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Hugo Duncan: Fans won't be starved of our leading music stars and dances during Lent


Big favourites: Cliona Hagan
Big favourites: Cliona Hagan

By Hugo Duncan

The passage of time invariably brings with it many changes. Some of the most marked alterations have taken place in relation to the social lives of the population as a whole.

The reason I am in such a reflective mood is because this week signalled the beginning of Lent and, as most folk know, this was, in the past, a period when many people refrained from attending dances and other functions.

For many years, when I was on the road with my band, we headed off to England for a spell in Lent, because dancing in parochial - and, indeed, other - venues in this country was a no-no then.

It was very different in England, though. We were able to perform at places such as the Gresham Ballroom in Holloway Road and the Galtymore in Cricklewood, where there would be hundreds of people jiving the night away.

The vast majority were Irish, or of Irish descent, and had they been here in Ireland, they might only have been able to warm their toes at the fire.

One of the reasons why singers such as the late Big Tom, Brian Coll, Susan McCann, Philomena Begley, Brendan Shine, Ray Lynam, Joe Dolan, Gene Stuart and others became so popular was because they were able to attract huge crowds to venues across the water.

It's worth pointing out, too, that these were for the most part "dry halls" in those days, when alcoholic beverages tended to be conspicuous by their absence.

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Even on Good Friday in England, it would have been dancing as usual and, when you think that it's only in the last few years that the licensing laws have been relaxed on this particular day in Ireland, it shows you the level of patience the people have had to observe.

People like Big Tom, Brian Coll, Philomena Begley and others were the equivalent then of your modern-day Nathan Carter, Derek Ryan, or Cliona Hagan and they enjoyed massive popularity, with hundreds of people surrounding the stage while they played at dances clearly in awe of the performers.

The people were just fascinated at seeing the stars in the flesh and it always seemed to me that dancing in England got a shot in the arm during Lent, because it was frowned upon to a certain extent in this country.

That, of course, is no longer the case. I was just leafing through some forthcoming events at the start of this week and I could hardly believe the number of high-profile country music events that are due to take place in Ireland this month.

Not surprisingly, the St Patrick's Day weekend is bursting with entertainment, while over the course of the month, there are innumerable concerts, country dancing weekends and the usual plethora of weekly dances in venues as far apart as Omagh and Cork.

And it's worth pointing out that, in contrast to the Sixties and Seventies, all these events take place in plush hotels, where people enjoy top-class cuisine and dance the night away in luxurious ballrooms.

People will still yearn for the old days, but there is no doubt that everyone has now become accustomed to comfort and style - it is quite clear that second-best is not good enough.

Many of the people who did very well for themselves in England and Scotland have returned and settled here and are contributing to the economy, because of the fact that they have opened their own businesses.

It's great to see, too, that, after all these years, country music still plays a big part in the lives of many people here.

I never cease to be surprised by the vivid memories which many people retain from the Sixties and Seventies and I honestly believe that those memories are cherished simply because the music meant so much to the people.

Indeed, it was often a bond with home when they were living in different locations around the globe.

Those memories may vary from happy to sad, but they are meaningful nonetheless on an individual level.

Barry and I wing our way to Larne

Tomorrow night, I am appearing in the Pigeon Club in Larne along with popular Co Down entertainer Barry Doyle.

I have, of course, done many shows with Barry, who is never short of a quip.

When we found out that we would be performing together, Barry said: “We’ll be flying high at the Pigeon Club, Hugo!”

My experience of pigeons would not necessarily come under the banner of entertainment, though.

It would be quite the opposite, indeed, as on more than one occasion I have been the target for their droppings, as I told Barry.

“And I can tell you this,” I added. “The hardest part is trying to clean up the mess.

“It certainly leaves its mark!”

Belfast Telegraph


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