Hugo Duncan: The show must go on as McMahon and Mainliners return
The country music scene in Ireland suffered its biggest blow for some time when the iconic Big Tom passed away in April. The genial Castleblayney singer had been a dominant figure on the dancing front, in particular, for many years up until his death.
Big Tom and The Mainliners revelled in the label 'the band with the magic beat'; their distinctive sound giving them an identity that was very much their own.
Yet, although Big Tom has left us, the music of his Mainliners will live on.
Manager Kevin McCooey and band leader Henry McMahon joined me just recently for a very interesting debate during my BBC Radio Ulster programme, when I got the first inkling that The Mainliners were prepared to adhere to the old showbusiness adage 'the show must go on'.
It was a time to reminisce, to recall old times and to relive memorable experiences.
Like most people of my vintage, I have fond memories of attending dances at which Big Tom played and, while he was undoubtedly the star attraction, The Mainliners' music had special appeal for me.
To learn that the band is now going back on the road, with the talented John Glenn as frontman, will gladden the hearts of all those who danced the night away so often to Big Tom and that familiar beat.
John hails from Crossmaglen and replaced Big Tom in The Mainliners when Tom left, temporarily, to become lead vocalist with The Travellers.
Very much a quality singer in his own right, John understandably relishes the challenge of going back on the road with The Mainliners.
Henry McMahon, who has been with The Mainliners since day one, believes that, with John back in his role as lead vocalist, the band can chart fresh progress.
"We have been inundated with requests to return to the stage and we feel that now, at the height of the summer, is as good a time as any," says Henry.
Meanwhile, the 40th anniversary of the Lady of the Lake Festival in Irvinestown will be marked in style today, when the first of our BBC Radio Ulster summer outside broadcast programmes is relayed from there.
At this time of the year, Irvinestown invariably comes alive and among the stars who will be appearing at today's event is Michael English. Joe Mahon, mein host, at Mahon's Hotel, will be very much in the thick of things at what promises to be a lively affair.
The festival will last until Sunday, July 22 and Irvinestown will be en fete between now and then.
Following our visit to Irvinestown, the next two outside broadcasts will come from Main Street, Portglenone on Thursday, July 19 and Ballee playing fields in Ballymena on Friday, July 20.
Owen Mac, a wonderful young entertainer from the north west, will be among my special guests at Portglenone, while the ever-popular Lisa McHugh will head the list of stars in Ballymena.
And there will be a feast of country music in Newcastle tomorrow night when Sean Wallace hosts a summer special in the town, with a host of entertainers, such as Tony Allen (of Foster and Allen fame), Stephen Smyth, The Ward Sisters, Ben Troy and Ailish McBride, taking the stage at the Newcastle Centre with Country Harmony providing the musical backing.
My sympathies go out to families after sad week of bereavements
It has often been said that, in the midst of life, there is death. And this has certainly been very much the case this week.
Popular country singer Derek Ryan suffered the sad loss of his mother, Sally, following a period of illness. She had been hugely supportive of Derek in his singing career and had proved the inspiration for his big hit A Mother's Son.
Sally was a regular attender at Derek's shows, along with her husband, and nothing gave her greater pleasure than to see Derek proving such a hit with his army of fans.
And Tipperary singing star Louise Morrissey, who has spent over 30 years entertaining audiences, following her debut as a folk singer in The Morrisseys, has also been bereaved with the death of her nephew.
Nearer home, the Dunlop family from Ballymoney, famous for their exploits in motorcycle road racing, has suffered another loss with the death of William Dunlop during practice for the Skerries road races last weekend.
The 32-year-old son of the late Robert and nephew of the legendary Joey, William had carved out his own successful career in the sport with which his family will be forever associated.
His sudden death came as a great shock to the province, where he was held in the highest esteem.
It was particularly poignant that he should have met his death at the Skerries event, which had marked his return to road racing after a spell away from the sport.
In Ulster, we view our sporting heroes with particular affection and the personable William was certainly one of those. While his passing is a terrible blow to everyone, it is simply devastating for his family, including his mother Louise, brothers Michael and Daniel, grandmother May and his partner Janine and daughter Ella.
I send my sincere sympathies to the Ryan, Morrissey and Dunlop families at what is a particularly sad time for them.
Indians still on warpath after four decades of success
More than 40 years have elapsed since The Indians first went on the road.
There have been many changes in the Irish music scene in that period, yet the Indians have stood the test of time.
Eamon Keane is still the leader and now manager of the band and, along with guitarist Brian Woodfull, he has been there since the outfit struck its first note all those years ago.
The Indians are still hugely popular in this country, but they have also established a niche in England and Scotland, where they visit at regular intervals.
Only recently, the band hosted a successful country dancing weekend at the popular Red Cow entertainment complex in Dublin.
But, right now, they are looking forward to meeting many old friends when they go on the warpath at the Mourne Country Hotel, Newry, tomorrow night, where they can expect a warm reception.
"It's a town that holds many memories for us, as we used to play there at the height of the showband boom," recalls Eamon.
"Then, a number of the showbands morphed into country bands and were joined by many new outfits. We like to think that we have retained our individuality, as we try to cater for all tastes.
"We maybe did not scale the heights that the stars did, but we have always enjoyed ourselves and our aim is to try and continue to please people."
Lead vocalist Big Chief, aka Raymond Kelly, from Coleraine, is a dynamic presence on stage and his versatility underpins the band's repertoire.
"Obviously, the country scene has undergone something of a transformation in recent years, but we still stick to the belief that dancing is as popular as ever, with all age groups currently coming out in force to let their hair down," smiles Raymond.