Legend of Limerick Showband era Ger Cusack passes away

Fintan Walsh

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Fintan Walsh

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fintan.walsh@limerickleader.ie

Legend of Limerick Showband era Ger Cusack passes away

The late Ger Cusack in January 1974 PICTURE: LIMERICK LEADER

A LEGEND of the Limerick Showband era and critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Ger Cusack has passed away aged 77.

Ger, the lead singer and frontman of the renowned Empire Showband, was one of the lead figures of the Showband revival scene when the group released their 1964 hit It’s Only A Rumour.

Ger supported major acts, including Elton John (when he was known as Reg Dwight), at the former Stella Ballroom on Shannon Street.

The O’Malley Park singer-songwriter died peacefully at Park Nursing Home, Castletroy, following a long illness this Sunday.

“Music was his whole life,” his daughter Susan told the Limerick Leader this Sunday evening.

The eldest of eight, Ger spent his boyhood with his grandfather and uncles in a bungalow in the Ranks yard, where they looked after the horses that drove the carts of flour around the city.

He attended the Model School followed by Municipal Technical Institute (also known as the ‘Red Tech’) on O’Connell Avenue. After leaving the Tech at 15, he started work at the Ranks, Dock Road.

Ger was musically prodigious at a very young age while in primary school, having performed a solo on Raidio Eireann (now RTE Radio), which was recorded at the Good Shepherd Convent.

Before forming Empire Showband in 1960, Ger created Lizzards Skiffle (with Willie, Joe and John Browne and Tony Carey), which performed at St John’s Pavillion, Hop, the Mechanics, and a long list of dance halls. They received £1 per gig, divided among five bandmates and a manager.

Above, Donie Collins and Ger Cusack

After a stint in Douglas, Isle of Man, followed by a return to Limerick, where he performed weekly Stella shows with the Billy Conway band, Ger formed Empire Showband.

Band members throughout its five-year history included John and Joe Browne, Harry, Johnny and Fred Hockedy, Michael Cleary, Jim Whelan, Matt Doherty and Mick Henchy.

In 1966, Ger wrote and recorded their biggest hit It’s Only A Rumour, which peaked at around number 15, he told the Limerick Leader in an interview in 1999.

Ger’s band submitted this single to be Ireland’s entry in the second ever Eurovision contest, but was pipped to the post by Dickie Rock’s Come Here To Stay, who came fourth that year.

Ger, middle, with the Everly Brothers in the 1960s (Courtesy of Cusack family)

Ger first met his wife Patsy when they were around 16, and they have been together 60 years, his daughter said.

According to an interview in the Limerick Chronicle in 1969, the band broke up in September 1966 due to “differences in musical policy”.

Ger later formed the Ger Cusack Quintet, teaming up with Tommy Drennan and Bryan Meehan.

His next big record was in 1978, entitled Mighty Men of Munster, coinciding with Munster’s triumphant and historic victory against the All Blacks. This, he said, sold 1,000 copies with the assistance of singer Dennis Allen.

He also penned a song to commemorate another monumental sporting victory, when Limerick United won the FAI Cup in 1982.

Ger was an ardent, sociable networker who welcomed visiting musicians who came to Limerick, including Reginald Dwight, who later became Elton John.

“He [Elton John] was looking for someone for a late drink and my father brought him up to Geary’s Hotel [now Coqbull on Thomas Street] and they had a couple of pints together. That was before he became famous,” said Susan.

Ger was also known for his sense of humour.

In January 1974, Ger was fined for not having updated tax on his car following a court case. The judge said that some musicians were millionaires and could well afford a fine.

So, with great panache, he and the Revue Band, donned with blazers and dickiebows, posed for a photograph for the Limerick Leader at a bank, where he “lodged” the band’s takings.

Labelled on the white envelope was “£1m”.

"Millionaire" Ger Cusack lodging his "£1m" after a night of gigging with The Revue Band

Susan said she had great memories of her father at home when he continued to compose songs at home.

“You would be sitting at home with him, listening to a tape recorder, he would try to write his song, [he would be] pausing it. It’s not like the technology we have today,” Susan said.

Ger also tried his hand at politics when he ran in the local in the 1999 local elections for Limerick City Council. He was unsuccessful.

In 1968, Ger served as the president of the Federation of Musicians.

Former bandmate Bryan Meehan will be arranging the music at Ger's funeral Mass, which will also include the playing of Empire Showband's 1966 hit It's Only A Rumour. 

Son of Chrissie (nee O’Brien), of Clare Street, and Stephen Cusack, Dublin Road, Ger is deeply regretted by his wife Patsy, his children Susan, Karen, Diane, Laura and Ger, his nine grandchildren, sons-in-law, daughter-in-law, brothers Ollie, Jack and Stephen, sisters Mary McDonnell, Emmy Meehan and Rita Quinn, nephews, nieces, other relatives and friends. Predeceased by his sister Margaret Walsh.

Reposing at Cross' Funeral Home, Gerald Griffin Street, Tuesday (March 5th) from 5pm followed by removal at 6.30pm to the Holy Family Church. Requiem Mass Wednesday (March 6th) at 11am with funeral afterwards to Castlemungret Cemetery.