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An Ulster Log: Joan's still happily in hock to 50s pawn shop

By Eddie McIlwaine

Joan Armatrading never sang the pop No1 from the 1950s There's a Pawn Shop On The Corner, but she tells me that a pawn shop played an important role in her life. She was passing by a pawn shop with her mum one day when she was a little girl and there in the window was an acoustic guitar which mother bought for £3 after giving the man behind the counter two prams as well.

It was the start of a mesmerising career that afternoon in Birmingham to where her family had moved from St Kitts in the West Indies. Joan (right) taught herself to play and started writing songs at 14.

She has been touring for 42 years and is coming back to Belfast on Sunday, March 8 at the Opera House . "Those prams were rusty and old fashioned and redundant in our family," she chuckles. "I got the best of the deal and I still have that guitar."

Be warned – this could be your last chance to see the lady who has an MBE gong from the Queen, on stage in Belfast. "I'll never retire but the spring dates will be my last major tour," she stresses.

In case you're wondering it was Guy Mitchell who had a hit with The Pawn Shop On The Corner way back in 1951.

A verse goes like this:

"There's a pawnshop on a corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

And I walk up and down 'neath the clock

By the pawn shop on a corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

But I ain't got a thing left to hock

She was peaches, she was honey

And she cost me all my money

'Cause a whirl 'round the town was her dream

Was her dream

Took her dancin', took her dinin'

Till her blue eyes were shinin'

With the sights that they never had seen

Never seen."

Guy died at 72 in 1999. He had many hits, including Singing the Blues.

There are still a few pawn shops in Belfast. Perhaps when she is here Joan will call into one and buy another second-hand guitar.

Cara puts heart into tour

Folksy singer Cara Dillon, who is a stunning looker too, is off on tour this autumn – and she will be really putting her heart into every concert around the UK.

Her hit album is called Thousand Hearts and Cara has already attracted a lot of attention with the single Bright Morning Star which features vocals from Timothy B Schmit of the Eagles and is currently riding high on the Radio 2 playlist.

Cara also made an appearance at the Cambridge Folk Festival last weekend.

Supporting Cara on her tour later this year will be Dan Tyminski, a member of Alison Krauss' band Union Station.

Tyminski featured on the global, million-selling hit Brother for Swedish electronic dance artist, Avicii.

Church gets organ donation

Retired civil servant Robert Robinson may have sadly passed away– but the music he loved lives on in a tiny, picturesque church in Donegal.

For Robert and his wife Maureen several years ago made a gift of a Wurlitzer organ to the Ardara Parish in south Donegal and ever since it has been played in support of all those old familiar hymns and the new ones too.

Robert and Maureen – a church organist in her day – bought the Wurlitzer 10 years ago, and it made a beautiful sound. But it turned out to be a bit too big for their home in east Belfast.

So when they heard from Ardara regular Denis Wilson that the old organ that had served the parish for nearly 40 years had broken down and was beyond repair, Maureen and Robert decided to come to the rescue.

The organ was transported to Donegal by Denis, a Glenavy business man, and has been played in the Ardara church of the St Connel's Parish ever since – sometimes by Denis' wife Jill – much to the delight of Canon John Dean and the parishioners.

Canon Dean invited Maureen up to Ardara one Sunday to play the Wurlitzer at a service and she and Robert enjoyed the reunion.

"Our members will never forget Robert who died only a few weeks ago," said Canon Dean, who is hoping Maureen will return to Ardara to play the organ again.

Beeb salutes broadcaster McAuley

I was always glad to call the late broadcaster Tony McAuley (below) a friend. I used to sit on judging panels with him and was impressed at his passion for traditional Irish sounds. He died at only 63 in 2003 and is buried in his beloved Cushendun.

So it is special that the Linen Hall Library is about to present A Celebration of the Music of Healing on Saturday, August 30 which will be all about remembering McAuley.

The audience will hear from author Katrin Pietzonka who worked closely with Tony, and Tommy Sands and Mickey MacConnell.

At the Beeb, Tony directed programmes and continued to produce his Folk Club on Radio Ulster until a week before his passing.

Wallace would love a 'yes' vote!

The Scots who never liked being conquered by the English are soon to decide if they should go independent.

Which reminds Jack Anderson, a Scottish exile living in Cookstown, that once there was a patriot called William Wallace who was determined to drive the English back across the border forever. It didn't work out that way though.

Wallace was captured and executed on August 23, 1305 and his fight for independence was lost.

"I wonder if William is observing current events from on high and is hoping the day of independence is about to dawn at last?" asks Jack.

Gerry should be running the show

How did rabbits get to inhabit the Skerries, that blob of earth just off Portrush on the north coast?

That was a topic that I heard Sean Coyle and a few of his listeners on BBC Radio Ulster discussing one morning.

It's time that Gerry Anderson was back on the show. He and I could have told Sean that rabbits, especially the black and white ones, are strong swimmers and would have no problem paddling their way out to this wee island.

I thought everybody knew that.

But it seems not.

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