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Hugo Duncan: Singers beginning their career would do well to recall the immortal line Jimmy Buckley uttered

Road trip: Nathan Carter plays Branson, Missouri next month as he bids to break into the US market
Road trip: Nathan Carter plays Branson, Missouri next month as he bids to break into the US market
Gene Stuart
Daniel O'Donnell

By Hugo Duncan

Everyone has to start somewhere. I only wish I had £20 for every time that has been said to me in terms of young entertainers embarking on their careers.

It is, indeed, true that even the biggest acts all had a starting point and, in Ireland, this certainly did not imply that it was going to be all plain sailing.

I often think of Jimmy Buckley's immortal line when queried about his career to date.

He'll give a wry smile and say: "Well, it's like this. I was 13 years becoming an overnight success!"

Jimmy may be exaggerating slightly here, but I know that people like Daniel O'Donnell, Nathan Carter, Mike Denver, Derek Ryan, Robert Mizzell, Declan Nerney and Michael English will agree that taking those first faltering steps towards stardom can be hazardous.

Even now, with years of experience behind them, singers such as these bring out a single or CD at regular intervals in order to ensure that they remain in the public eye.

I mention this simply to illustrate that, while the country music sphere embraces fresh talent, the opportunities for lesser-known performers to make significant progress are rather more limited.

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Only recently, I encountered a young man who believed that the best way to make headway was to go it alone, so he went and bought himself a small studio.

He was convinced he could write his own material, record it to a sufficient level that would merit radio plays, generate his own PR material, market his recording and source his own gigs.

But he discovered that he could not be a jack of all trades. I gently reminded him that if you are competing in the Circuit of Ireland Rally, you cannot be a racing car driver and a navigator. You can only be one or the other.

Right now, there are a number of talented male and female singers pushing to make a breakthrough.

For a start, they should take someone into the studio when they are going to record, but not someone who is going to agree with everything they do and tell them what they want to hear. It's far better they are told it like it is - warts and all.

You can always tell the difference between a track which has been recorded in a professional studio, overseen by someone of the calibre of Jonathan Owens, Stephen Smyth, Gerard Dornan, William Mawhinney, or the person who produces my work in the studio, Owney Smith, and a track which has been recorded in a more modest setting, shall we say.

The reason I point this out is that, after a radio presenter like myself plays a track from the more professional studio and a track recorded in someone's home, the quality is completely different.

Unfortunately, it costs money to go into these studios, but if you are a singer and you want to give yourself a chance it is money well spent.

For a start, a song recorded in a professional studio is likely to earn more radio plays and generate more interest, thus boosting your career.

There is an old saying that two heads are better than one and, when you go into a studio to record an album, there will be more heads than two, because the session musicians who will be involved can help a singer to avoid potential pitfalls.

In my humble opinion, as someone who started when he was 20 and is still going, it's never any harm to avail of a helping hand along the way.

Everyone needs a little assistance and I was fortunate to benefit from my late mentor, Gene Stuart, who never minced his words in the studio.

More than once, he told me, when he thought I was doing a song that did not suit me, "Forget it, boss". And, do you know what? It didn't do me a button of harm.

I have just finished my new album and the one thought that producer Owney Smyth and I shared the whole way through was that we fairly missed big Gene.

American dream beckons as Nathan prepares album release ahead of US visit

Nathan Carter has just returned from his week-long stint in Spain, where he hosted his annual country music bash in the sun.

It was a spectacular affair, with a number of guest artists, including myself, joining Nathan on stage for what proved to be a feast of country music.

Now that he is back in this part of the world, Nathan is turning his attention to promoting his new record, Irish Heartland.

A single from the album, entitled Donnybrook Fair, is currently on release as a taster and it shows Nathan at his best.

Several Irish songs, which have become favourites of Nathan since he first came to this country from Liverpool, are included and the album certainly seems destined for success.

It will be released very shortly and it looks as if it will prove extremely popular.

While Nathan can bask in the success of his week in Spain, he cannot spend too much time resting on his laurels as he is off to Branson, Missouri next month.

This is, of course, where Daniel O'Donnell made his name and Nathan is certainly following in his footsteps.

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Daniel O'Donnell

Branson has become a mecca of country music in the US, with thousands of visitors flocking there when the big stars perform.

Nathan can certainly expect to win over new followers as his singing style and personality are likely to appeal greatly to US lovers of country music.

I have a feeling he will be a big hit there.

How we laughed the night away with my good friend Pio

Many years have elapsed since well-known Omagh musical personality Pio McCann and I shared the stage as part of The Tallmen.

It was much different then, I can tell you. Bands played for five hours, journeys on difficult roads were long and often dangerous and money was not always plentiful. Over the course of the next two decades, Pio has become the voice of country music on Highland Radio and has played a big part in promoting this sector of music.

Now that he is taking a break from the station, I had planned on visiting him at his home and my opportunity came when Mike Denver and his manager Willie Carty expressed an interest in linking up with Pio following Mike's concert at the Strule Arts Centre in Omagh last week.

The three of us landed at Pio's home, where we were warmly welcomed and, needless to say, stories from the past were traded. Pio is known the length and breadth of the country and he likes nothing better than talking about Irish country music and the people who are involved in it.

He has a long association with Mike Denver and it was plain to see that they had a special affinity.

Pio's daughter is married to Conor McBrien, son of the late Charlie McBrien, a legendary band manager, who guided the fortunes of several artists, including Dominic Kirwan.

And Conor had his son, Charlie, along with him, so we now have Charlie McBrien Mark Two in our midst!

Liz remembered in great tribute show

I must say I was very privileged to be a part of the impressive tribute concert to the late Liz Gordon which was held in the Millbrook Lodge Hotel, Ballynahinch on Monday night.

Several artists performed to a sell-out crowd, including Barry Doyle, Billy McFarland and Crawford Bell. Barry Doyle had a leading role in the organisation of the concert, which certainly helped to rekindle memories of Liz, who was a noted pianist with different bands. She was immensely talented and her unexpected death came as a great shock to all of us who knew her.

I enjoyed meeting up with Crawford Bell (right) again and we shared a recent memory. A couple of days before Crawford went into hospital, we sat in my car and listened again to The Old Lamplighter, a song he wrote and which I have recorded. It is a poignant song and, if the truth be told, we both shared a tear.

Mind you, I'm taking it for granted that emotion had got the better of Crawford and that it was not my singing that triggered his tears.

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