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The latest in Netflix’s Re:Mastered series cuts close to the Irish bone, exploring a sensitive subject in the history of Irish music for the last 44 years – The Miami Showband Massacre. Coming at the height of tensions as the mess of Brexit rumbles on, whether purposely or not, this is a subject which shows how tragically immersed in conflict Ireland once was.
The story centers on Dublin cabaret group, The Miami Showband, who had become one of the most popular acts on the national music scene. By 1975, they comprised of Des Lee, Brian McCoy, Tony Geraghty, Fran O’Toole, Steve Travers and Ray Millar. After scoring 7 number one Irish number singles, the band had attracted a Beatlemania-like frenzy wherever they played.
The Miami Showband, like so many other Irish bands, travelled up to the north of Ireland to play gigs. They found a following and used music to bring audiences of both Catholics and Protestants together – which during the 70s had sounded unimaginable but actually did happen.
This Re:Mastered episode focuses on the events of July 31, 1975 when the band had played a gig in Banbridge, County Down. Whilst traveling back to Dublin they were stopped at a supposed checkpoint outside Newry at Buskhill. There, part of the paramilitary group the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), accompanied by the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR), were dressed as British soldiers. They stopped the band’s bus and ordered them off.
The glaringly obvious factor presented by the presence of a British Army Officer shows how deep into the system this story goes. As two gunmen attempted to plant a bomb, it detonated prematurely – killing them. In the aftermath of the blast, the remaining gunmen opened fire on the band, killing Fran O’Toole, Brian McCoy, Tony Geraghty and wounding Des Lee and Steve Travers. Out of the 10 gunmen involved that night, two serving UDR soldiers and one former UDR soldier later received life sentences.
These killings were more than just a targeting of a Catholic band. Trumpeter Brian McCoy was Protestant and the son of the Orange Order Grand Master for County Tyrone, a fact widely known. Here director Stuart Sender (The Vow) delves into the heart of the Troubles as well as the murders. Tackling the topic sensitively, the documentary suggests the Miami Showband killings were an attack on entertainment, the very escapism used to uplift hearts from the downtrodden undercurrent of a war.
At the core of this is the fact that this was a targeting with a purpose, to stop or halt Irish bands traveling to the north to entertain. The strike was at the unification of both Catholics and Protestants in the spectrum of a dancehall. This was where The Miami Showband transcended religious beliefs, bringing together mixed audiences. Perhaps, this was a step too forward, not welcomed by the hierarchy of governments.
Surviving members Stephen Travers and Fran Lee give a heartfelt account throughout, not only of what happened that night but of Northern Ireland at the time. They discuss what it was like growing up in the heart of a conflict and the atmosphere of the nation.
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The further into the documentary you travel, it becomes clear the attack was a statement of intent. Scenes are cut to the Barron Report and the story of ‘The Jackal’ Robin Jackson amongst others. It’s stated here Jackson, a terrorist linked to the Miami Showband Massacre and believed to be behind 100 plus killings (including 33 in a Dublin bombing) acted as an agent for the British Government.
Meanwhile, Ken Livingstone, a former British M.P, voices his opinion that the British government was behind the attack. He did the same in the 80s, making him unpopular in Parliament at the time. We see how these issues were raised to Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons. Livingstone’s seeking of accountability is echoed throughout this episode of ReMastered as ex-British intelligence officers also remarkably appear in the documentary.
This emotive episode is a stick of dynamite. It not only proves collusion between the British government and paramilitary organisations was an actual fact which cannot be discounted, it highlights that the real murderers were the British Government. A damning letter shown from the UVF complains about the substandard weapons and bombs (such as the time bomb used in the Showband killings) received from MI5.
Sender has crafted an investigation using voices from both sides including members of the British Intelligence and MI6, raising questions that still need answering. He also focuses on the tireless efforts of Stephen Travers to uncover the truth. His voice is dominant throughout, while his passion and need for justice for his dead friends is as prevalent as it was 44-years-ago.
This episode of Re:Mastered will no doubt stir a degree of anger, resentment and perhaps even hate. However, the fact ex-members of the British government and MI6 are shown speaking out about the atrocities and how unjust they were is a saving grace. Further insight given by the UVF, uncovers the collusion, but also shows how they were simply a pawn used in a much wider game.
How this episode will be viewed outside of Ireland is yet to seen, though it is riveting. With facts presented clearly and in-your-face, the only question unanswered is why nothing has been done. The documentary has arrived at a time of uncertainty, when the coming months will herald a new relationship between Britain and Ireland for better or worse.