Joseph "Joe" Francis Robert Dolan (16 October 1939 – 26 December 2007) was an Irish entertainer, recording artiste and pop singer. Chiefly known in Ireland for his association with showbands and for his innovative style and high pitched singing voice, he had a wide appeal with many international fans. His energetic and charismatic stage performances were well known as was his long standing advertising slogan: "There's no show like a Joe show" . He was generally regarded as the greatest international star produced by the Irish showband era. The only Irish singer to reach the Top Ten in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, Dolan was a constant presence on the hit parade in Ireland and overseas.
Early life and family
Joe Dolan was born at the County Hospital Mullingar, County Westmeath on October 16, 1939, the youngest of eight children. He lost both his parents at a young age - his father, a bicycle shop proprietor, died when Joe was eight; his mother when he was fifteen. He sang in school, and his mother had encouraged him to take up the piano.
He made his first stage appearance at a talent show held in a marquee on the Fair Green in his native Mullingar.
Dolan's voice was high with a comprehensive range without the use of falsetto and he made comprehensive use of a technique known as melisma which gives the vocal a plaintive edge reminiscent of Arabic religious chanting. Vocal gymnastics such as this were not common in the 1960s and 1970s but were later made popular by artistes such as Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston amongst others. His voice has been compared to that of Demis Roussos.
As well as securing his first (and last) “real” job as a compositor in local newspaper The Westmeath Examiner in 1958, Dolan also got his first guitar. After leaning some skills on the instrument he and his saxophone-playing brother Ben started to play in local bands. They soon formed a band of their own – The Drifters. Not long afterwards the band was renamed Joe Dolan and the Drifters and finally Joe Dolan and His Drifters to avoid legal action from the American band of the same name.
The Irish musical landscape in the 1960s was dominated by the showbands. The first single “The Answer to Everything”, (previously released as a B side by Del Shannon) was released in September 1964, quickly reaching number 4 in the Irish charts. Dolan and his band were managed by Seamus Casey. In the summer of 1968 however some of the band left with Dolan and Casey citing "musical differences" as the reason, although in the official biography by Ronan Casey (Sean Casey's son) further elaboration includes references to unhappiness about financial issues.
Dolan never achieved any notable chart success in America but had good acclaim with concert audiences in carefully targeted areas. His first tour in 1965 followed an offer, which he refused, to play in Las Vegas. Instead he decided to play a whistle-stop tour of Irish-American venues in places such as Chicago, New York and Boston. An added benefit to this string of engagements was the opportunity to hear American music which hadn't yet been played in the UK and Ireland. The first song gleaned in this fashion was the Jim Reeves classic, (That's When I see the Blue In Your) Pretty Brown Eyes which Dolan released on the Pye label in 1966.
A second USA tour in 1967 led to an appraisal in Las Vegas and a substantial offer to appear there but still Dolan turned it down. Eventually in 1980 he accepted $10,000 a week plus board and lodgings to perform for six weeks over September and October at the Continental Lounge of the Silverbird Casino on the Strip in Las Vegas. Eventually playing 64 shows and selling most of them out he and his band returned to Ireland to be immediately rebooked for Vegas in January 1981.Although this trip was a further success he turned down subsequent offers to return to Vegas. When word of this got out other venues approached him with increased offers, thinking he was merely hunting around for the best deal, but the singer refused them all. Several other attempts were made through the years to entice him back but he never returned - except on holiday.
In 1978, he became the first Irish artiste and one of the first Western acts to tour communist Russia.
After reforming the band Dolan recorded a song called “Make Me an Island,” written by the songwriting duo Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood , for Pye Records in conjunction with Shaftesbury Publishing. The track was a hit in England and led to Dolan's first appearance on the BBC's Top of the Pops and helped to make him the biggest Irish star in the world at that time, eventually becoming a number one hit in 14 countries (including Ireland) although only reaching number 3 in the UK. Dolan was the first Irish star to appear on Top of the Pops. After the recording of Make Me An Island he was approached and signed by the MAM Agency whose major star was Tom Jones. Follow-up singles “Teresa” and “You’re Such a Good Looking Woman” also made an impact. Other single releases such as “It Makes No Difference” and “You and the Looking Glass” were not big hits at home in Ireland or in the UK, but they were international successes. A collaboration with writers Roberto Danova and Peter Yellowstone in the mid 1970s produced more singles which made little impact on the British domestic market but did well internationally. In 1974's “Sweet Little Rock ‘n’ Roller” was the first of a number of reasonable successes for this team but wasn't a major hit in the UK until later recorded by Showaddywaddy, who had a Top 20 hit with the song in 1979. (Also covered by The Bay City Rollers).
His next single, “Lady in Blue” was his biggest ever hit, winning five gold records and selling one million copies. It was popular in Europe, Australasia, Africa and South America but not in Ireland or the UK. Further hits including “Crazy Woman”, “Sister Mary”, “Midnight Lover”, “Hush Hush Maria” and “I Need You” followed. Reflective songs such as “If I Could Put My Life on Paper” were a collaborative attempt to show a more maturing artist, whilst definitive versions of songs such as “Danny Boy” maintained a touch of Irish on disc and in concert. In any given month Dolan could be touring the Middle East one week, Australia the next, then South Africa and then back to Europe and Ireland.
