Popular Athlone musician launches his autobiography
Athlone legend Frankie McDonald has a musical history going back to the mid-1950s, and besides being four decades with the country’s longest running showband, he also carved out a solo career throughout those years which continues to the present day.
At the Shamrock Lodge Hotel last Thursday night, Frankie launched his long-anticipated autobiography, ‘A Million Miles of Music’ which tells of Frankie’s years playing trumpet with Joe Dolan’s Drifters showband. The book also tells of his days growing up with music in Clones, Co Monaghan and joining the army band and moving to Athlone’s Custume Barracks, before he joined the Ciaran Kelly Cellí Band, and married the band’s pianist, Mai Kelly.
Frankie’s daughter, Lorraine McDonald, who is also a well-known musician on the Irish circuit said that “all here are friends of my Dad,” as she opened proceedings for the music autobiography launch.
“The book is called, ‘A Million Miles of Music’ – well he is one in a million and always there for us, not just for Peter, Keith and I but for his grandchildren as well,” said Lorraine. “He is an inspiration and caring, loving, kind, great craic and warm hearted, and Mam of course is our rock. She’s the glue that keeps the family together. She’s an incredible woman.”
Lorraine introduced one of the special guests of the night – Fr Brian Darcy, who is affiliated to the Irish music and entertainment scene.
“Frankie, you can look around you and see that you have more here tonight than you’ll have at your funeral, so enjoy it, because half of them that’s here will be dead, including myself,” said Fr Darcy to great laughter from the crowd.
The broadcaster and -priest wrote the foreword to Frankie’s book and he told the Shamrock Lodge Hotel audience that Frankie has a meticulous mind for detail and that the book is so important for its account of the showband era.
Saxophone player Ben Dolan is the brother of the late singing star, Joe Dolan. The Dolans were at the helm of the Drifters showband, and Frankie played trumpet with the group from 1968, until Joe Dolan’s final show before his death in 2007. Ben was chosen and invited by Frankie to launch his book.
Ben began by telling the story of Frankie’s introduction to the Drifters.
“Frankie is a man of many talents and we heard about him playing trumpet with the Ciaran Kelly Cellí bank and he sounded perfect,” said Ben to the audience. “He was with the school of music and was in the government job (No. 1 Army Band). At the beginning he played the song that my mother loved, ‘O Mein Papa’ and all the fellows in the rest of the band went quiet, and Joe came over to me and said, we might not have the best band in Ireland, but we’ll have the best trumpet player in Ireland.”
The declaration from the late Joe Dolan got applause from the book launch audience.
Ben ignited the crowd with constant humorous anecdotes and continued telling the story of Frankie’s many music adventures with Joe Dolan and the Drifters throughout the decades. He talked about the group travelling “a million miles,” because their manager, Seamus Casey put them on dates from the top to bottom of Ireland and to Russia, Israel, South Africa and the United States.
Ben and Frankie made an interesting double act on stage on the launch night, and it was enjoyed by the audience who saw the two musicians enjoy some whiskey while telling tall tales, along with singing some song verses. They had a great rapport together and gave constant laughter to the gathering.
Frankie also played trumpet with the Athlone showband, the Saints in the mid-1960s, alongside, Syd Shine on Hammond organ, Brian Sullivan on lead vocals and tenor sax, Frank Somers on drummers, Peter Keighery on lead guitar, Joe Flynn on bass guitar and vocals, Finbarr O’Keefe on trumpet, vocals and guitar and Liam Meade on trombone.
Frankie praised his editor, Geraldine Corcoran for her work on the book, and told the crowd that he has had a great life to date.
“I hope it’ll all last another bit and I’ve a great family and I love them all,” ended Frankie.