed nostalgia for old certainties. It became the music and part of the culture of the Forgotten Irish disconnected from their land and as some of these came back to Ireland they reintroduced it to the Auld Sod, a phenomenon Big Tom McBride who spent his twenties working in Scotland would recognise with “Songs From Home & Faraway.”

In giving us Country and Irish Big Tom (and his Mammy) paved the way for a lot of today’s biggest performers and provided a strong musical cultural identity for many Irish at home and abroad. The wide appeal of country music has touched and provided a reference frame for many and that was part of the enduring appeal of the Big Man from Castleblayney over five decades.

Tom McBride (18 September 1936 – 17 April 2018), known as Big Tom, Irish country, traditional, easy listening singer, guitarist, saxophone player, farmer and Publican.


The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

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