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Unionist Colin McCusker takes his drum to the streets

By David Young

Those still unsure whether the UUP are striking a more traditional beat need only look to Upper Bann for definitive proof.

Local constituency members sticking their money into the Assembly juke box have ditched guitar rock for something in tune with an old school Unionist ear.

Freddy Mercury impersonator Harry Hamilton's failure to secure a party nomination for next May's election saw him ultimately resign from the party.

But while much has already been made of Flash Harry biting the dust, most won't be aware that in his stead a musician used to a very different beat has taken the stage.

Colin McCusker, son of the late former UUP MP Harold, is a keen lambeg drummer.

And the 39-year-old father-of-two is not scared of banging out his message on the doorsteps of unionist rivals, as a recent impromptu solo march past the DUP's office in Lurgan demonstrated.

"My dad was a drummer in his Orange lodge and I suppose that's how I picked it up, but I've only been doing it seriously for the past three or so years," he said.

"I'm now drumming in the same lodge.

"I wouldn't consider myself to be a professional or anything like that but I have won a couple of competitions against other lodge drummers here and there."

Asked what makes a good drummer, Colin believes puff is as important as practice.

"Fitness is key, it fairly takes it out of your arms, especially when it's a quick beat."

And regarding the Upper Bann X Factor that saw him top the public vote with Flash Harry trailing in fourth, Colin insists there were no hard feelings backstage.

"Harry is a good friend of mine and I was very sad to see him leave the party," he said.

"I'm not just about drumming, I'm a Queen fan too.

"I was at a concert of his last year and it was great - a top night."

It will be more Village People than Queen in east Belfast on Tuesday as Sammy Wilson and Executive colleagues pull on their hard hats.

The Finance Minister, Conor Murphy, Alex Attwood and David Ford will be Men at Work as they join other Assembly members to help build a new house near the Short Strand community interface.

The Habitat for Humanity project will see 13 MLAs getting their hands dirty as they spend the day painting and putting up plasterboard in the house on Madrid Street.

UUP leader Tom Elliott and local MLA Dawn Purvis are also among those set to muck in for the initiative organised by the ever-energetic folk in the Assembly's Engagement team.

But Sammy moved to quell speculation the event was linked to cost saving initiatives in the budget.

"Public finances may be bad, but I categorically deny they are so bad that ministers have to start building social houses themselves," he made clear.

Two great dynasties faced each other across the Executive table during crunch talks on the draft budget.

Not the DUP and Sinn Fein, but the Attwoods and the McGimpseys.

Tuesday evening saw ministers thrash out the final details of the much-hyped financial blueprint.

And as, once again, the media waited outside Stormont Castle for signs of white smoke, the politicians were inside burning the midnight oil.

As the negotiations dragged into the small hours, fatigue took its toll on Alex Attwood.

As he thanked Health Minister Michael McGimpsey for a contribution during the discussions, he accidentally called him 'Chris', confusing him with his brother, another politico in the McGimpsey clan.

Michael, not to be outdone, shot back with a reference to the Social Development Minister's political sibling.

"Am I talking to Alex or Tim Attwood?" he asked.

It was a moment of light relief amid the economic gloom.

But tiredness was hitting everyone. Martin McGuinness came out onto the castle steps for a break with Junior Minister Gerry Kelly.

First Minister Peter Robinson took a stroll around the grounds as the talks dragged on.

While the DUP leader was taking the air with his top aide, a half-frozen photographer, hoping for an early night, asked how the talks were faring.

He was warned it was going to be a long evening, with the parting advice: "Go and get yourself a fish supper."

No sooner was the ink dry on the budget when Michelle Gildernew got the chopping board out.

Fortunately for the farmers, the Agriculture Minister was only wielding the cleaver on some fresh cuts of meat.

The MP was guest of honour as Tenderlean, a butcher from the Fermanagh half of her constituency, opened its first outlet outside the county, in the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast.

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