A stalwart of Irish country music, McBride grew up on the family farm and achieved some success as a footballer, before relocating to work in England in the early 60s. While employed in London’s building industry, he bought his first guitar and began singing in local pubs, before the death of his younger brother saw him return home to work the family farm.
In 1965, he and six other local youths formed the Mainliners and began playing local venues. In May 1966, McBride (who also plays saxophone) appeared on RTE’s Showband Show singing ‘Gentle Mother’ and his career was launched. Released as a single, the song quickly became one of the biggest-selling records of all time in Ireland. From that point until 1978, Big Tom And The Mainliners was a household name. They toured extensively both in Eire and the UK. They recorded numerous albums and registered major hits with such songs as ‘Old Log Cabin For Sale’, ‘Broken Marriage Vows’, ‘The Sunset Years Of Life’ and ‘Back To Castleblayney’. Many were surprised when, in the late 70s, he left the Mainliners to front his own band, the Travellers, and John Glenn became lead singer with the Mainliners. The change had little, if any, effect on his popularity and he continued to be one of Ireland’s most popular entertainers. His records, including a series called King Of Country Music, sold in prodigious numbers and, in 1980, while playing a London venue, he was presented with a Gold Award for sales in excess of a million on the Denver label. This did not take into consideration the fact that some of his bestselling albums were recorded on the Emerald label, prior to him joining Denver.
In 1980, singer Susan McCann launched her career when her recording of ‘Big Tom Is Still The King’ topped the Irish pop charts, and for over a month outsold all other records in Ireland. Big Tom recorded 14 original songs written by John McCawley (his business partner in Denver records) in Nashville for Blue Wing. On 30 June 1989, by popular demand, Big Tom And The Mainliners were reunited at a special show at The Oasis, Carrickmacross, where more than 4,000 people showed that they had not been forgotten.
After a major tour of Ireland and the UK, Big Tom remains a popular performer.