Bagatelle play Cavan this weekend for what may be the last time ever.
Branding in the promo material flags this as the 'The Final Year Tour’ and the Cavan show has been billed as the penultimate-ever show, with the Vicar Street gig in Dublin their fond farewell.
The end may well be nigh for the rest of the band but founding member Ken Doyle doesn’t sound like a man who’s about to unplug his bass for the last time.
“We have been so overwhelmed by the reaction in the last six or seven months by the Irish people. Our manager says: 'What are you going to do?’
“I’ll tell you what we’ll do - we’ll definitely take a break anyway, let the dust settle. We could never come back and do 1,000 miles a week, like we were doing. We’re just not able for it at this stage. But if a certain odd gig here and there came in, I certainly would have no objections doing it.”
Given the status of the band, it’s hard to believe the manager’s phone won’t buzz in the coming years. They racked up six number one singles (when topping the charts meant something), multi-platinum album sales followed, as did hugely successful worldwide tours.
Bagatelle didn’t always have success written in their stars and only for a curious alignment they might well have been another of the countless bands of journeymen to tour the country. They formed in August 1978 but endured the “wilderness years”, as Ken calls them.
“We were three years driving around doing gigs for nothing, going down to Cork for sixty quid for the whole band - fuel and everything to come out of it. You probably had enough for a steak and kidney pie and that was it.”
They were initially a five piece with Marian Byrne fronting the act - “a lovely girl, great lead singer”, according to the Bray man, whose mum hails from Mountnugent.
“She was very Spanish looking,” recalls Ken, “very good loooking, but she was going out with an American guy at the time and he wanted to move back and she of course wanted to - so they went back to America and got married.”
They decided to give it a go as a fourpiece with Liam Reilly as frontman and see what happened. What happened was “an absolute nightmare” journey to their first gig in a Fermoy venue, appropriately called 'The Twilight Zone’.
“The van broke down, the accelerator cable broke. We had to steal a bit of wire off some farmer’s fence - whoever the farmer was, thank you very much,” he acknowledges with a laugh.
“We rigged it up through a hole in the floor of the van. Somebody in the back was pulling the accelerator while the guy was driving.”
Arriving late in Fermoy, the were greeted by a miffed audience.
“People were booing, and booing at us. We were half deciding, should we pack up the van and go home? It was that close. Then we decided, we’ve come all the way down here, let’s just do the gig. So we did for the first 20 minutes of the gig there was no reaction and it was just horrible, the energy just started to pick up.”
By the end of the show 'The Twilight Zone’ manager was won over.
“He said 'You won’t be laying back here for me, not because I wouldn’t want you, but because you guys are going to be huge’,” recalls Ken with glee.
“I’ve always said, we’re the best happy accident band ever. I never started out to conquer worlds - we just set out to play a few tunes and drink a few beers and just have a bit of fun. Everything that happened to us was a happy accident.”
With Marian’s departure, Liam also revealed that he’d penned a few songs, and amongst those he clanged out on an old out of tune honky tonk piano was 'Summer in Dublin’. It’s obviously a classic now - in one poll it was voted number three as 'Best Irish Song’ - but when Ken and his fellow band members heard it they had no idea what it would turn into.
“We were playing that song on the programme for two years and there was no real reaction to it - it was just a song on the programme. Then it started to get a bit of airplay, the next thing we were down in Minnie’s in Dungarvan and the next thing we played Summer in Dublin and there was a standing ovation. We looked at each other in total surprise, and said - 'Wow! What’s happening here?’”
“That was the first time that we realised Summer in Dublin is more than a song, it’s like an anthem of some sort. From that moment the song has taken off and still, to the present day, as soon as you announce it the place goes wild.”
No doubt the crowd that pack into Arva’s Breffni Arms Hotel on Saturday night will also go wild when the unforgetable opening piano at what could well be the last Cavan show they play. Bagatelle fans will take comfort from knowing that thanks to the reation to the band’s announcement of their final tour, they will still likely get the chance to catch them in one-off shows at bigger venues down the N3.
“Every band has to call it a day at some stage,” acknowledges Ken. “We didn’t expect this groundswell. The last six, seven months, in many ways, it’s like the standing ovation in Minnie’s of Dungarvan.”
Talking of standing ovations - Bagatelle enjoyed another one at the recent Country Music Awards when they received a 'Lifetime Achievement Award’.
“The respect shown to us by the likes of Nathan Carter, Jimmy Buckley and Robert Mizzell was amazing, which was great because they are the hottest thing around in Ireland at the moment, particularly Nathan Carter - and he went out of his way to say 'Brilliant guys - love the music, grew up listening to it’.
And what did ever became of Marian, the former singer? The Celt wonders if she regrets missing out on the Bagatelle adventure?
“I think she’s a multi-millionairess. They bought a bar and it turned into a chain of bars and I believe she became very wealthy.”
We’ll take that as a 'no’, then.
Bagatelle play the Breffni Arms Arva tonight Saturday, February 6.