Belfast Telegraph

Hugo Duncan: Brendan's talent still shining bright after almost 50 years on the country music scene

Going strong: Brendan Shine is busier than ever at the age of 72
Going strong: Brendan Shine is busier than ever at the age of 72

By Hugo Duncan

Let me begin this week by making a candid confession: it's not often that I admit to having been mesmerised by the performance of a particular solo artist, or band.

But I have to concede that I was held entranced the other night when Brendan Shine, one of the veterans of the Irish showband scene, turned in what I can only describe as a scintillating performance at a concert in the Marine Hotel, Ballycastle.

I have known Brendan since he took his first steps in the entertainment sector in the early 1970s and I have always had the greatest respect for him.

But I readily admit that I was blown away by the quality of his performance.

From the moment he hit the first bar of his opening song until he played his last number, Brendan held his audience spellbound - and that's not the easiest of feats, as I can confirm.

It's worth pointing out that Brendan is now 72, yet he retains the same youthful zest that was one of his hallmarks some 50 years ago.

As I watched him go through his repertoire in Ballycastle, I was not only impressed by Brendan's professionalism and vitality, but I was amazed to hear the crowd sing every song along with him.

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The hit numbers just kept tumbling out - Do You Want Your Auld Lobby Washed Down?, I Met Her At The Galtymore and Catch Me If You Can among the many which captivated the listeners.

I could not believe the audience were so familiar with every number.

As I stood at the side of the stage observing Brendan hold them in the palm of his hand, it became clear to me why many performers still trawl through material recorded by him and people like Foster and Allen in search of the one big hit that they crave so much.

Afterwards, he told me that he is busier than ever fulfilling concert engagements, having spent years making the journey from Ireland to play at the major Irish dancing venues in London, such as the National in Kilburn, the Hibernian in Fulham, the Galtymore in Cricklewood and the Gresham on Holloway Road.

Those were the days of enormous crowds, marvellous atmospheres - and plenty of money.

Brendan was telling me that his wife, Kathleen, has just recently undergone surgery.

He also revealed that his career in showbusiness got off to a very unusual start.

"I was still attending school when a local band asked me if I would give them a bit of a pull-out and go to England with them one weekend," recalled Brendan.

"I said I would because even then I was mad into music.

"As soon as I got home from school, I packed up my few belongings, said goodbye to my family and away I went in the band's van.

"I got home six weeks later, having had my first taste of the dancing scene in England, which I found very much to my liking.

"I was well looked after by the band, so my family had no call to worry about me.

"I little thought that when I went on that hastily arranged trip all those years ago, it would be the start of decades of travel back and forward across the channel."

Now a grandfather of six and still a busy farmer on his land on the Roscommon-Galway border, Brendan has never lost the common touch.

Even when he was riding high in the charts, quite often it was home from a dance engagement in the early hours of the morning and on with the wellies to feed cattle or undertake other farming chores.

"I am very definitely a son of the soil," says Brendan.

"Country by nature and country by music."

Walking away from fame game

I travelled to Ballycastle early on Sunday ahead of my performance in a show at the Marine Hotel later that evening.

I thought that, with the Auld Lammas Fair taking place there over the course of Monday and Tuesday, the traffic might be heavy, so it would be better to get there early.

I went for a walk in the town and spoke to many people in the thronged streets, but you are always going to have to bear the brunt of quips.

One wag shouted across at me: "How's the Rottweiler keeping?" I began to think that Mrs D had acquired a much higher profile than I have.

Another man stopped straight in front of me and queried: "Are you really allowed out on your own?"

I began to wonder if I was in need of care until he added, "You know, we don't get many celebrities strolling through these streets".

And I responded: "Well, I'll just keeping on walking until I meet one."

Jim and Paddy are gone but won't be forgotten

I was very sorry to learn of the passing earlier this week of Jim Tobin, the former lead singer with the Firehouse Showband.

Jim had been ill for some time. Nonetheless, news of his death still came as a shock.

It was in 1959 that Jim and his band first made their mark with their first big hit, a Jim Reeves number entitled This Is It.

From then until 1982, they were among the top Irish country bands.

Jim recorded some other fine songs and was known for his easy-going demeanour and ready good humour.

He was among a number of singers who were part of the showband boom and his ability handle country numbers was well-known.

He took great pride in his work and set high standards for himself and his band at a time when dancing was at a peak in Ireland.

Nearer home, it was with regret that I heard of the death of Paddy Gillespie, who was a very familiar figure in my home town of Strabane.

Paddy was 102 and an inventor of his own form of bicycles and cars.

When the notice of his death was read out at church on Sunday, I noticed that it certainly impacted on members of the congregation.

A lively, colourful figure, Paddy had a kind word for everyone and he also liked his country music.

During the terrible flooding that afflicted Strabane some years ago, Paddy's house was damaged by flood water and quite a number of people went to his aid.

Several members of his family lived to a ripe old age and, despite his advanced years, Paddy was still very active.

He enjoyed meeting people and having conversations and he invariably brightened up any company he was in.

He knew practically everyone in Strabane and had a word for all he met.

He will be sadly missed and I pass on my sympathy to his family on their sad loss.

Liam is helping to keep Big Tom's music alive

When Liam Kelly brought out his single, Big Tom - The Legend Lives On, recently, he little dreamt that it would prove an important stepping-stone in his singing career.

Such was the reaction to the number that Liam and his band suddenly found themselves in demand. And now they could be destined to take another step up the popularity ladder.

Liam has just released his new CD, My Kind of Country, which includes 12 tracks with which he has become synonymous in his live appearances, including, of course, his Big Tom tribute.

Tyrone singer Liam, the most modest and unassuming of entertainers, is somewhat bemused by the progress he has made, but is nevertheless deeply grateful for the support.

"I must say it's very heartening to see the messages of encouragement we are receiving," smiles Liam.

"We are still only finding our feet as a band, if the truth be told, but you are always grateful to be able to make any sort of headway.

"My manager, Patsy from Big M Promotions, has been showing great faith in me and it's thanks to him that I am where I am today."

I had the pleasure of having Liam as a guest on my BBC Radio Ulster outside broadcast from Strangford on Monday and he certainly proved a big hit. He was accompanied by his mother and it was a pleasure for me to meet such a lovely lady.

Liam and his band are currently fulfilling engagements in a number of the leading country dancing venues and they hope to break out further afield.

"I think we will be doing a little more travelling and I must say that I am looking forward to that," Liam tells me. "We spent a lot of time in picking the tracks we laid down on the CD and it would now appear that it was time well spent."

Certainly, the quality of the CD is impressive and songs such as Send Me No Roses, If You Should Come Back, Life Turned Her That Way and The Tender Years will find favour with most country fans.

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