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Hugo Duncan: Comedian Brendan Grace was a man who captivated us all

Star turn: Brendan Grace, who once performed for Frank Sinatra
Star turn: Brendan Grace, who once performed for Frank Sinatra
Roly Daniels

By Hugo Duncan

I was greatly saddened to learn of the passing of top Irish comedian Brendan Grace yesterday morning, following a period of illness.

Born in Dublin, Brendan began his entertainment career as a singer, but later turned to comedy, becoming well-known for characters like Bottler and the Father of the Bride.

He was also an actor, acclaimed for roles including Fr Fintan Stack in Father Ted.

His 1975 song Combine Harvester was a number one hit in Ireland.

In more recent years, he divided his time between Ireland and the US, although he continued to tour extensively in this country due to popular demand.

Brendan was an institution in entertainment circles, a man whose humour, anecdotes and singing captivated us all.

His shows invariably were sell-outs, such was the public enthusiasm for his down-to-earth humour.

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I got to know him quite well over the course of the 1970s and 1980s and had the pleasure of working with him on numerous occasions. I always found him the most engaging company.

He never lost the common touch, despite his fame, and he was a devoted family man. He could always find a funny side to everything, such was his creativity and professionalism.

He was full of life, ever-jovial and, as they say, up for the craic. He brought laughter into the lives of countless thousands of Irish people and helped them to forget their worries and cares for a little while when they attended his shows.

He had many friends throughout the country, not just in the entertainment sphere, but in all walks of life.

He had suffered ill-health, but continued to perform and tour and had been due to tour Ireland this summer before being diagnosed with cancer.

Tom Kelly, who was Brendan's booking agent for 27 years, said he was "one of the greatest entertainers of this era".

Tom recalled the occasion on which Brendan performed for Frank Sinatra. He explained that Sinatra had been performing in Ireland, with Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jnr, and had requested to hear an Irish comedian.

Tom said: "Sinatra fell about the place laughing at him."

Brendan subsequently went on to perform with Sinatra in London and America.

Raising a glass to wonderful joker

I treasured my friendship with the late Brendan Grace after initially meeting him in the 1970s, when I used to play in Dublin quite often with my band.

When we got together, the craic was mighty - it was just one joke after another, although Brendan always had the upper hand on me in this respect.

We enjoyed a little liquid refreshment together on the odd occasion, especially after we had performed together on the same show.

It was on one such occasion - and I'm very much delving into the dim and distant past here - that Brendan took the audience by surprise when he announced, while I was standing on the stage with him: "I'm sure that not many of you know that Hugo and I are related."

There were a lot of puzzled faces staring up at us, so Brendan thought it advisable to provide further clarification of his revelation by saying: "We are, indeed, related - through drink!"

Ageless Roly still has talent and charisma to get the fans up and dancing

The summer months often bring an added dimension to the Irish entertainment scene, with outdoor shows and concerts which invariably bring people flocking to them.

And it is also a period of the year in which many performers get their opportunity to step into the limelight.

One such performer is the seemingly ageless Roly Daniels, who is still going as strong as ever.

It was several decades ago that Roly arrived in England from his native India with very little money in his pocket, as he will tell you himself.

He was brought over by Louis Rodgers, the impresario father of singer Clodagh Rodgers, for an audition, but with the emphasis at that time very much on groups, such as The Beatles, the opportunities for a solo performer were limited.

It was a whole new world for Roly, who spent one of his early nights in England on a seat in the foyer of a hotel and woke up in the morning to find a crowd of people, as he thought, staring at him.

But they were, in fact, looking at the television above his head - the problem for Roly was that he had never seen a television before.

Roly subsequently travelled to Ireland and when, in time, it was discovered that he could warble a song or two, he eventually drifted into a band as the third singer.

Slowly but surely, he worked his way up to become the second singer in the outfit before taking on the role of lead singer.

Since then - and this was in the showband era - Roly has never looked back. Not only is he a top-quality singer, but he is an all-round entertainer, someone who radiates a tremendous presence and can handle any song.

Indeed, Roly is noted for the meticulous manner in which he presents his songs.

Not for him a throwaway number. Instead, he puts his heart and soul into every song that he sings and this is what has made him such a professional, assured performer.

When you listen to Roly singing songs such as Hello Darlin', I Will Love You All My Life, Part of Me Will Always Be In Love With You and Mr Jones, you know that you are enjoying the music of a man who has remained at the top of his profession.

Ireland not only provided Roly with a platform on which to make the most of his singing talents, but it also provided him with a wife, when he met the beautiful Sara Casey from Downings in Co Donegal, with whom he fell in love and married.

The couple have two daughters and Roly will tell you that one of the most memorable experiences of his life has been to take one of them back to the Jubbulpore area in India where he grew up.

This revived memories of his childhood, which was spent in an area that was in sharp contrast to his life spent since in the affluent Dublin suburbs.

But singing is only part of Roly's range of talents. When I meet up with him, I am always taken by his anecdotes and the great joy which he obviously derives from outlining them to me. Do you know, I think he should have been a novelist.

He has a vast fund of stories and I never tire of listening to him recount these. They are certainly a tonic if I happen to be enduring a bad day at the office.

When he was fronting the Nevada Showband, along with female vocalist Kelly, Roly came into his own; his vibrant, all-action style making him a big hit with dancers in every venue in which he played.

He was never less than immaculately turned out too, which added to his undoubted charisma.

In more recent years, Roly has morphed into a top cabaret performer and he also undertakes concert tours.

As a solo performer, Roly is in a class of his own in my book. His powerful, rich voice is instantly recognisable, while the smooth manner in which he delivers slow numbers and ballads sets him apart from his peers.

Long may he be spared to entertain us here in Ireland.

Twins Paul and Aidan hitting all the right notes

From time to time, we are inundated with phone calls, emails and texts in our BBC Radio Ulster studio after a particular song or interview has been aired.

This was very much the case after the Heggarty twins, Paul and Aidan, from Markethill, joined the talented Kelly Smiley in singing Be Nobody's Darling But Mine.

I was very impressed with the reaction. The song is, indeed, a beautiful number and the boys and Kelly do it more than justice.

It will surprise no one that quite a lot of the responses to the number and the interview came from the Orchard County, where they are obviously very popular.

Modest to a fault, the brothers portray the genuine face of country music. Their biggest fan is their mother Maureen who takes a keen interest in their careers and, from what I have heard, has given them a helping hand along the way.

I think it's great to see people from a particular area getting behind artists from their part of the world.

This certainly provides singers with the impetus to strive to be the best they can be and Paul and Aidan Heggarty are always aiming to do just that. They both work in a Markethill supermarket and, not surprisingly, they have many fans among the staff and customers.

I am told that they are particularly popular with the ladies there as they help to wheel out and unload trollies.

I must be off my trolley, because when I go shopping in Strabane I have to do everything myself.

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