The Chessmen were a Dublin beat band who crossed over into the showband scene early at the behest of their manager Noel Pearson, a well known figure in Dublin theatre circles. Some consider some of their singles innovative, and they certainly recorded more original compositions than was normal for a showband, but main songwriter Alan Dee left in frustration at the end of 1966 and the character of the band changed thereafter.
The Chessmen were formed in the early 1960s by a trio of Synge Street students, Willie Halpin (guitar), Terry Byrne (piano) and Terry Brady (drums). They were joined by Alan Donaldson better known as Alan Dee, a sax player with the Belmont Quintet who'd switched to organ (a Vox Continental, reputedly the first sold in Ireland) after suffering problems with his tonsils. Robert Ballagh completed the lineup on bass. They were often billed as Alan Dee & The Chessmen.
Although initially a beat group covering American and British beat singles, they began to play the showband circuit as early as 1965, playing top 20 covers with an augmented lineup of Paschal Laverty (tenor sax), John L.Sullivan (baritone sax) and Davey Martin (trumpet). This made it financially viable for the band to turn professional in 1965.
The band became very popular in a short period of time and released their debut single through Decca subsiduary Rex in April 1965. The A-side was a cover of the film theme "Exodus" which went down a storm when performed live in the ballrooms but it was panned by the panel on RTE's Pickin' The Pops. Noel Pearson managed to get them on the following weeks show where they performed the B-side "The Fightin'", an Alan Dee original, which proved to be a hit. The next year was a very busy time for the band with support slots for visiting artists such as Manfred Mann, The Searchers and Lulu and more singles. They continued to play the ballroom circuit and it's often suggested that their biggest hit, the sentimental ballad "Michael Murphy's Boy" was aimed at their more rural fanbase and in fact it proved to be their biggest hit, peaking at #5 during the summer of 1966.
All Dee was becoming increasingly unhappy with the restrictions imposed by the showband circuit and he quit towards the end of 1966 to form Alan Dee & The Light. Bassist Robert Ballagh soon followed Dee when he realised not a single tune in the band's set interested him. He was set to join Dee's new venture but ended up pursuing painting and is now a world-reknowned artist. He is reputed to have sold his bass guitar to Phil Lynott, or at least it was the instrument used when began to learn in 1969.
The Chessmen contined on without Dee for a number of years.
Management promoted John L.Sullivan from the ranks to become the new frontman.
Ricky Valance (of "Tell Laura I Love Her" fame) was lead singer for a period
and the band recorded this track as a single, one of five released on Noel
Pearson's Tribune label between 1967-69. Mike Munroe became the singer in
1968 and featured on the cover of "Bang-Shang-A-Lang". They finally called it
a day in 1971.
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