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Hugo Duncan: My Christmas is about family, and making time for those less fortunate

Hugo Duncan
Hugo Duncan
On song: The Three Amigos

By Hugo Duncan

In the not too distant past, Christmas for me meant logging hundreds of miles travelling up and down the country fulfilling dancing dates at a time when we were still in the throes of an entertainment boom.

Unlike now when country music weekends and concerts are part of the staple diet of January, it was at that time a particularly bleak month for the lesser lights like me.

That's why sacrifices had to be made at Christmas, but in more recent times country dancing has undergone something of a change - and so have I.

Now that I have reached a more mature age, shall we say, I have cut back on work and certainly on work over the Christmas period.

I have had my day of the long journeys embracing the last week of December and the start of January - it was good while it lasted but I have to be honest and say that I have outlived it.

Now, I prefer to spend the festive season at home with my family. Indeed, I find myself in the house as often as I can be irrespective of the time of year.

If truth be told, Christmas could be said to have taken on a new meaning for me.

I can state without fear of contradiction that the greatest thing which can happen to any man or woman is that when their own children and then their grandchildren come along their lives are complete.

Yes, they may flourish in business and perhaps be held up as role models in the community but it's in the company of their grandchildren that they are invariably most comfortable.

And Christmas is the time of year when this holds true more than ever, certainly as far as I am concerned.

It would be no exaggeration to say that, just like other folk, I have enjoyed a whole new lease of life since the grandchildren arrived.

Now I can't wait for Christmas Day to come round so that I can share the festive experience with Jake, Katie Sue, Elly Mae and Molly Jay.

Instead of leaving the house to fulfil singing engagements here, there and everywhere over the festive period, my life revolves even more around my four grandchildren, sharing the experience with them and seeing them happy. I will be up in their house at maybe 6.30am or 7am on Christmas morning to see what Santa left them and then I will return to my own home for breakfast before heading to the BBC studios in Belfast from where I will be presenting my radio requests show.

It has become something of a tradition for my wife Joan, daughter Suzanne and her husband John to hold the dinner on Christmas Day and Boxing Day until I return from presenting my show at around 4.30pm.

I find the family environment particularly comforting, relaxing and indeed inspiring at Christmas and I am thankful to God for that.

Yet this doesn't mean that I have suddenly become unaware that for other people Christmas can be a lonely, depressing time because of their personal circumstances.

Christmas, indeed, is a time for reaching out to others and that's why I found myself going along to sing a few good old country songs at not one but two locations earlier this week.

Carrickfergus was my first port of call where I entertained Ella Rice and members of her family. Ella is not in good health but she certainly perked up as the music flowed.

There are many people like her who crave for a little sunshine to enter their lives and that's why I love entertaining as many of them as possible.

I was also at the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast where I had the pleasure of singing to patients and their families. I must say that the spirit of both patients and staff there was extremely moving. The patients were being given every comfort in coping with adversity and it's no surprise that it proved a hugely emotional occasion with, not surprisingly, a few tears shed.

I will be presenting my annual broadcast live from the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast on Christmas Eve from 1-3pm.

There is always a special atmosphere, with the patients giving us a very warm welcome, and we in turn like to think that we bring some Christmas cheer into the wards.

Obviously no one wants to spend Christmas in hospital if they can help it but at the same time if their spell there can be made that little bit more pleasant over the course of the festive season then I think our visit achieves its purpose.

Three singers for the price of one as Amigos start tour

When the Three Amigos concept was launched some years ago, there were many people who thought it was a particularly ambitious project that might be doomed to failure.

After all, Jimmy Buckley, Robert Mizzell and Patrick Feeney were by then already huge attractions in their own right with their individual bands.

When the Three Amigos first toured with their superb hand-picked backing band, they created a huge impact within the entertainment scene and this has been the case on their annual tours since the launch.

It will be no different this time round. The Three Amigos will play the first of 19 concerts next week and from an Ulster perspective most interest will focus on their show in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast on Saturday, January 5.

This is the only show they will be doing in the province and it is no surprise that tickets have been in great demand.

The trio bring different qualities into play. Jimmy Buckley is an accomplished country singer who merges his own brand of humour with his repertoire while Robert Mizzell, who is a native of Louisiana, brings his own special brand of American country music to the table.

Patrick Feeney, on the other hand, is well capable of handling big ballads and some of his numbers invariably prove highlights of the show.

Mind you, while the singers are in the elite bracket now, it was not always like that.

Jimmy Buckley in particular keeps his feet very much on the ground. He is a veteran of the Irish country dancing scene but has not forgotten his roots.

I was speaking to him recently and I complimented him on the fact that he is still going strong after such a long time in the business.

"Aye, I'm very glad to be still hanging in there," said Jimmy, "But you know it took me 13 years to become an overnight success!"

Nor is there any chance of Robert Mizzell or Patrick Feeney losing the run of themselves.

Robert's insight on the Three Amigos best demonstrates the trio's outlook.

"You have heard of the advertising slogan 'buy one get another one free' I am sure," maintains Robert, "Well, in our case it's a question of buy one, and get two free - the choice is yours."

Sending my best wishes to an old pal who's in ill health

I was saddened to learn that one of Ulster's most talented country musicians is unwell just now.

Martin Pollock has been a key figure in some of the biggest bands down through the years and currently he is a muti-instrumentalist with Michael English and his band.

Marty, from Co Down, plays accordion, keyboards and guitar with equal dexterity and is well known to the thousands of dancers who flock to Ulster venues week on week.

I have known Marty for many years and I well recall him featuring on several of my albums as a session musician. It's in this role that he has helped many bands to attain success in the extremely competitive recording sphere and many singers have good reason to be grateful for his musical expertise.

Not only is Marty an accomplished musician but he is also a talented singer and is capable of enhancing Michael English's dancing programme with some numbers that he delivers in his own inimitable style.

Never short of a joke, he is extremely popular among his fellow-musicians and many have been in touch with me to pass on their goodwill messages and wish him well in what is a difficult spell for him.

Marty's professionalism and dedication have helped him to climb into the ranks of the top Irish musicians but as I see it one of his great strengths is that he knows when NOT to play. Quite often, too many musicians overplay their hand if you will pardon the pun but Marty knows when to tone it down.

I wish him a speedy return to full health in the very near future.

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