‘Stompin’ George’ Verschoyle (62) from Artane in North Dublin, has been a dominant figure in the Irish rockabilly scene for over four decades. For the first time ever, he has agreed to be interviewed about his life and the Dublin rock ‘n’ roll scene of the 1970s and 1980s in which he played such a pivotal role.
George was born into a musical family; his mother was a graduate of the National School of Music and George and his younger sister were sent to piano lessons when they were younger – but he soon got bored. “The teacher was into light classical, I wanted to be the next Jerry Lee Lewis”, he recalls.
At the age of nine, George began listening to Jimmy Saville’s The Teen and Twenty Disc Club and Jack Jacksons’ Jukebox Show on Radio Luxembourg. Though he usually was put to bed at around 8pm, he convinced his mother to wake him up at 10.55pm on Sundays so he could listen to Barry Aldis’ Top Twenty till midnight. In the early 1960s, the BBC presented a radio documentary on the history of rock ‘n roll which George taped on a reel to reel (he still has the tapes). George pinpoints this series and its opening track, Tongue Tied Jill by Charlie Feathers, as introducing him to what was to become an essential part of his life – rockabilly.
Every Saturday night, George and a mixed group of around twenty friends would go down to the local hop in Chanel College in Coolock. One night the DJs (Don and Gerry) failed to turn up and so George, at the age of 14, offered to step in. This was his first stint at DJing. The year was 1962. After that first night, George began standing in for Don and Gerry on a regular basis.
After gaining in experience and confidence, he was offered the role of resident DJ in The Flamingo Club on O’Connell Street which opened in September 1966. He stayed there for two years playing a mix of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and ‘60s sounds.
George took a break from spinning records for a couple of years until he bumped into a fellow rockabilly fan called ‘Rockin’ Kevin’ in his local, The Bachelor Inn. The pair hit it off and they soon began organizing “record hops” in the upstairs function room.
The nights were a success and they soon outgrew The Bachelor and moved to The Regent Hotel on D’Olier Street. It was at this time that several of the local biker groups began attending the nights including the Road Rockers and the Viking chapter of the Hells Angels as well as other bikers. (Unlike most media stereotypes, the Dublin bikers were a friendly bunch and not the stereotypical violent type normally portrayed.)
A fire that destroyed the hotel a couple of years later meant the venue had to change and The Mondello Club was suggested by biker, Tony Kelly. George used to organize a bus from The Bachelor pub to The Mondello and back every Sunday.
Around 1977, they moved again; this time to Goulding’s Social Club on Townsend Street. A year later, George joined Capitol Radio which was based a few doors down from The Bachelor where he presented a show playing the “best in rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly”. He remembers that a lot of listeners “used to phone and write in asking why there weren’t any rockabilly hops in town.”
At the time, the only places you could find rockabilly was Sunday nights in Toners where Rocky De Valera & The Grave Diggers played Dr. Feelgood-inspired rock ‘n’ roll or Friday nights in The Magnet Bar on Pearse Street where Hurricane Johnny & The Jets played rock ‘n’ roll covers.
George went to see The Jets in The Magnet a couple of times and decided that the venue would be perfect for a record hop. He spoke to Liam Lynch, The Magnet’s owner, about taking over Monday nights and the rest, as they say, “is history“.
The Magnet on Monday nights which started in September 1978 and ended in March 1983 has since gone down in Dublin rock ‘n’ roll history – with many regarding it as the glory days of the Irish revival rockabilly scene.
It “was an old type workingman’s pub” whose upstairs venue could hold 200 people. George explains that the night attracted a “mix of people including bikers, teds, mods, rockers and the odd punk”. In their four and a half years there, there was never any major trouble. He explains this was because people “policed themselves” because they didn’t want to risk losing the venue as there was “no where else to go for a good night’s music”.
The 1980s saw a huge rockabilly revival in the U.K. with young bands like The Sunsets, Crazy Cavan and The Rhythm Rockers, The Polecats, The Shakin’ Pyramids and the American-born band The Stray Cats breaking the charts. Unlike some other original rockabilly fans who viewed this new generation of rockers as “too punchy” or “too commercial”, George thought for the most part “they were helping to bring the music to a much wider audience”. However, he makes it clear that he “didn’t like or agree with the likes of Showaddywaddy or Mud, who did nothing for rockabilly.”
The two visits of the Scottish group The Shakin’ Pyramids were definitely the “high point of our years in the Magnet” George says. “I know of people who say they were there on the night and who still reckon it was one of the best gigs seen in Dublin. I have seen many bands and artists over the years including The Beatles, but I was never at a gig like the Pyramids, it was electric.”
When The Magnet closed, George felt that their rock ‘n’ roll nights had “had more or less run its course already and it was the right time to leave”. Most felt it was time to take a break anyway. “A lot of the regulars had moved on with their lives, got married, went abroad to work” or had “taken up golf”. George got married to Fran in 1981 and his first daughter was born in September 1981. It was time to take a break from music.
It didn’t last long however and in the mid 1980s, George teamed up with another friend “Boppin’ Billy” and started a residency in The Underground in Dame street which ran for 18 months. After that, they had a several month stint in The St. Laurence Hotel in Howth followed by a pub on Camden Street and finally a little wine bar/restaurant called Blazes on Essex Street.
By this stage, George and his crew were making a name for themselves in the city. They were invited to play at a 30th birthday for the Guinness family in Leixlip and six wrap up gigs for various film shoots. At one of the ‘wraps’ held in a stately house outside Bray when the place was rockin’ at 5am and no one wanted to go home, George recalls that “a famous RTÉ DJ of the time came over to us and said he had never in all his years heard such amazing music – this sort of sums up what rockabilly music is!”
Their final gig together was in The Hard Rock Café but “it was doomed from the start as they would only give us Sunday nights starting at 11pm”. However, they did mange to get an invite to support The Pogues at the National Stadium. “That was really interesting as there were about 2,000 people at the gig and they would break out into spontaneous applause after a piece of rare rockabilly” George reckons it was “possibly the first time most of them had ever heard of Charlie Feathers or Herbie Duncan!”
Stompin’ George is still DJing and boppin’ after 48 years. An inspiration to us all, there’s plans in the woodwork for a Magnet reunion gig in the not so distant future and that’s something we can all look forward to, even if we weren’t there the first time around…