Hugo Duncan: David Hull brought cream of country to these shores... and remains a class act
When David Hull established what he describes as "the most modest of offices" in the back room of a building in Great Victoria Street in Belfast over 40 years ago as he began to take his first, faltering steps as an entertainment agent, he little dreamt that he would be working in rather more plush surroundings today.
It was after trying his hand at various occupations, ranging from barman to courier, that David decided to go for broke and take the plunge into showbusiness - but at a time when the Troubles were rife and entertainment had been consigned to the back of the minds of most people.
Undaunted, David ploughed a lone furrow, but, in time, he was to play a central role in bringing some of the top country acts in the world to Ulster.
Tammy Wynette, Don Williams, Charlie Landsborough, Foster and Allen, Patrick Kielty and the late Joe Dolan - these are just some of the superstars with whom David has forged both a professional and personal relationship.
Skip forward to today and David is currently staging shows that feature Scottish accordion ace and singer Brandon McPhee, Jake O'Kane, Flash Harry, Phil Coulter and, would you believe it, the Kilfenora Ceili Band.
He has long since vacated the small room in downtown Belfast to move to his current plush offices in the university area.
It's the part he is credited with in helping to underpin the growth in popularity in country music that has endeared the affable David to many in the province.
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"Obviously, there has been a keen enthusiasm for country music down through the decades and much of this interest stemmed from the success of outfits like Big Tom and The Mainliners, Larry Cunningham and The Mighty Avons, Brian Coll and The Buckaroos, Philomena Begley and The Ramblin' Men and Susan McCann and The Storytellers at the height of the showband boom," points out David.
"I think these bands left a rich musical legacy that has provided the inspiration for the likes of Jimmy Buckley, Derek Ryan, Mike Denver and Robert Mizzell to make their mark."
While his overall operation spans different genres of music, David concedes that he has a special place in his heart for country music.
I should know, too, because he has staged Hugo Duncan and Friends on more occasions than I might care to remember.
Yet, I always see the same passion and dedication in evidence when David is even talking about country music, never mind staging it.
"I believe that, here in Ulster, many people share a rapport with country music. It may not be the choice of everyone, I admit that, but you have to say that those who take country music seriously love their concerts, their jiving and the hit records that are part and parcel of the current music scene here," stresses David.
With his Rock 'n' Roll Years and Dance Hall Days production now in its fifth year and the Do You Come Here Often? annual spectacular having enjoyed a protracted life-span of 21 years, David could be said to be focussing a spotlight on the past.
Right now, he is working on the play Keep Telling Me Lies, a story from the female perspective about the showband years, which will tour. He is also involved in Charlie Landsborough's Farewell UK tour.
For the Do You Come Here Often? spectaculars, no expense was spared in bringing Brendan Bowyer and D J Curtin over from the US to perform in Belfast, while Gregory Donaghy, who formerly sang with The Cadets showband and had such a monster hit with More Than Yesterday, was persuaded at travel from his base in Canada.
David also brought singers such as Dickie Rock, Eileen Reid, Roly Daniels and Sandy Kelly, as well as Susan McCann and Philomena Begley to his super production in Belfast, which presented Irish entertainment in a new light.
And we must not forget the massive contributions that George Jones and Crawford Bell made to the ongoing success of Do You Come Here Often? in their roles of MC and musical director respectively.
From my own experience, I must say I have always found it a pleasure to work with David and his team, who have done so much to promote local artistes.
It would be hard to find a more professional or genuine person.
Daisy Lodge worth making a song and dance about
Barry Doyle has been a favourite singer on the Ulster entertainment scene for some time now, but while he is invariably busy, he still takes time out to assist worthy causes.
Last Friday night, Barry hosted a barbecue and mini-country music festival at his home deep in the heart of the Mournes in aid of the Daisy Lodge Cancer Care Centre in Newcastle.
Barry, never one to do things by halves, transformed his home into a country music setting and invited along people like Billy McFarland, Boxcar Brian, Trevor Dixon and others to participate in the revelry.
This was the third year in succession that Barry organised such a jamboree in aid of Daisy Lodge and his venture was very well-supported.
Sean Wallace, who has also been doing magnificent work over recent years in raising money for Daisy Lodge, was there and brought us up to date on the progress which the centre is making.
My own daughter, Suzanne, enjoyed a break there, following her operation for cancer two years ago and when my wife, Joan, and I visited her there, we were even treated to Sunday lunch and it went down a treat.
To say we were impressed by the facilities and by the warmth of the welcome we received would be an understatement.
The staff are superb, the atmosphere is very comforting and welcoming and I am told that the patients derive great benefits from being there.
The fact that it is in a particularly picturesque area of Newcastle lends to the centre's appeal and I think it is great to see the community supporting the efforts of the staff and others who do such great work.
Magnificent Margo shows that she's still on song
She may be celebrating 55 years in the entertainment business, but the passing years have not prevented popular country singer Margo from marking this career milestone in style.
Next Tuesday, she will be performing in concert at the Mount Errigal Hotel, Letterkenny, where she seems assured of another of the rapturous receptions that have been par for the course since she commenced her tour earlier in the summer.
Margo - Daniel O'Donnell's sister - is extremely popular in her own right and is proving that, even though a singer may not be in the public eye all the time, fans can still remain extremely loyal.
In Margo's case, this was highlighted when some 1,500 people attended her recent concert at the INEC in Killarney, where she brought the house down, I believe.
I will have the pleasure of performing alongside Margo at next Tuesday's concert in Letterkenny, while the popular Trudi Lalor will also be on the bill.
Margo, who has always tended to hide her light under a bushel, is singing as well as ever and shows great enthusiasm for performing, even after all these years. I know she is particularly excited about going back to perform in her native Donegal and I am sure it will be very much of a homecoming for her.
Meanwhile, Bernie Heaney is another well-known female singer who is in the spotlight at the moment.
Bernie, who forms a very popular two-piece group along with Sean Moran, the former drummer in Mike Denver's band, has released a new single, Rosie, which I recorded on an album some 30 years ago.
Certainly, Bernie's interpretation of the number makes it sound newly minted and it should prove a stepping-stone towards further popularity for her.