Further international successes and tours followed, with hits such as “More and More” and “It’s You, It’s You, It’s You”.
With his own record label, studio and material Dolan became one of the biggest selling independent artists of the 1990s with albums such as ‘Endless Magic’ keeping him near the top of the charts. At the end of the decade he refined his voice for the 21st century when he hooked up with EMI for a series of albums (such as Joe’s 90s, 21st Century Joe and Home Grown) which saw him tackle more contemporary music from acts as diverse as Oasis, Pulp, Blur, U2, Bruce Springsteen, The Coral, R.E.M., Mundy and his old pal Robbie Williams (Dolan was a friend of Williams' father, and he often stayed at the Williams home when in the UK). At the Oxegen Festival 2009, Blur's Damon Albarn dedicated the song "The Universal" to Dolan.
Dolan recorded Let There Be Love, an album of old-school crooner classics. Plans were set in motion for further albums and some major concerts to cement and further his status.
Dolan never married and dealt with speculation about his sexuality throughout his life. He dismissed persistent rumours that he was gay. The official biography suggests that he had a quiet offstage presence and preferred to keep romances out of the public eye but cites a long relationship with Isabella Fogarty whom he met in 1977, started dating in the 1980s and subsequently lived with. She was with him when he became ill on 25 December 2007.
In September 1970 Dolan and his band were performing at the Wookie Hollow Club in Liverpool. Dolan and a member of his road crew stayed in the venue for drinks and to chat to fans. Some people at a nearby table were attempting to bully the (by now closed) bar into providing them with champagne. Dolan joked that they should come back in a few hours for a "champagne breakfast". The men took exception to this and became abusive. Dolan and his companion tried to leave but were prevented from doing so. During the following fracas Dolan was headbutted, (breaking his nose) kicked, punched and slammed into lavatory fittings and a wall in a sustained attack which was only halted when the sound of police sirens could be heard.
It took six weeks for the singer to recover well enough to return to work. The club was sued but went into liquidation. The police attempted to identify the perpetrators and held identity parades which Dolan attended but no-one was ever prosectuted.
Aer Lingus ban
In October 1976, Dolan and a group of friends were flying with Aer Lingus to Corfu for a golfing trip. On several occasions during the flight Dolan was moving around talking to other passengers who knew him. One of the party remembers they were "quite merry". The singer was asked several times by cabin staff to return to his seat and finally, after being threatened with being "restrained" he did so. Upon landing he attempted to leave the airport without his luggage and passport but was prevented from doing so by security staff, one of whom drew his pistol and pointed it at Dolan. The tour operator subsequently received a fax from Aer Lingus refusing to fly the star back to Dublin. Newspaper headlines in Ireland proclaimed the star's airline ban for life although as it transpired the ban only lasted for close to two years, eventually being lifted after the airline negotiated with the star following his continued references to it on stage and in the media.
Illness and death
In late 2004, his health began to decline. A hip replacement was required in 2005, putting him off the road for 12 months and leading to the discovery of Type 2 Diabetes which appeared to account for the low energy levels he had been experiencing. In a bizarre twist, following a discussion with Keith Duffy of the boyband Boyzone the hip bone which was replaced was signed and auctioned for close to €1000, the proceeds being given to Irish Autism Action. He returned to his schedule in 2006, initially with vigour but soon began to report further signs of low energy. Doctors diagnosed a low blood platelet count and he began a series of blood transfusions, After each he felt better for a period but always began to feel weaker again. He was also suffering from unexplained nosebleeds. In autumn 2007, on advice from his doctors he cancelled his Vicar Street concerts due to "exhaustion". On December 16, 2007, the front page of the Sunday Independent reported that Dolan was suffering from a "bad virus" and had been forced to cancel his entire Christmas tour. Joe Dolan's website was inundated with well wishes in the wake of the article, which was reproduced in several newspapers the following day. Despite the blood transfusions and other medical interventions he became weaker and was finally discharged from the Mater Hospital on 23 December 2007 in a wheelchair.
On December 26, 2007, Dolan was rushed from his home in Foxrock to the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin following a worsening of his illness. He suffered a brain hemorrhage en-route to hospital and was connected to life support equipment on arrival. At approximately 14:30 hours on St Stephen's Day, surrounded by family and friends, the machines were switched off and Dolan expired within 20 minutes, never regaining consciousness. He was pronounced dead at 15:03 hours.
He was buried after a funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar on 29 December 2007.
A 540 metre bridge was named after him: the Joe Dolan Bridge in Mullingar, opened officially 6 September 2010.
Sketch of Joe Dolan
|Born||Joseph Francis Robert Dolan|
October 16, 1939
Mullingar, County Westmeath,Ireland
|Died||December 26, 2007 (aged 68)|
Mater Hospital, Dublin, Ireland.
|Cause of death||Brain haemorrhage|