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Hugo Duncan: Michael English is keeping home fires burning... and even played in my front room

Michael English
Michael English
Cliona Hagan

By Hugo Duncan

In the not-too-distant past, a weekend spent playing in England's Irish clubs and ballrooms formed the annual travel itinerary outside this country for bands. Up until recent years, emigration was rife, which meant that thousands of folk from the Emerald Isle moved to the UK, where they worked, married and set up new homes.

And the most popular form of entertainment, which many shared, was going along to the dances at which bands from Ireland performed.

Venues in London, in particular, such as the National in Kilburn, the Galtymore in Cricklewood and the Gresham in Holloway Road, became a focal point for dancers for many years, places where new friendships were forged and where romances blossomed.

But in more recent times, many of those who emigrated have returned to this country. Yet the music lives on, albeit on a different level altogether, and I was reminded of this when I spoke to Michael English recently.

Currently ranked in the top half-dozen country acts in Ireland, Michael and his musicians now spend almost as much time out of Ireland as they do in it.

"It's true," explains Michael. "We have tours of Scotland and England lined up in March and April, and then we will be performing in Spain for two weeks in June as part of the annual Paul Claffy country music tour package.

"This year, we are going to the very popular Barrosa Hotel in Cadiz, and I am looking forward to it already. We will have a lot of guest artists with us and it promises to be a fortnight of non-stop music and dancing."

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In conversation with Michael recently, I asked him if he did not get tired of the continuous travel.

"No, never," was his emphatic answer. "Sure I need the money!"

To which I responded: "Don't we all!"

Portugal is also on the menu, and all of this seemingly non-stop travel makes me wonder how Mike keeps in touch with his fans in Ireland.

"It's simple," he told me. "We just work harder when we are here. We try to play all the major dancing venues as often as we can, we also do concert tours and we are asked to appear at numerous country music weekends.

"Obviously, it can all get a bit hectic, but I would never complain because I am enjoying life too much. Indeed, I consider myself fortunate to be able to earn my living from doing something that I really love - entertaining people."

Twenty years have passed since Michael surged into the spotlight with his huge hit The Nearest To Perfect. It was composed by Henry McMahon, a founder member of Big Tom and the Mainliners, who currently manages the very talented Gerry Guthrie and his band.

Michael, who can play both piano and accordion with equal dexterity, was not to know it at the time, but the song was to provide the launch-pad for a stellar career.

In more recent years, he has been churning out hits such as Ten Guitars, The Band Is Back In Town, A Million Memories, Will Ya Dance?, Joey On The Fiddle and his latest offering, Music In My Heart.

The singer has come a long way since he studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music before going on to reach the top.

When I was organising a special party to mark my 65th birthday, I decided to invite Michael along.

"What hotel is it being held at?" he asked.

"I'll tell you where it is," I replied. "It's in my front room and you'll be marked absent if you are not there."

He dutifully turned up, sang a few songs and made a big impact.

Even though he is invariably in the throes of a hectic travel itinerary, Michael always has time to support good causes.

"Whenever I can, I try to help out, but it can be difficult because a lot of the time I find myself trying to be in two places at one and the same time," he says.

He celebrates his 40th birthday in April, and I am sure he will want to mark this occasion in an appropriate manner.

"I'll come along and sing a few songs at your birthday do'," I told him.

"You might set the bar too high for others who will be there," he came back at me.

That's Michael. Never short of a word - or 2,000.

Cliona steals show with hat-trick of wins at Country Music Awards

Cliona Hagan

The annual Country Music Awards show at the Mullingar Park Hotel on Monday night proved a resounding success, with a capacity crowd enjoying a feast of entertainment provided by a string of acts, all of whom were honoured for their achievements in the world of entertainment.

This particular show has gained a special niche in the showbusiness calendar and sees the very best acts come together to perform in a superb setting. And many of them, indeed, reached landmarks in their careers in 2018.

Mike Denver, not surprisingly, lifted the Showbiz Personality of the Year and Best Live Performer of the Year accolades after scaling new heights recently.

The Galway singer has been part and parcel of the entertainment scene for the past 15 years and just gets better and better.

Ciaran Rosney picked up the trophy for the Best New Country Band, while Ben Troy collected the Breakout Country Act of the Year prize.

It was Cliona Hagan who perhaps stole the show to some extent, when along with her partner from RTE's Dancing With The Stars' Robert Rowinski she not only danced her way into the hearts of the audience, but also underlined her immense singing talent by winning the Female Vocalist of the Year award for the third year running.

There were a number of other awards, too, not least of which was the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Muriel Day to mark her hugely successful career that spanned almost six decades.

The awards, which are sponsored by Sunday World, are certainly cherished by those who win them and more often than not they prove catalysts for furthering careers.

Kirwan to be an absent friend as he recovers from hip replacement op

Dominic Kirwan is taking an enforced absence from performing, having just undergone a replacement hip operation.

Despite being in pain, Dominic has battled on of late in an effort to fulfil engagements and not let promoters down.

But now he is expected to be out of action for perhaps a couple of months as he recovers at home.

In recent times, Dominic has teamed up with his son, Barry, and together, along with their band, they have been making waves on the country dancing circuit in particular.

Barry, a former drummer with the Derek Ryan Band, has been making steady progress in his own right and his polished stage show has been winning him many admirers.

He has certainly inherited his father's professionalism and enthusiasm and is regarded as a highly accomplished performer.

He has been playing in the majority of the major venues throughout the country and this weekend Barry will be in the Racket Hall Hotel, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, tomorrow night and in Monaghan's Hillgrove Hotel on Sunday night.

While Dominic has been chipping in with fatherly advice, Barry has been making his own way in life and looks capable of really going places.

He has already performed in Scotland, England, Spain, Portugal and the US and for the remainder of 2019 he looks set to log up even more miles, given the volume of work he has in his diary.

Not only is he a hot attraction on the dancing circuit, he is also very much in demand to appear at country music weekends and concerts. I hope to see Dominic back in action shortly, too.

Belfast Telegraph


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