Oh, what a night!

As the song goes , “Oh, what a night!”

Late Saturday, 29th May, 2010 – what an evening, what a night at the Western Hotel, Galway for the DIGITAL TOPS Reunion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of reaching the All-Ireland Final.

From early evening, past crew and cast of Tops, along with ex-Digital employees, started to clock in to be greeted by the smiling faces of Kathleen Glynn and Linda Keville whilst tickets were taken for the spot prizes, invited list cross-checked with flip-chart and pen before having a name tag stuck on them! It was like being on the production line in Digital. Even the labels came from a roll which somehow escaped a mid-nineties obsolescence purge, providing an invaluable method of avoiding the potentially embarrassing moment of not recognizing friends and colleagues – from as far back as the mid-seventies in some cases.

The John Player Tops theme blared out and revived the feeling that very soon you were going on stage again. It was a night of nostalgia and many trips down memory lane. We all experienced that special bond between DEC people, a bond that was further strengthened by the Tops experience.

The room was decorated with blue and white balloons, streamers and hanging costumes which a quarter of a century ago moved from the sewing machines of the costume ladies in Barna, onto the Jesuit Hall in Galway, up the road to Leisureland, on to the Savoy in Limerick, then down to the Opera House in Cork, before finally running on to the Gaiety Theatre Dublin in front of a packed house and over a million TV viewers throughout Ireland. Many people got their folks at home to tape the show on that All Ireland Final night but very few looked after the video cassette for 25 years. One who did was Linda Keville and we recently converted her copy to DVD (you can watch it here). Now that same All DECs on Hand show was being replayed on large flat screen TVs whilst people chatted and remembered the good old days. The room was also decorated with many A3 pictures (large print of course, to cater for 25-years-older eyesight) of past shows from the early seventies to the last Galway show in 1989.

The competition and fun element of Tops was relived in the table quizzes throughout the night. Lots of humorous answers were received as well as the correct ones. The male You didn’t change a bit award went to Charlie Mulligan, the former plant manager who continues his uncanny ability of never forgetting a face and always remembering a name. The female You didn’t change a bit award award went to the lady in red who traveled from the UK, the Expendables Lady herself, Mary Greaney.

The night was interspersed with musical mouthfuls from three members of the former DEC Boyzone ‘81 Band: Colie Mullen, Harry Ruane and Gerry McNamara. Questions about a rumoured reunion tour were referred by the band to their new manager, Louis Walsh. Soon it was time for food and everyone lined up in a orderly fashion. I saw Mary Martyn and Gerry Daly looking for a tray until Eileen McPhilbin and Ann O’Malley reminded them, “You’re not in the canteen now, you know!.” The piping hot meal of chicken a la king, with rice and fresh pasta and a healthy salad selection, served by the Western Hotel’s friendly staff was enjoyed by all and full compliments to the chef.

Meanwhile Ciarán O’Toole (Nurse Mary Fahy’s young lad) was filming the events of the evening and interviewing various people on what Tops meant to them. Included in the interviews was a visiting US lady remembered by many and long term friend of Kay Tighe, Claire Muhm, who spoke fondly of her memories of Tops and the Galway people before she left Digital Galway to help “start up” a new Digital Systems Plant in Franklin, Massachusetts. That was way back in 1981.

Dominic O’Meara, a Cork man, made the trip from Dublin and enjoyed the night as did so many others from outside the county. As soon as Colie hit the opening notes of the Bord Na Mona Waltz, Flan and Sten were out as was Declan O’Connor and there was no stopping the dancers thereafter. From the Galway Girl to Joe Dolan, it was more and more and more. Martin Flannery kept the spot prizes dished out with numerous anecdotes from times past. He revealed that he had received a text about a group coming from the Mayoral Ball event uptown.

Eventually the judges counted the voting and we picked a Mr. & Ms. Tops as decided by the audience. Both were presented with mini-tiaras to mark the occasion. Mr. Tops was the well deserved Sten Pears, DEC employee and producer extraordinaire of the 1985 Tops Show. Ms. Tops went to the shy and quietly spoken lady from Shantalla, Ohio, and now Cork, Geraldine Flannery. Tom Mangan her good husband has suggested some interpersonal skills courses to her but to no avail. That same shy lady went on to tell us the history of Tops which began in Galway in 1966. She also shared her aspirations to form a new political party and her plans to write a book.

As it was Eurovision Final night we were treated with Ireland’s entry “It’s for You,” sung by Kathleen Glynn which could have been the theme song of the night, if it wasn’t for the John Player Tops intro music as all of this was really “for you”, for being there. Sometime later Kathleen with her sidekick the newly crowned Ms. Tops, sang a Barbra Streisand song called The Queen Bee to wide-eyed and open-mouthed rapturous applause from the crowd. Noel Browne contributed the Luke Kelly classic Raglan Road, and we had the infamous Skehana Seanchai, storyteller Pat Ward, tell us about the discovery of the looking glass. Before we knew it the melodic whistle notes, of the Lonesome Boatman performed by Gerry McNamara had meandered through the night air followed by Harry Ruane singing, Sweet 16, which signaled the end of a wonderful evening of entertainment and playback which, like life itself, seemed to have passed by all too quickly.

We had not forgotten our friends and colleagues who had travelled the road with us on our various Tops journeys but unfortunately were called to a greater show far too early. A special table with framed pictures and a few lighted candles saw happy smiling faces look out at us. Included were the late and great Andy Gallagher, Colm Conneely, Mags Gormally, Brendan Fannin, Teresa Gaughan, Joe Donoghue, Regina Casey, Pat Heaney and Peggy Scanlon, at whose funeral celebration late last year came the idea of a Tops Reunion in May 2010. I’m sure Peggy and the others were there in spirit with us. May they all Rest in Peace.

The night was recorded by many photographers including Gearóid Lacey, Eddie Mangan and Noel Browne. You can relive the memories in the picture gallery on this site.

Finally, to all of you reading this message and who came to the Reunion a “Cead Míle Fáilte” and a “Go Raibh Míle Maith Agaibh” for making the evening such a wonderful worthwhile and memorable event.

A big thank you once again to Frank Henry for development of our website, to Gearóid Lacey and Eddie Mangan for the photography, and to Ciarán O’Toole for producing the “Memories DVD” and Video recording of the event, and to the staff and owners of the Western Hotel for their hospitality and attention to detail on the night.

Wishing you All the Best for the next 25 years and beyond from the Organising Committee.