The Cotton Mills Boys were an Irish bluegrass and country music band from the 1970s. Formed in 1968, they started out as a duo that included Gerry Madigan and Brian Dowling playing American-style countr music in Ireland and England, including the song, "Cotton Mill Girls," which started the name of the duo. Members Mick McManus and Sean McAviney joined in 1968 in time to join the nationwide tour of "The Johnny McEvoy Show," managed by Brian Molloy, who had been managing bands for the Tom Costelloe organization.
In June 1969, Gerry and the boys were playing full-time in the road, now having expanded to a seven piece and electric band including Tommy Kinsella, Joe Giltrap, Brian Harris, Paul Duffy, Paul Kenny from the Smokey Mountain Ramblers. This lineup lasted only about a month; Frank "Monty" Montgomery and Mike Scott joined in October 1969 as band members came and departed; the line-up changing almost regularly.
The group released their first single, "Joey Maroney," in October 1969 and released it's first album in August 1970. In December 1971, Martin McGregor joined the band as a stand-in for drummer Paul Kenny who collapsed on stage while recovering from stomach trouble. Sadly, he passed away after only six months on the road, and the band brought Martin into the band full time.
In August 1972, the band had their own television show under manager Brian Molloy of Hawk Records. Tom Kinsella, Fran Boland and Martin McGregor eventually left the band to form their own band, Buckshot, with Fran Ryan of the Hoot'nanny's. Philip Duffy joined the Cotton Mills Boys next as Mike Scott left the band to join the Hoot'nanny's in 1973. The Cottons brought in Des Wilson of Tracy and the Grassroots next. Founder Gerry Madigan also left the band to get married and was replaced by Ted Reid. Buddy Boland also departed and was replaced by Phillip Duffy, and Tommy Kinsella was replaced by Don Sherman. Martin McGregor also left and was replaced by Gene Berrill. By the mid-70s, the remaining Cottons were enjoying success both in Ireland and in England, packing in over 6500 dancers into the three ballroom complex at the Galtymore Ballroom in Cricklewood. They also played Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre, the Ulster Hall in Belfast, National Stadium Dublin and King’s Hall in England.
The band underwent another major change in 1975 when Mick McManus left the band and he was replaced by Charlie Arkins, an accomplished fiddler whose signature rendition of the Orange Blossom Special would become one of the band's most recognizable numbers for the next few years. In 1976, Gerry Madigan returned for the band's most successful line-up in the band's history. In the summer of 1976, they appeared on the talent show, Opportunity Knocks followed by shows in clubs and concert venues and a top act on the United States Air Force bases throughout England and Europe. They also appeared on the International Wembley Country Music Festival at the Wembley Arena in England, the Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas and one-week showcase gig at the famous Halsey Ranch in Oklahoma. In 1976, they were the only Irish band to hold the #1 and #2 positions at the same time in the British charts with "The Wedding Song" and "The Orange Blossom Special." The following summer they were invited to top the bill at the Peterborough International Country Music Festival and were invited back the following year, followed up by an appearance on "The Benny Hill Show" on May 30, 1978. They had their second series with Francue Lenehen of "The Ranchers" playing in the group and their second album that same year.
Three members, Francie Lenehan, Gene Berrill and Bobby McGawley left the band the following year with the new line-up including John McGrenra, John McManus, Brendan O Keefe and Brendan O'Brien of Dublin, along with Charlie, Tony, and Gerry, who eventually left the band to form a new blue grass cabaret outfit called Mash with George Kaye from the Smokey Mountain Ramblers. Although a great lineup, the band was short-lived and Gerry would return to the Cotton's lineup two years later.
In 1978, the Cotton's single, "Heaven's Just A Sin Away," became their last chart record, topping out at #12 in the Irish charts. They released the single, "You Are No Angel,"</i> with new member Kim Newport in 1979.
Gerry Madigan rejoined the band in 1980 for several concert shows in the U.K. including country clubs and festivals. They also played Belguim and spent six weeks touring England and Scotland including a tour of American Air Bases. By now, they were managed by Lou Rodgers, father of the 70s singing star, Clodagh Rodgers. Gerry soon left the band again to manage a local group named Bagatelle, producing their recording of "Trump Card" and securing a major deal for them with Polygram. The band's appearance on "The Late Late Show" launched their success, but with Oliver Barry taking over the management of the band.
During the 80s, The Cottons were successful on the cabaret/club circuit in England and on the concert circuit. A cabaret singer from Dublin named Sharon King joined the band to add some sex appeal, enabling them to play songs from artists like Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. Despite more tours, the decline of ballroom music led to their full break-up in 1985. Sharon formed her own rock band called Xerxes managed by Gerry Madigan. Charlie Arkins has his own recording studio, still touring and performing on TV. John McGrenra lives in Donegal, and Tony Hughes is working cabaret acts in Dublin. Des Wilson sadly passed away in the 90s while Mike Scott still does occasional gigs.