Music Maestro, Jack Brierley, Carrigaline 90 years young and still delighting audiences.
Writes Leo McMahon
Carrigaline and Cork’s ‘Mr Music’, Jack Brierley, celebrated his 90th birthday this year. A humble and quietly spoken man, his contribution to the music industry has been immense, including composing Ireland’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1973 and being musical director of Carrigaline Pottery’s triumph in the 1978 Tops of the Town competition.
From showband to jazz quartet and solo, Jack has played with the best and entertained thousands and is still delighting audiences. He recently recalled some of the highlights for The Carrigdhoun Newspaper.
‘I was born on July 14, 1931 and grew up at Orelia Terrace, Cobh, the son of Dan and Lil (nee Campbell), Brierley. I attended St Joseph’s National School, one year at the local secondary school and after that, Cobh Technical School.
‘I started learning the piano at the age of seven from Mary Higgs and over the years, passed all the grades. One of the first tunes I was able to play was ‘Love Letters’.
‘Mary Higgs put me in for a scholarship to the Cork School of Music which I won and that meant free tuition for 12 months. I would go up on the train every day but I didn’t like the classical music so I would often go to the Savoy cinema instead!’ Jack got his first job, aged 16, along with Pat O’Shea (later owner of the Commodore Hotel) at Irish Steel, Haulbowline in 1947.
Music however, was very much part of Jack’s DNA because his father Dan headed his own dance band and played the drums and piano. His uncle Willy Brierley was also an excellent pianist while another uncle Nelius was an accomplished concertina/accordion player.
‘I joined my father’s band as a pianist when I was 17. I can remember that for the week I was working in Irish Steel, my take home pay was 13 shillings (£1.1s) and for one night with the band playing at the Tower Ballroom, Cobh, I would earn £2.’
‘As a band we didn’t practice very much because each of us had a good musical ear and could work from the sheet music of the popular songs of the time’. From a young age, Jack said he always liked jazz and dance band music and among those he admired were Oscar Petersen, Ted Heath, Dickie Valentine, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.
In 1954, the baton was passed and it became the Jack Brierley Band but that same year, the 23 year old got an offer to turn professional and joined the Regal (formerly Orchestra Band) Showband in Bantry where Jack would stay above the West End Bar in Bantry, the home of band leader John Minihane.
‘It was the early years of showbands and top of the tree at the time was the Clipper Carlton based in the North and Ireland’s first,’ The Regal toured all of the country but had a summer season residency at the Silver Slipper Ballroom, Tramore, Co Waterford, performing six nights a week. Fellow band members included Paddy O’Sullivan, Murt O’Sullivan, Walter Ritmeyer, Kevin Lynch, Benno Haussman, John Minihane and Gordon Hanley and one of its instruments was a vibraphone. The signature tune, Jack recalled, was usually Glen Miller’s ‘In the Mood’.
The biggest hit of Jack’s 90 years was while playing at the Tower Ballroom in Cobh when he first met Frances Chandler from Cobh and in 1956 the couple got engaged. That same year Jack bought his first car, a Ford Anglia. Jack and Frances were married on June 24th, 1958 and their first home was 6, West View (on a terrace known as the ‘Deck of Cards’) in Cobh.
The couple moved to Ardfallen Estate, Douglas two years later and in 1972 to their present home, 1, Endsleigh, Ballea Road, Carrigaline and had seven daughters: Jackie (RIP), Frankie, Karen Conlon, Lilian Stutterich, Brenda, Marian O’Mahony and Emer McFadden.
Read the rest of the article in the Carrigdhoun Christmas Supplement