Quinn, Hugo (Hugh) (1929–87), musician and entertainer, was born 1 August 1929 in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, and educated locally. In the late 1940s he formed a band with several friends that played local club and ballroom dances. Originally called Hugh Tourish and the Carltons (after the band's pianist), in 1949 on the strength of an audience competition the band was renamed the Clipper Carlton, an evocation of the glamour and modernity associated with transatlantic travel on Pan American airline's ‘clipper’ airplanes servicing Shannon and Foynes. Initially the band was a miniature and local version of the dance orchestras then dominating popular musical entertainment in Ireland; attired in formal black dress suits, the musicians sat on stage, reading from sheet music on stands, performing waltzes, foxtrots, and quicksteps. Managed adroitly from 1952 by Strabane postal clerk Victor Craig, the Clipper Carlton embarked on radical innovations in the content and presentation of their performance, to emerge as Ireland's first ‘showband’. Dressed in brightly coloured suits or blazers, the band abandoned seats and music stands to play from memory while moving about the stage, either in coordinated dance steps or in spontaneous ‘boogying’ to the music. They introduced a pre-rehearsed, cabaret-style ‘show’ to their performance, a fast-paced twenty-minute variety routine entitled ‘Jukebox Saturday night’, involving rapid and comical costume changes, and uncanny impersonations of film stars, comedians, and popular singers and bands of the day. Audiences would cease dancing, and crowd the stage to watch and applaud the performance. An accomplished musician and charismatic showman, Quinn as trumpeter and vocalist was the band's leader and the driving force behind their stylistic innovations, inspired especially by the American big-band leader Woody Herman and his exuberant, often madcap stage persona.
The leading band in Ireland through the latter 1950s, the Clipper Carlton worked a gruelling schedule, playing five to six hours a night, on five nights a week, to packed houses throughout the country, travelling to gigs in a custom-built coach, and commanding a 50-per-cent cut of the take. Exuding freedom, movement, and enjoyment – qualities soon to be associated with the optimistic new Ireland of economic expansion and incipient prosperity – their bright, buoyant, brassy style contrasted radically with the staid sit-down orchestras and their associations with sedate parish functions policed by vigilant clergy. Performing regularly in Britain, the Clippers toured America several times from 1958. Concentrating exclusively on live performance, they never recorded. An eight-man ensemble that included rhythm section, a three-piece brass section of trumpet, trombone, and saxophone, and several vocalists, the Clippers moulded a repertoire dominated by danceable covers of contemporary chart hits, on which were imposed the tight, pulsating brass licks characteristic of their arrangements. After remaining for several years a novelty, they spawned a plethora of imitators among the younger generation of musicians, becoming the prototype of the showband genre that exploded into prominence during the 1960s.
Eclipsed in popularity after 1960 by the Royal Showband of Brendan Bowyer, the Clippers remained among the top ten draws on the circuit till their break-up in 1964. Quinn and two of the original members formed the nucleus of a new Clipper Carlton for two years, till the original ensemble reformed in 1966–9 before another lengthier severance. Honoured at a civic reception in Lifford, Co. Donegal (1985), the band reformed for two years of unanticipated success on a wave of nostalgia; a concert in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, was filmed for an hour-long RTÉ television special (January 1986). Quinn died 26 October 1987, aged 58, in the Altnagelvin hospital, Derry city, after collapsing from a stroke on the previous day in his home on Carlton Way, Strabane. He was survived by his wife Brigid, their two daughters, and one son.