Hugo Duncan: Hard-working Mike has feet firmly on ground despite his popularity
Fifteen years ago, Mike Denver struck up a relationship with Willie Carty, which has now achieved legendary status in the context of Irish entertainment.
Then in his 20s, Mike had caught the eye of different promoters and managers as a young man who was blessed with a fine singing voice and a personality to go along with it.
But it was Willie, who had previously taken The Showband Show to unimagined heights in this country and is still associated with the superb Conquerors after some 40 years, that took the plunge and vowed to guide Mike to the top as he assumed the role of his manager.
He thought this would take a little time and was prepared for hiccups along the way, but even at his most optimistic Willie could not have guessed the progress that his new prodigy would make within an inordinately short period of time.
Mike's strong voice, his dynamic stage presence and his talented backing band was an alluring package Willie believed would prove an instant hit with dancers. And how right he was!
Within no time at all, Mike Denver was the name on everyone's lips and, within a matter of months, he was rubbing shoulders with the elite country bands in Ireland.
"Mike just had that way with him, which convinced me he could really make a go of things. And now here we are, celebrating some 15 years on the road," says Willie.
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"We will have a new single coming out shortly, which Mike reckons is one of his best to date, so it's a case of fingers crossed and hoping that it does well for him."
As one who has often appeared with Mike, I can certainly vouch for his dedication to country music.
He has always prided himself on having a top-class band and, no later than last week, I found him disarmingly honest when we were discussing the current entertainment situation.
I had told Mike that some artistes had confided in me that there can be 'quiet' nights, as well as good nights - he totally agreed.
"You have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth, Hugo," he says. "But the important thing is to give of your best every night you go on stage."
I have always found him to be very grounded and realistic - he certainly does not have his head in the clouds. Known for his strong work ethic, he continues to log up huge mileage every week from his base in Portumna in Galway and never complains about the hardships of being on the road.
Indeed, he is currently merging concert and dance venue appearances with considerable success, before switching his focus to trips to England, Scotland and Spain.
"We have been going to these countries for some years and every year the numbers who come to see us are increasing, which is very encouraging," explains Mike.
"Obviously, there have been big changes to the scene down through the years, but there is still a demand for bands that play a varied programme and we like to think that we come into that category."
Only a fortnight ago, Mike wowed viewers on RTE's popular Late, Late Show and, at the recent Sunday World annual entertainment awards ceremony in the Park Hotel, Mullingar, Mike took the Entertainer of the Year award, as well as the Single of the Year honour.
"It was nice to get a double award - that was something that I never expected," says Mike.
He plans to launch his new single in the very near future, but is keeping things under wraps at the minute.
"I believe that this song could be of big benefit to me, but let's wait and see what the public think. They are the real adjudicators when it comes to determining what is popular and what is not," adds Mike.
Evergreen Margo hitting road to mark a personal milestone
Margo O'Donnell is currently preparing for a concert tour that will mark her 55 years in the entertainment business.
The Donegal singer, who formerly was lead vocalist with The Keynotes back in the Sixties and Seventies, plans to take in several venues in this country between now and September and tells me that she is really looking forward to the venture.
Having sampled life on the road with her own band and now very much in demand a solo artist, Margo is hoping to recapture the excitement she experienced during her showband days.
She is planning a very special repertoire, which will feature old and new songs. She will also have a chance to reminisce and recall her days on the road with her own band.
"I'm looking forward to the concerts, because they will afford me the opportunity to perform material that I particularly like. Obviously, we are preparing very hard for this and I would like the concerts to be successful," says Margo.
She is certainly helping to keep the O'Donnell name to the fore, given that herself and her brother, Daniel, are still proving great ambassadors for Irish country music.
Margo is currently performing alongside Mike Denver at some of his tour concerts and is enjoying the experience immensely.
"We have been to many places lately and I must say I have been very impressed with Mike's show. He certainly knows how to win over a crowd," says Margo.
She is due to take the stage along with Mike in the Hotel Kilmore, Cavan on Friday next and she will also appear with him at the INEC Killarney on Saturday, March 30.
Slimmed-down singer has a new lease of life
It's not often a singer decides to come to terms with his weight and appearance in a bid to retain the stamina necessary for what is a demanding business.
I have been in that position, having at one stage shed five stone, but subsequently I actually considered myself rather lucky (or should that be unlucky?) to gain six stone again.
And this brings me to Michael Mawhinney, who is not your average entertainer.
The north Derry man, who has been making quite a name for himself on the country scene and, indeed, on the highly popular social dancing circuit, decided he would have to slim down if he was to meet the demands of travelling and performing.
When I was talking to him last weekend, he explained the lengths he went to in order to shed the pounds.
He says: "For a start, I had to turn my back on the chippy and instead go with foods of a more healthy nature.
"Then, it was into the gym, where I have been undergoing some punishing sessions lately.
"But it has really all been worth it.
"I have lost nine stone and I feel great.
"I have been told that some people can lose weight and it can have an adverse impact on their lives, but I have never felt better. I'm enjoying my travelling and singing even more now and people are telling me that I am looking great."
Michael possesses a fine singing voice, and his good-natured personality means that he is able to strike up a rapport with audiences, no matter where he plays.
"I just love meeting people and hearing their views on music. I think it's fascinating to gain an insight into tastes. It certainly helps you when it comes to choosing material for albums," he says. Incidentally, I am looking forward to having Michael as one of my numerous guests at my BBC Radio Ulster outdoors broadcast at Toome Horse Fair on Easter Monday.