Ardal O’Hanlon’s Showbands; Now The Irish Learned To Party was a fascinating insight into a unique era of Irish culture; a time when we couldn’t swipe right! I did not get the Showbands. They weren’t original. Yet they did give us Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher!
I was also a little intrigued by Fran O Toole and The Miami Showband but then they were murdered on their way home demo Banbridge in the summer of The Bay City Rollers.
The Miami Showband Massacre! I remember that. I was only 14 and I never really knew a time when the morning news was not about the night before’s killings but I knew that this was an evil even beyond all the regular evil. Three of the band were killed while two in the van with them survived. The drummer had gone home to Antrim by car and missed it all.
Last week another documentary on The Showbands was released on Netflix. Remastered; The Miami Showband Massacre is in a series that also looks at the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and the unsolved murder of Run-DMC’s Jam Master Jay.
These are big pop/rock music stories but surely The Miami Showband story is bigger than all of the rest; the brutality of the killings, the intrigue of why they were targeted and the fact that two of those who ambushed them were blown away in a premature bomb. It’s an incredible story and we follow survivors Des Lee and Stephen Travers to unpack the mystery.
This Netflix film highlighted a few issues for me. Why? The why always eludes me. While the band were being searched outside their van at what they thought was a legitimate security stop, two men were attempting to put a bomb on their tour van. It blew up, killing them both. Now when was that bomb intended to go off and what did the bombers hope to achieve.
A theory is that it was supposed to explode on the other side the border. There are different opinions as to whether that would be before or after the band got home. The reason apparently was to make all of Catholics look like terrorists so that the border could be shut tighter. That innocent musicians should be chosen for such a message reveals the utter inhumanity of our wee country during the Troubles. That one of the band was a Protestant didn’t register or seem to matter.
Then we need to ask, as Stephen Travers does in the documentary, who made such a call about the border and using The Miami in the scam. This is where it gets very uneasy for those of us who grew up as Protestant and Unionist. We assumed that the IRA were the terrorists and the British security forces were the law. The Miami above every other atrocity might blow that myth apart. Stephen Travers even says that when they were stopped and heard an English voice that he believed that they were ok as this must be the British Army and they were here to keep them safe.
The English accent has been a source of mystery down through all the investigations, official and not so official. The English man was never identified. These killed planting the bomb were UVF and the guns were UDR and collusion is without doubt. How far up the line is the biggest question that has yet to be answered.
In all of this Stephen Travers comes out as an incredible human being. He is a warrior for truth but a peacemaker alongside. His grace is palpable. He has no malice or ill will. He set up the Truth and Reconciliation Platform to seek to be a peacemaker in a world where he could easily have lived with animosity and lived with vengeance.
The best bit of the film, apart from a few seconds where my wife appears in a 4 Corners Festival audience, is when Stephen is chatting across a table with Winston Irvine. Winston is a former loyalist combatant, now working in community development. Stephen asks him what he knows about the bomb on the bus. Winston says that his understanding was that it was not to blow up with the band inside. Stephen disagrees and then adds that it is good that they can sit and share their opinions, have different opinions but build relationships. It's an incredible conclusion in Travers life and this documentary.
Remastered; The Miami Showband Massacre is a dark watch but Travers is a light shining for truth and peace. I recommend it!