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Hugo Duncan: My pride in helping young Co Down woman with cancer

By Hugo Duncan

The recession of 2008 impacted deeply on the economy of this country and, indeed, hit many people hard. Nightlife too was dealt a blow, as many people were forced to sacrifice their social lives to a large extent and instead channel their money into more essential areas.

And, in an entertainment context, that's where Nathan Carter came in. Here was a 20-year-old native of Liverpool, who had performed a handful of solo spots in places like the Allingham Arms Hotel in Bundoran, and looked as if he might gain some measure of popularity.

When his name began to appear in lights more often he formed his own band, organised a successful launch night at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown in January 2010 and played his first commercial date the following night in the Mellon Country Hotel in Omagh.

And the rest, as they say, is history...

Today, Nathan is ranked among the stellar country performers, a singer who has not only scaled unprecedented heights, but who played a huge part in revitalising what was a flagging business, thus paving the way for others to follow in his footsteps.

I well remember Nathan taking his initial steps on the road to fame. I recall, in particular, one night in the Royal Hotel in Castlebar, where I was performing at a concert with him.

Suddenly, there was a power cut - and a potential crisis situation. Nathan, however, grabbed his accordion and proceeded to entertain the huge crowd until power was restored, while I kept the craic going.

"Well played, Nathan," I said to him afterwards. "The foundation course you and I undertook in clubs and pubs served us both well tonight."

Nathan has also revealed he has recorded the number Burning Bridges with Foster and Allen and the three of them came up with the name FAN Band (Foster and Allen and Nathan).

I saw an opportunity and jumped in suggesting that Nathan and I could do a number together.

"We could be the new Fat Boy Slim and there would be no prizes for guessing who's who...", I told him.

Nathan's litany of hits, penchant for setting attendance records in both concert and dance venues, and his ability to strike up a rapport with crowds in countries such as Australia, the US, Spain, Portugal and the UK, as well as Ireland, of course, have hoisted him onto a special pedestal.

Right now, Nathan is basking in the success of his new book, Born For The Road, as well as his latest CD, which bears the same name.

Tomorrow, Nathan will breeze into Dungannon, where he will sign copies of his new CD and book at Stewart's record store in Irish Street from 2pm.

His CD contains numerous popular songs, including Winnie O'Neill, Misty (which is a song made famous by US star Ray Stevens), The Garden Party and Dan O'Hara, an old Irish song, while his book, by all accounts, is proving to be a winner.

Nathan himself has admitted that it is perhaps a little "too early" for an autobiography, so the book is subtitled: The Story So Far.

Raymond Stewart, a brother of the late Gene, is the man at the helm of Stewart's record store. In recent times, Raymond has helped to fashion the careers of singers such as Nathan, Mike Denver, Derek Ryan, Lisa McHugh, Cliona Hagan, Michael English, Jimmy Buckley, Robert Mizzell and many others - and I'm one of the others!

It's obviously a labour of love for Raymond and, when his shop celebrated its 40th anniversary two years ago, Dungannon was brought to a standstill. I vividly recall numerous singing stars appearing to mark the occasion.

Nathan has already offered me two tickets for his Blackpool weekend next year as an auction prize on my Children in Need show on Friday, November 16 and he has also donated two tickets for his show in Belfast next March.

Castlewellan pulling together to raise funds for battler Siobhan

Siobhan McCann's world was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer earlier this year and her plight became even more acute when the cancer spread to her liver in July.

But 25-year-old Siobhan, who hails from Clanvaraghan near Castlewellan, is nothing if not a fighter.

She is bravely battling her illness, having returned home from London, where she had been working with a Co Down firm and playing ladies' football.

Already, more than £100,000 has been raised to help Siobhan access life-prolonging medication and this figure will be enhanced when a truck run is staged in Castlewellan tomorrow.

I have been invited to attend by John Brannigan and his family and I cannot think of a more worthy cause that is so deserving of support.

It is well known that truck and tractor runs have become important fundraising exercises throughout the province and I have no doubt that tomorrow's event will be very well supported.

The fact that there is such a fund of goodwill towards Siobhan underlines the esteem in which she is held within the community.

And it is also most encouraging to note that the medication which is so vital to her wellbeing is now available to her.

Siobhan is clearly overwhelmed by the goodwill of her friends and neighbours and, indeed, many people from further afield, who have shown they are keen to do their bit.

I will be more than happy to be part of it, along with Barry Doyle, Boxcar Brian and several other artists.

John excited to be back on home turf again

John Glenn and The Mainliners are certainly charting an impressive course through the country dancing scene right now.

The band reformed following the death of the legendary Big Tom earlier this year and since then they have been taking their distinctive sound to every part of the country.

But tomorrow night will be very much a 'home' gig for John Glenn.

He lives just 20 minutes away from the Mourne Country Hotel in Newry, where he will be appearing with The Mainliners for what promises to be a special occasion.

The band played there recently and such has been the clamour for their return that they have had to modify their touring schedule to fit the venue in tomorrow night.

John is understandably excited at the prospect of playing in front of his local crowd in what is regarded as one of the top country dancing venues in Ireland.

"It's great to be going back there and we aim to put on a special show for dancers," says John.

"We like to think that we can recapture the sound for which The Mainliners were famous.

"We are greatly encouraged by the reaction we appear to be generating, but we are certainly not in the least complacent.

"This is a hugely competitive business, but the boys in the band know that they have to be on their toes every night we perform.

"I am very happy that we made the decision to go back on the road and, hopefully, we will go from strength to strength as time goes on," the talented musician adds.

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