Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Singer Reeves so impressed with Flamingo's piano he asked to take it on tour

Jim Reeves singing in the Ballymena's Flamingo Ballroom

Throughout his all too brief career, Gentleman Jim Reeves had a thing about pianos. The balladeer with the velvet voice – who died in a plane crash on July 31, 1964 – could rarely find one with a tone to please him.

And the late Sammy Barr, host at the Flamingo Ballroom in Ballymena, was well aware of this Reeves' eccentricity when he invited the star to his place in June 1963, just a year before he died. Sammy was aware that if the piano wasn't up to scratch at a venue Jim would cancel and did so on a few occasions in the Republic.

So Sammy hired a piano tuner with a respected reputation to give the upright on the Flamingo's stage an overhaul the day before Jim was due to appear before a packed audience.

"I would have had the piano tuned anyway," Barr said at the time, "but this time was special".

Gentleman Jim was so delighted at the sound the piano produced that he went out of his way to thank Sammy publicly before his encore that famous night at the Flamingo.

So pleasing to Reeves' ear was this instrument that Jim wanted to borrow it for the remainder of his tour, which included a hall at the end of the prom in Portstewart and St Columb's Hall in Londonderry, where the piano was great anyway and where the young priest was Father Daly, in later life Bishop Edward Daly.

His biggest performance of all that year of 1963 was in the Ulster Hall.

But who was the piano tuner who stepped into the breach to save that show in Ballymena's Flamingo? And who was the member of Jim's Blue Boy Orchestra who was his accompanist?

Reeves lost his life the following July 31. He and his manager Dean Manuel (30) were both killed when their private plane crashed on a flight from Brentwood to Nashville.

Jim left behind a legacy of hits that are still sung and played to this day including Welcome To My World, I Fall To Pieces, Distant Drums and This World Is Not My Home.

H&H Music have just released an 8CD set of 170 tracks to commemorate his death.

Sammy, who died several years ago, opened the Flamingo in 1959 and over the next 20 years had The Rolling Stones and home bred Ruby Murray among his guests before the concert hall was taken over by Wellington Street Presbyterian Church and turned into a Sunday School.

One entertainer with happy memories of the Flamingo is veteran singer Billy McFarland. Billy was on stage at the opening night in 1959. And he was there to bring down the final curtain in 1980.

Violinist Nan’s fairytale of New York is one to warm the heart

Iwas walking down a crowded street in New York one summer afternoon in 1976 when I caught the sweet and heavenly sound of a violin being played with some feeling.

The attractive young lady making out like a busker proved to be something else when I paused to chat while she changed her music.

It turned out this girl called Nan in the granny glasses was training to be a professional musician, but was still accepting the coins appreciative passers-by were dropping in her music case.

“I have to practise four hours a day if I'm to make the grade and I decided I might as well earn some cash while I'm doing it,” she explained. “Besides, I enjoy being a street musician.”

Did Nan the violinist make it to the big time? That's why I'm mentioning her today. New Yorker Nan — I never knew her second name — dropped me a brief note to say she didn't become a star. “But I'm married with two daughters, one of whom plays the violin better than I ever could.” I love stories with fairytale endings.

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