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Hugo Duncan: Global superstar Daniel O'Donnell is happiest when in Ireland

By Hugo Duncan

When most country acts participate in performances, they are generally labelled as concerts. But when Daniel O'Donnell breezes into town, it becomes a must-see event.

This will be the case when the Donegal superstar takes to the stage at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast in December.

It's a year since he last appeared in the city, but so much seems to be happening in Daniel's life that it seems longer than that.

He is seldom off our television screens, he appears to be in demand for every possible promotion and his popularity just seems to mushroom.

I remember Daniel starting out on the road with his band some 30 years ago. He had taken his inspiration from his sister, Margo, who became a star in her own right.

Margo sang in a band named The Keynotes, while Daniel began his career with The Grassroots. Even then, his vocal ability and stage persona suggested he could go far.

Daniel's sister Margo

Along came Sean Reilly to take over the management reins and the rest, as they say, is history.

The modest and unassuming Daniel rose to the top, his relaxed singing style and uncanny knack of establishing a rapport with his audiences quickly gaining him an enormous fan following.

Many of those fans continue to attend his shows - indeed, for many, going to a Daniel show has become akin to a pilgrimage.

He has achieved milestones that other performers can only dream of, yet he remains the same down-to-earth, self-effacing person that he was from the day and hour that I first knew him.

His notable achievements in the recording sphere, in particular, clearly underpin his superstar status.

He is the only artist in the world to have scored a hit in the UK album charts every year since 1988 - an unprecedented and unbroken 30-year span.

In doing so, he has outshone everyone from Michael Jackson and Madonna to U2 and the Rolling Stones.

He accomplished this with his latest album, Christmas With Daniel O'Donnell, released in November 2017, when it entered the UK artist albums chart at number 19.

In total, Daniel has now reached the UK artist albums chart with more than 38 albums and has amassed 32 top 30 30 albums over the course of his career.

Daniel has also achieved eight number one hits in the UK music video/DVD charts over that period.

There is absolutely no doubt that he will receive his usual red carpet welcome when he returns to Belfast on December 18, before he moves on to the Millennium Theatre in Derry the following night.

In countries such as the US and Australia, Daniel is bracketed alongside some of the world's biggest stars, such is the impact he has made. Yet he is delighted to be still performing in Ireland.

I have had the pleasure of sharing the stage with him on more than one occasion, and he is the consummate professional - someone who knows precisely what his audience wants and, what's more, knows how to deliver that in the most striking manner.

His singing partner, Mary Duff, is very much a star in her own right, and her duets with Daniel are usually highlights of their shows.

Daniel's singing partner Mary Duff

Daniel may have come a long way since he took his first steps to stardom in his native Donegal all those years ago, yet he has never lost the common touch, or, indeed, his ability to interact with people irrespective of nationality, creed or class.

And therein lies the real secret of his success - that and the fact that he can sing a bit as well.

John's back on sunny side with Mainliners

I will have an old friend with me on Radio Ulster today, and he'll definitely be looking for the Sunny Side of the Mountain.

That's the title of the song that shot popular Crossmaglen vocalist John Glenn to stardom, and we will be reflecting on old times in the studio.

John fronted his own band, The Wranglers, after being drafted in to replace the late Big Tom in The Mainliners. He later played with The Travellers for a few years.

Quietly spoken John has now lined up with The Mainliners again, and the band will be the big attraction tomorrow night at the Mourne Country Hotel in Newry, where they can expect a rousing reception.

Several of the original Mainliners - including Henry McMahon, Ronnie Duffy, Ginger Morgan and Seamus McMahon - are still with the band, which sounds as good as ever.

They have already fulfilled some dates, and John will give us an insight into how it feels like to be back on stage again after all these years.

The passing of Big Tom was a big setback for all country fans, but the fact that his music is living on through The Mainliners is a source of encouragement to his many followers right across Ireland.

John Glenn brings his own distinctive style of singing to The Mainliners' show, and I have no doubt that he will play his part in maintaining the group's musical legacy.

It's fantastic to see one of the great bands of the 1960s and 1970s still strutting their stuff and proving that the older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.

Max's singer-songwriter son is a chip off the old block

Max T Barnes is one of the foremost songwriters in the US and enjoys particular esteem in his Nashville base, which, of course, is regarded as the home of country music.

It was while he was fulfilling some dates just lately for Munster promoter Billy Morrissey that Max agreed to join me in the BBC Radio Ulster studio for my show, and we had a fascinating conversation on all aspects of country music.

It was during our chat that Max suggested that, if I ever travel to Nashville, then he will be my host and take me to all the leading country music venues there, as well as introduce me to some of the famous songwriters.

Right now, there is tremendous emphasis on songwriting here in Ireland, with Derek Ryan leading the new breed of exponents of this art, following in the footsteps of people like Henry McMahon and Johnny MacAuley.

Many acts believe that they are only one hit song away from the big time, hence the belief placed in songwriters to produce the goods.

Only the chosen few succeed in reaching the top, and it gives you some idea of the status that Max T Barnes enjoys when you think that both he and his father, Max D Barnes, were in the running for the Country Song of the Year award several years ago.

It was Barnes senior who came out on top in what proved an enthralling race, but Barnes junior has gone from strength to strength since then.

As they say, like father, like son.

Belfast Telegraph


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