Hugo Duncan: Get on the blower... class act trumpet player Billy McFarland is still going with another new album
They say that time waits for no man, but in the case of Billy McFarland I suspect that time has stood still. The seemingly ageless Ahoghill musician has been performing for more years than he might care to remember. Yet here he is, having just brought out a new album, which he has followed with a new single this week.
There are few people in the country music sphere who have experienced the longevity that has been Billy's blessing.
I well remember, at the height of the showband boom, Billy was right at the centre of the action as the front man with his own Students showband.
It was, perhaps, an apt name for the band, given that Billy has long since graduated as a student from the university of life.
Hugely successful in business, well-known throughout the province, a tireless charity worker and the life and soul of any party, Billy is, to my mind, a one-off.
At a stage in life when most people of his vintage would be only too glad to put their feet up and settle for nothing more strenuous than watching Strictly Come Dancing, Billy is out there in the field, still providing the music for dancing feet - and, by the looks of it, continuing to enjoy every minute he spends on stage.
I first got to know Billy many years ago and since then our paths have crossed on a regular basis at shows, concerts, dances and charity events.
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He's always the same, too - courteous, helpful and enthusiastic, someone to whom nothing is too much trouble, a man who makes friends easily.
Right now, his diary is as full as it was when the Students showband were travelling the length and breadth of Ireland performing at dances in the glory days of the showband era.
Billy always managed to juggle his life as a businessman with his career as an entertainer, the two going hand-in-hand.
Indeed, I well remember him telling me that he had never been a full-time professional musician, but yet he encountered no difficulty in working by day and working by night.
Nowadays, no concert programme could be said to be complete without Billy's name being included.
Not only is he still a fine singer, but his trumpet-playing is as good as ever - especially when he launches into his favourite number, Oh My Papa.
Nor does Billy confine his energies to the stage. He is a popular presenter on Radio Cracker, on which he ensures that country music is given a high profile.
Along with his charming wife, Nan, Billy does not spare himself in doing his bit for charitable causes and he certainly does not have to be asked twice to perform at any fundraising event.
And he is always on hand to offer advice to young up-and-coming singers when asked to do so. It would be a foolish person, indeed, who would not take on board the advice which Billy might be prepared to impart.
I, for one, have reason to be deeply grateful for this thoughtfulness and kind words when, for different reasons, my daughter, Suzanne, and I were experiencing difficulties in our lives. Billy's understanding and sympathetic approach did much to encourage us and help us on our way.
I have always maintained that he is someone who can induce the smile factor, a person who lights up a room when he enters it.
Goodness knows, at the present time, with all that is going on around us, we have an extra-special reason for hoping that a ray of sunlight pierces our lives.
For now, though, Billy's focus is on promoting his new single and album, which he recorded along with Trionagh Moore, wife of Tony Allen of Foster and Allen fame and a backing vocalist with Daniel O'Donnell's band for many years - indeed, someone who is very much a celebrity in her own right and a great singer.
Billy, meanwhile, is just getting on with what he does best - putting his best foot forward when on stage and brightening up the lives of those who have the pleasure of listening to him.
Viva Espana... I'm off for some fun in the sun with cream of country music
I'm off to the sun this weekend - but definitely not in holiday mood.
The only 'holiday' I ever had was three days honeymoon spent in Dublin in 1970, when I took my new bride to the city in a wee blue Mini - and not a mini-skirt!
For several years now, I have been privileged to be part of Declan Nerney's famed Hooley in the Sun and in the early hours of Sunday morning I will be jetting out to Costa De La Luz, Spain where I will join Declan and his band as well as a host of other entertainers as they lap up a week of country music in warm sunshine.
Declan's Hooley is now a much looked forward to annual event, with some people having been regular patrons since its inception.
Declan, of course, is one of our most popular country entertainers and when he first mooted his Hooley concept it was thought that it might prove too ambitious.
Not a bit of it, though. The fact that he has managed to secure so many of Ireland's leading country singers helps to make the week fly by.
Philomena Begley, Brendan Shine, Dominic Kirwan, Trudi Lalor and Barry Kirwan will be among those providing the music and song.
Not only is there a feast of entertainment every evening, but there is singing and dancing by the poolside every afternoon.
I must say, it's an event at which I enjoy performing, because there is always a good atmosphere.
People from all parts of Ireland are united under the Hooley banner and they certainly let their hair down in style.
It will be a pleasure to link up again with people like Brendan Shine and Dominic Kirwan for what I feel will be a great experience.
I know that most people who go on the Hooley treat it as their annual holiday and it's easy to understand why. The living is easy, the craic is mighty and the music unending.
Sure, who could ask for more?
Matthew shows there's still plenty of fresh talent
One of the brightest singing talents in the country is Matthew O'Donnell and I'm delighted to say that I will be sharing the stage with him at a gala show in the Drummond Hotel, Ballykelly on Friday, October 18.
Since releasing his hit single, Johnny and Sally, Matthew has made steady progress with his talented band and has just returned from a successful Scottish tour.
His lively repertoire suggests that he could make further headway and I feel that it's to people like him we should look when we are focussing on fresh talent.
It's some time since I have performed in the Drummond Hotel, which was, at one stagem a popular dancing venue. Indeed, I myself had many enjoyable nights there. I recall playing there for well-known promoter Cecil Thompson in the 1970s. Matthew O'Donnell and his band will be joined by Big Chief Geronimo from The Indians and the hugely talented Shannon Murphy, along with myself, so hopefully it will be a good night from every perspective.
Meanwhile, Portadown will certainly reverberate to the sound of country music tomorrow when the annual Country Comes to Town festival reaches its climax.
For some years now, this event has proved hugely popular, drawing as it does thousands of visitors from over a wide area. There are many elements to the festival, including country music, which is performed on different stages in the town over the course of the day.
A number of country music acts will be participating and the indications are that things should really go with a swing.
The organisers who got the festival up-and-running some years ago have certainly helped to establish the event as an annual affair.
I remember going to the festival some years ago in the company of my hero, the late Gene Stuart, to perform on the street at different locations and on the way home we had a good bite of grub.
The festival has appeal for all age-groups and there is certainly something for everyone on the menu.