Hugo Duncan: Curtis hits the right note with star-studded show for a worthy cause
Curtis Magee is one of Ulster's most popular solo country singers and the status he currently enjoys will be emphasised over the coming days when he hosts his annual Country Fanfayre at The Lodge Hotel in Coleraine.
From Sunday until Wednesday inclusive, an array of artistes will perform at what is now regarded as one of the major country music and dancing events on the provincial entertainment calendar.
Thirteen years have elapsed since Curtis hosted his first annual jamboree and the show has improved year on year, with more artistes than ever now on the bill.
"The show has grown with the passing of time and a lot of people now look forward to it," says Curtis. "As well as providing a feast of music and dancing, we also raise money for charity and this has helped to underpin the success of the Fanfayre."
Indeed, Curtis has raised well over £25,000 for various charities spanning the past 13 years and last year he raised £2,000 for Mountfern Special Needs Centre in Coleraine.
This year's chosen charity is Causeway Community Search and Rescue.
"The Fanfayre has many regular patrons who love it so much that they come back year after year, as they always have a cracking good time," points out Curtis.
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For those staying in the hotel for the duration of the Fanfayre, there will be wall-to-wall country music. This includes the popular The Fanfayre's Got Talent on Monday and then the annual music party on Tuesday afternoon for special needs and day centres in the area, who have a great time dancing to the music, with surprise guest appearances by other artistes.
Every night there is music and dancing in the hotel ballroom from 9pm until approximately 1am. Joining Curtis on stage will be a host of fellow stars and friends from the country music world.
On Sunday night, Curtis will be linking up with the multi-talented musician Johnny 'Fingers' McHugh, plus guest artistes such as the amazing young Owen Mac, along with Co Tyrone's very own Lisa McCrory and the popular Barry Doyle Duo. Resident for the duration of the Fanfayre is compere and comedian Gary Wilson, who basks in the title of 'Ireland's Clown Price of Comedy'.
On Monday, a galaxy of stars will join Curtis for the night, including yours truly, and it's certainly a night to which I am looking forward.
I have been performing at the Fanfayre for years and I always manage to catch the eye of Curtis's mother, who has a front-row seat in the hotel for every performance.
Also on stage will be the talented Gary Gamble with his Daniel O'Donnell tribute act, country and radio favourite Boxcar Brian, plus Country Harmony, Johnny 'Fingers' McHugh and Gary Wilson.
On Tuesday, Curtis welcomes to the stage from Co Offaly a young singer by the name of Olivia Douglas, who is making a big name for herself.
I have watched her perform quite often and I am always impressed by her dedication and professionalism.
Wednesday next will be farewell party night and this will see Curtis joined on stage by his daughters, Natasha and Shannon, along with Johnny 'Fingers' and Gary Wilson. Natasha has a new single out, entitled Positivi-Tea, which I understand is getting loads of radio plays.
Making his first Fanfayre appearance will be Michael Mawhinney, another new singer on the block. Michael has been making steady progress and looks destined to attain further success.
Also on Wednesday night, local Elvis impersonator Andy Rodgers will bring his own special talents to the party.
Doors open each evening at 8.30pm.
Reception for country music fit for a president
I am on a rare day off from BBC Radio Ulster today - and for a very good reason.
I am attending a reception at Aras An Uachtarain in Dublin, where President Michael D Higgins is hosting a special celebration of Irish country music.
It's a novel occasion and the president is certainly showing great enthusiasm for honouring many of those whom he regards as having kept the country music flag flying in Ireland for many years.
I must say, I feel honoured to be included in their number and you could say that I have something to celebrate myself, given that it will soon be 50 years since I recorded Dear God, the number with which I have become most synonymous.
There are many apart from me, of course, who have done much to keep country music and dancing alive in Ireland down through the years. The country phenomenon came in the wake of the showband era and many singers who were popular with their own bands in the Seventies and Eighties subsequently went on to score more success as country artistes.
Sadly, there are some, like Big Tom, Larry Cunningham and Gene Stuart, who have passed on, but nevertheless they have left a wonderful legacy through their superb music.
President Higgins is anxious that country music should continue to prosper in Ireland and he will trace its progress today.
When I initially received my formal invitation, I thought it was someone having a laugh. But when I confirmed acceptance of the invitation to Aras An Uachtarain, I soon discovered that it was anything but a joke.
Indeed, President Higgins himself has taken a hands-on approach to today's celebrations and this I feel is indicative of his interest in country music.
Today is the second day time for me to take part in a celebration of Irish country music at Aras an Uachtarain.
When President Mary McAleese was in residence there, I was also invited to a similar function of which I retain very warm memories.
Next call will be to the Palace. Arise, Sir Hugh!
It's a family affair for talented McConnell clan
There is certainly a very marked emphasis currently on the family flavour that is pronounced in country music in this part of the world.
A recent Late Late Show on RTE highlighted this, with many top artistes performing alongside close relatives.
Tonight, the family element will be very much to the fore at Derrygonnelly Community Centre in Fermanagh, when local singer Dermot McConnell formally releases his new album. Dermot has assembled a top-class list of artistes who will perform at the occasion and I am delighted to have been asked along.
I know Dermot by reputation to be a fine country singer and tonight he will be joined on stage by his daughter, Rachel, who is due to release a new single.
Among the other artistes performing on the night will be Mick Flavin, Paul Kelly, Boxcar Brian and Vincent Walmsley, so it should be quite a show.
Tomorrow, country music will be very much on the menu when the annual Strawberry Fair festival is staged in the Church Of Ireland grounds in Sion Mills.
And, as well as the music, there will be a host of stalls and features at this event, which is one of the summer highlights in north Tyrone.
There is always a tremendous atmosphere at the festival, with people of all age groups coming together to join in the fun.
On Sunday, the annual Craic on the Track jamboree will take place at the racecourse in Roscommon town, where leading artistes, such as Mike Denver, Nathan Carter and many others, will be performing in what has become one of the highest-profile outdoor events in the country.
Joe Finnegan, from Shannonside Northern Sound Radio, is the man with his finger on the pulse of operations there.
Now is the time to get fighting fit
In view of the fact that we have a number of outside broadcasts over the course of the next two months, I have decided on what you might call a self-imposed fitness regime.
I propose to do more walking and taking additional exercise, as well as eating more salads as opposed to my regular dietary intake.
I have developed some dubious eating habits of late and I think it is time to amend this situation.
I think that this has come about because of the fact that I have been used to dining at what you might describe as irregular hours.
I suppose most of us are filled with good intentions when the summer comes round, because it can be rather easier to make self-sacrifices in the better weather.
But I have made my mind up: now that I’m 40, I’m determined to look after myself!