Joe Dolan: Chart-topping romantic singer

Joseph Francis Robert Dolan, singer: born Mullingar, Co Westmeath 16 October 1943; died Dublin 26 December 2007
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The Independent Online

The Irish entertainer Joe Dolan had international hits with "Make Me an Island", "Teresa" and "You're Such a Good Looking Woman". His powerful voice entranced audiences around the world, but particularly in Ireland, where he played both dance-halls and arenas. A romantic singer somewhere between Tom Jones and Val Doonican, he has been described as Ireland's "national aphrodisiac". In 2005, when Dolan had a hip replacement and the old hip was sold for charity, a fan paid 680 (about 500) for a piece of him.

Dolan was the youngest of eight children, born in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, in 1943. He came to love the area, which he described as "three lakes and 40 pubs". His father died when he was eight, and his mother when he was 15; Joe left school in 1958 and was apprenticed as a printer on the Westmeath Examiner.

Irish showbands were then becoming popular and, in 1962, Joe and his brother Ben, with friends, formed a seven-piece outfit, the Drifters. In 1964, they recorded a Del Shannon B-side, "The Answer to Everything", a sentimental ballad written by Burt Bacharach, which made the Irish Top 10. Their manager, Seamus Casey, with Beatlemania in mind, stirred up "Driftermania", and they had chart-toppers with "Pretty Brown Eyes" (1966) and "The House with the White Washed Gables" (1967).

Joe Dolan was in demand for solo appearances abroad, often by TV companies who did not wish to pay for the whole band. The other Drifters resented this and, in 1968, told Dolan that they wanted to break up the group. He responded, "That's it: we'll tell the papers it's over and finish on Sunday." Joe and Ben Dolan formed a new band, the Times, but within a year some of the disgruntled Drifters had drifted back, and they went back to working under the old name.

Pye Records wanted to launch Joe Dolan in the UK as a solo artist and asked the songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood for original material. As it happened, Hammond and Hazlewood had just turned down an offer from Tom Jones's management for their song "Make Me an Island". They gave it to Dolan instead and his recording went to number three, easily outselling Jones's hit of the time, "Love Me Tonight". For his Top of the Pops appearance, Dolan bought an expensive suit and had to charter a plane to whisk him back to Dublin immediately after the show for a previously arranged engagement. He did not bother to change and the fans in the dance hall (known as the "Dolanites") ripped the jacket off his back.

"Make Me an Island" topped the charts in 14 countries and must have launched a million pub singalongs. The follow-ups, "Teresa" and "You're Such a Good Looking Woman", both also written by Hammond and Hazlewood, made the UK Top 20 and were European hits. Dolan found the UK cabaret scene perfect for his Irish dance-hall act. He was a confident performer and his frenzied, sweat-drenched performances of "You're Such a Good Looking Woman" would get women screaming.

In 1973 Dolan met the Italian songwriter and producer Roberto Danova and they worked together on many records, usually with disco rhythms, including "Sweet Little Rock'*'Roller", "Lady in Blue" (which sold over a million copies in Europe), "Crazy Woman" and "Hush Hush Maria". He returned to the UK charts with "I Need You" in 1977 and in 1981 had success with "More and More" and "It's You, It's You, It's You".

In 1978, Dolan became one of the first western artists to perform in Russia, and also worked in Las Vegas in 1980. He was rarely far from Ireland, however; his ideal day was a game of golf in the morning and a show in the evening. Dolan established his own label, Gable Records, and built a studio in Mullingar, as well as buying a pub there.

In 1996 Joe Dolan had a big-selling album with Endless Magic; he covered contemporary hits on Joe's 90's (1998) and 21st Century Joe (1999); and then made an album featuring Irish songwriters, Home Grown. In 1997, he was back at the top of the Irish charts with a revival of "You're Such a Good Looking Woman", duetting with the puppet Dustin the Turkey.

Spencer Leigh