Hugo Duncan: Almost half a century in music behind me.... and Nathan looks set for same
It was on Easter Sunday night at Newtownstewart Carnival 48 years ago that I made my debut as a professional singer. Obviously, things were a lot different then. We were playing in a very basic marquee, where facilities were limited, to say the least.
I remember it as being a nerve-wracking occasion for me because it was my first experience on a professional stage with band members who had already cut their teeth in the business.
But, do you know something? The crowd loved our music. There were happy faces everywhere and when I looked down on this scene from the stage, I knew there and then that this was to be the life for me.
We were certainly not the best band in the world, but if the Lord loves a trier, he must be dying about me.
We did our best and slowly, over a period of time the band began to take shape, bookings were coming in and we actually took the bold step of making a record.
Little did I know then that Dear God was to prove a massive hit for me, or, indeed, had I the slightest inkling that, 48 years later, virtually to the day, I would be sharing the stage with what is currently regarded as the hottest act in Ireland.
That was in the Armagh City Hotel on Easter Monday, when I was in the company of Nathan Carter in concert and I could not help but reflect back on that night in Newtownstewart all those years ago when I was extremely wet behind the ears in terms of entertaining people.
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And I also had a figure that would rival Nathan Carter's today! I suppose you could say, in retrospect, what Wagon Wheel did for Nathan, Dear God did for me, except that he was able to profit more from his venture into the recording sphere.
Ironically, he made his professional debut in this country just a few miles from where the marquee - sorry, tent - in which I made my debut was located.
It was in the Mellon Country Hotel, just down the road from Newtownstewart, that Nathan took his first, faltering steps on the road to stardom, but I can assure you that the pace soon quickened. He tells me that he will be playing at various festivals over the course of the summer and he is still very appreciative of the support he receives from his followers.
Obviously, festivals tend to be held in state-of-the art marquees now, some of which contain facilities similar to those in hotels.
Time has certainly moved on, but I, nonetheless, am very grateful to be able to still perform on stage and undertake the travel and preparation necessary for this.
Come to think of it, I could not have asked for a better life, and one element which has given me great satisfaction is that I am still being asked to sing Dear God everywhere I appear.
I just hope that Nathan is blessed with a similarly lengthy stage career. In other words, I hope he is still singing Wagon Wheel half-a-century on from now.
Meanwhile, I was performing at the annual Easter Tuesday concert which well-known north-west entertainer Steve Farlow hosts in the Lodge Hotel, Coleraine.
Billy McFarland and Curtis Magee were among the other performers at the show.
Steve has had his health problems but has not allowed these to deflect him from enjoying his music.
It's typical of his courage that, when he found he was unable to use his right hand, he spent hours working on playing the piano with his left hand, to the extent that he is now extremely comfortable with this. He can now go on stage with anyone.
His parents, Margaret and John, and wife Pauline have been giving him every support and the upshot is that Steve is playing as much as ever.
And there will be plenty of playing today at the Tommy Makem Centre in Keady, from where we will be hosting a BBC Radio Ulster outside broadcast.
Mike Denver, John Glenn, Brandon McPhee, Stuart Moyles, Ciaran Rosney, Boxcar Brian, Crawford Bell and Country Harmony will be on the bill and you can be sure of a first-class programme of entertainment.
With that lot on board, I wonder will there be room for me?
Foster and Allen still going strong
I bumped into Tony Allen, of Foster and Allen fame, at a concert over the course of the weekend.
Foster and Allen are preparing for a five-week tour of New Zealand and, when they return, they will be fulfilling a series of summer dates that will take them to most counties.
Tony, who is a devoted fan of the Westmeath gaelic football team and was delighted to see the county gain promotion earlier this month, now lives in Lurgan, from where his wife Triona - a very talented singer in her own right, by the way - hails.
She travels the world with Daniel O'Donnell as a backing vocalist and has also enjoyed success in the recording sphere.
Foster and Allen are not only iconic figures on the Irish entertainment scene, they are household names across Europe, the United States and in countries such as Australia and Canada.
Even after 40-odd years together, they show no sign of growing tired of touring, yet they have not lost the common touch. If they were called upon to sing a song in a pub, they would gladly oblige.
While their music has earned them massive popularity, their easy-going demeanour and outlook on life has also made a great impact on all.
They look as if they are destined to continue for some time to come, too!
Philomena on the mend
I was in touch with Philomena Begley the other day and I was delighted to learn that she is in great form again following a slight health hiccup.
Never one to let anything get her down, Philomena is back in her touring routine, bringing her music to all parts of the country.
While many of us of a certain vintage are occasionally afflicted by what I like to call "temporary ailments", we all believe that the show must go on.
It is not always sunshine and fun when you are going on stage burdened by pain, or illness, but I have long since discovered that many entertainers are prepared to overlook these handicaps in order not to disappoint their followers. I certainly have always lived by this philosophy.
I have always found music and song to be therapeutic and I think that is one of the reasons why many entertainers are reluctant to take their leave of the stage for good.
When I look around me and see people like Philomena, Susan McCann (left), Brendan Shine, Roly Daniels, Brendan Quinn, Brian Coll, Ray Lynam, Frankie McBride and others continuing to perform after several decades in their roles, I begin to understand just what their music means to them.
And while these artists are very professional at what they do, they also have a sense of fun.
They enjoy their work and I have no doubt that this is what helps to fashion their outlook on life.
They are generally upbeat and positive and that's something which comes across and helps to bolster people with whom they come into contact on a daily basis.
My advice to them would be - keep on truckin'!