Hugo Duncan: Singer Robert's living in the fast lane with hectic tour schedule
It is perhaps totally appropriate that the title of Robert Mizzell's latest single is Livin' the Life. Indeed, there are few other country singers who are living life at such a hectic pace right now. Having just completed a hugely successful country-wide tour as part of the Three Amigos, Robert has resumed a hectic round of engagements at dances, with his own band.
The Louisiana-born singer made Ireland his home over 20 years ago and he is now happily settled in the midlands with his Castlederg-born wife, Adele Speer, whose dad, Gordon, an excellent musician in his own right, used to run dances in Castlederg.
And tonight Robert is promising to put on a special show for patrons at the popular weekly dance in Lola's at the Silverbirch Hotel in Omagh.
It's an area in which Robert is particularly well-known and he tells me he derives particular pleasure from playing there.
"I met my wife there initially and, obviously, I have got to know many people in the area," explains Robert.
"I am very happy to say that they usually come out in big numbers to support me and my band and hopefully that will be the case tonight.
"Although we played some of the biggest venues in the country with the Three Amigos, such as the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Cork Opera House and the University Concert Hall in Limerick, I still love performing at dances.
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"It's always great to welcome family and friends there and we always try to put something extra-special into our show."
Robert, of course, has had huge success on the recording front with numbers such as Say You Love Me, Gone, Gone, Gone, Louisiana Man and Mama Courtney.
But it's Say You Love Me that is still requested on a regular basis and is the number that is most closely associated with Robert.
The son of a preacher man, Robert keeps telling me that I am the spitting image of his dad.
You never know, I could end up preaching myself.
Robert plans to bring out a new CD shortly, but at the moment he is making elaborate plans for the remainder of this year. "In the past, bands such as us played mainly in Ireland, with the odd trip to play in Irish venues in the UK thrown in, but it's all very different nowadays," points out Robert.
"I normally take a party of our followers out to the US later in the year and will be doing so again this year, but before then we will be in England, Spain and Portugal, as well as performing on a cruise.
"While it's very exciting and, indeed, fulfilling to be performing in different countries, it can be demanding, too, but we like to think that are up for the challenge."
I remarked to Robert that the appeal of sunshine and sea is in rather sharp contrast to my daily travel routine.
"You don't see much sun and sea when you're going from Strabane to Belfast every day," I told him.
Even though he enjoys the highest status as a country singer, Robert has never lost the common touch.
And, unlike some bands, which are trimming back in terms of personnel and expenses, Robert has actually added a new member to his band quite recently.
"I see our sound as being all-important and I am always conscious that we need to be improving our show wherever possible," maintains Robert.
"I am probably my own greatest critic, but I feel we have to keep raising the bar for ourselves," he adds.
While the Three Amigos concept has undoubtedly helped to further enhance Robert's image, his feet certainly have not left the ground.
I reminded him of this when I said: "I'm glad you're staying at grassroots level, because it means you can still have a conversation with the likes of me."
But as one who is never short of a word (or two thousand), Robert came straight back to me: "Hugo, it's not every day that I get the opportunity to have a conversation with a living legend."
I have no doubt that the welcome mat will be out at the Silverbirch tonight.
I'm sure that Robert's show will further boost the current Friday night dance series there.
Special party for a good cause is sure to be a night to remember
When it comes to providing country music at its best, Steve Farlow is your man.
The Coleraine entertainer has been doing the rounds for quite a few years and has gained his own particular niche in the country scene here.
I have known Steve for quite some time and I will be re-acquainted with him tonight when we both perform at a very special function: a birthday party for the very popular Shaun Watton in the Montra Club in Coleraine.
But this is a party with a difference - no birthday presents will be in evidence, but instead donations will be sought for Myeloma UK. It's a very worthy cause and I'm not surprised in the least at the array of artistes who have willingly made their services available.
On an extensive bill, the Steve Farlow Duo will provide the backing music for a host of performers, including Fiddler Adam, Jonathan Milligan, Boxcar Brian, Owen Mac, Alistair Coyles, Rose-Marie, Kathy Kaye and Gary Wilson.
Also performing will be my two friends, Billy McFarland and Crawford Bell, and their presence will add considerably to the quality of the show.
It's terrific to see singers coming out in force to help a good cause and I have no doubt Shaun Watton will be delighted with the overall package. It's not easy organising a show of this magnitude, but with a bit of give and take it's wonderful what can be achieved.
I'm particularly delighted to be heading towards the North West again, where I have no doubt the House Full notice will be very much in evidence.
It's great to see Steve Farlow so much involved in the arrangements for tonight's show, as he has had his share of health problems in recent times. But, thank God, he is now on the mend.
Roly and Conal still packing out shows
Two of my favourite performers are currently filling theatres on both sides of the border, each with their own distinctive brand of entertainment.
Roly Daniels has for a long time been regarded as a top class country singer, whose songs, such as Mr Jones, Hello Darlin', I Will Always Love You and He Stopped Loving Her Today, have earned him a special place in the annals of Irish country music.
When he first came over to Ireland, Roly became part of the booming showband scene and fronted the Dublin-based Nevada showband along with female vocalist Kelly.
With the passage of time, he morphed into a first class country singer and fronted his own band for some time before concentrating on concerts.
It's in this role that he has recently been hitting the high spots and, over the course of the next week, he will be performing at a number of venues, beginning tonight in the Clanree Hotel in Letterkenny before moving on to the Riverside Theatre in Coleraine tomorrow night.
Then, on Wednesday, he will be at the Market Place Theatre in Armagh with his remaining dates as follows: Thursday, March 7, Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey; Friday, March 8, Island Centre, Lisburn; Saturday, March 9, Great Northern Hotel, Bundoran; and Sunday, March 10, Burnavon Theatre, Cookstown.
Meanwhile, Conal Gallen has also been pulling in the crowds at his theatre shows recently and I certainly enjoyed my chat with him when he came on my BBC Radio Ulster show.
Never short of a quip, Conal kept everyone in stitches with his off-the-cuff humour.
His new stand-up show, Back To Front, is hilarious and certainly provides an anecdote for the winter-time blues.
As always, audiences can expect the unexpected, because no one knows what's going to happen - and, on his own admission, that includes Conal himself.
Tonight, you will find him in Armagh's Market Place Theatre and there are a few tickets left, but tomorrow night's show at the same venue is a sell-out.
Mike's new single is Streets ahead
Mike Denver's latest single, Streets of London, is certainly going down a treat and underlines just what a fine singer he is.
Raymond Stuart, from Sharpe Music, is in charge of distribution and obviously feels that the song can prove a huge bonus for the popular Mike.
Mike, of course, has a reputation for bringing out quality songs and his distinctive style has kept him to the forefront for a long time now. Raymond has been forwarding the CD to the various radio stations and other outlets across the country and mentioned to me that Streets of London would be on its way to me.
"I think I'll have to settle for the streets of Strabane," I told Raymond, "That's as far as I'm likely to get.
"And there was many's a night that I was on the streets of London, but really didn't know where I was!"
Incidentally, on Wednesday night, the Wee Woman with the Big Stick (otherwise known as my BBC Radio Ulster producer, Joanne Murphy) and I were heading to Annalong, having left Belfast, where the sun was shining.
Joanne was looking forward to taking in the sea view, but when she got there, the fog was so dense that she could not see the sea.
I was very lucky, because we ended up sharing a bag of chips and what made them more enjoyable was the fact that Joanne paid for them!