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Hugo Duncan: Cliona Hagan and other young guns of country music in Northern Ireland

By Hugo Duncan

Almost a decade has elapsed since Nathan Carter not so much burst as tip-toed onto the Irish country music scene. When popular Donegal promoter Paddy Bradley offered the-then teenage Liverpool singer a solo slot at the Allingham Arms Hotel in Bundoran, his distinctive singing style and engaging personality caught the imagination.

Within a comparatively short period of time, he had formed his own band and achieved initial success in the recording sphere. The rest, as they say, is history.

Nathan's arrival into what was a rather quiet scene provided the spark that was to see a number of newcomers emerge - but not all tasted the same level of success.

Derek Ryan and Lisa McHugh have charted successful courses, while performers of more recent vintage, such as Cliona Hagan, Barry Kirwan and Ciaran Rosney, have also stamped their own imprint on the tapestry of Irish entertainment.

In doing so, they have helped to breathe further life into country dancing, in particular, and triggered a fresh wave of optimism within this sphere.

In an era when higher standards are expected by a demanding public and artistes are generally afforded only a limited timespan in which to make their mark, it is not surprising to note the enthusiasm and commitment which the new breed of country singers bring to the table.

Ardboe songstress Cliona Hagan has certainly made an impact since I first heard her, on account of her dynamic stage style and impressive singing voice.

She was named Female Vocalist of the Year at the prestigious Irish Post Country Music Awards in 2017 and is looking forward to the release of her second album later this year.

Omagh man Barry Kirwan, meanwhile, looks destined to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious father, Dominic.

And even though he has only been on the road with his multi-talented band for four months, Offaly native Ciaran Rosney has already laid down a marker to the effect that he is quite capable of challenging the big guns.

Ciaran has certainly surrounded himself with very talented musicians and already he has been receiving rave notices for the quality of his performances.

Under the direction of Joe Finnegan (of The Three Amigos fame), Ciaran is poised to climb up the popularity ladder.

He is particularly keen to attain success in Ulster, which he views as "the bedrock of country dancing", and, to this end, he is currently fulfilling a number of engagements here.

Not only is Ciaran an accomplished singer, but he is also a very proficient guitarist. He is one of only three country artistes who fulfil the dual role of lead vocalist and lead guitarist with their bands, the others being Declan Nerney and Gerry Guthrie.

Every new singer, in particular, craves a hit record - aware that this can prove their passport to the big time and, perhaps, to untold riches. But success comes to only the chosen few.

Yet, the incentive is there for everyone to do their best behind the microphone and in so doing bring further impetus to the country music scene.

They deserve every encouragement in their endeavours, and I for one would like to see new stars emerge to ensure the continued passion for country music and dancing.

Strike up the band, ye boy ye!

Moore's the merrier as Lisa and Seamus roll into Ballymena

Two people for whom I have particular affection will be appearing on our BBC Radio Ulster outside broadcast from Ballee playing fields in Ballymena today (1.30pm).

Lisa McHugh and Seamus Moore may come from rather contrasting backgrounds, but they share a common bond in that they are both very polished entertainers.

Lisa, who was born in Scotland, has made great strides in the country music arena here and is currently in the throes of a hectic itinerary of summer festival engagements, which is taking her to all arts and parts of Ireland.

I know her family well and they have always given her immense support in her rise to the top.

While Lisa continues to log up the miles in this country, she will be returning to her native Scotland for a concert tour in September.

Seamus Moore has been living in London for decades, but he comes over to Ireland to spend the summer here, bringing his one-man show to venues everywhere.

Warm, friendly and possessing an infectious sense of humour, Seamus is well-known for his novelty recordings such as Flash The Lights, The JCB Song and Me Galluses and Me Gansy.

On Monday, our programme will be broadcast from the Red Sails Festival in Portstewart. We will have a number of country singers strutting their stuff, including Owen Mac, Billy McFarland, Curtis Magee, Boxcar Brian and Bernie Heaney.

The last named is a very popular artiste from the midlands of Ireland, who has been making inroads as a country singer of note and is now well-known on the cabaret and concert scene.

She will be making a rare appearance in this part of the world and I hope she is accorded a particularly warm welcome in Portstewart.

Rosie and Johnny Brown are among the numbers Bernie has recorded to date and which have helped to keep her in the spotlight.

Meeting Cathal reminded me of his big-hearted family

The other day, I had the opportunity to take a trip down memory lane in the company of former rally driver Cathal Curley.

The Fermanagh man made his name in the world of motorsport, and has also been involved in the administration of greyhound racing.

His brother, Barney Curley, was prominent in Irish entertainment circles, and I first came into contact with him in the early 1970s.

It was while I was involved with Barney and my then manager Greg Hughes (who attained fame as a footballer with Offaly) that I had the rare distinction of achieving a number one hit in the Irish charts with the Patsy Cline composition Dear God - a song I am still requested to perform to this day every time I take to the stage.

Barney was extremely knowledgeable in relation to the emerging music scene in Ireland, which saw the rise of the showband boom in the 1960s and 1970s.

He also had ties with Frankie McBride and the Polka Dots.

Many will remember Frankie's massive hit Five Little Fingers, which earned him widespread public acclaim before he then went on to become one of Ireland's most accomplished country singers.

Barney is still as active as ever today, I believe, and is fully committed to a charitable fundraising enterprise.

As someone who always gave 100% effort to whatever he was involved in, I would imagine that any organisation for which Barney is working would benefit strongly from his endeavours.

It's always refreshing to meet up with people I have known in the past and to see them very much involved in community affairs.

The Curley family is well-known in Ulster, and they have made a great contribution to life in this part of the world.

Belfast Telegraph

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