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Hugo Duncan: Songbird Lisa McHugh will fly high on return to stomping ground

By Hugo Duncan

Lisa McHugh may hail from Scotland, but Northern Ireland's country music family has taken the Glasgow-born songbird under its wing ever since she broke through with Old Fashioned Girl.

Lisa, the daughter of musical Irish parents, grew up listening to everything from Daniel O'Donnell to Alan Jackson. She worked in the family construction firm, but music was her destiny.

In 2010, she took a leap of faith and moved to Ireland, putting together her first band.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Among Lisa's many awards to date are being voted Female Vocalist of the Year an incredible five times in a row and Outstanding Achievement on the World Stage in 2012, when she achieved her lifetime's ambition of performing of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville as a guest of the legendary Gene Watson.

I can well remember, several years ago now, being a guest of her family in Scotland. I found her parents, Joe, who's from Castlederg in Co Tyrone, and Sally, from Falcarragh in Co Donegal, to be the most delightful people.

Mind you, I encountered problems when I was invited to navigate their quad bike over the land surrounding their home, but I'm keeping that one for the book!

For those folk who have been asking where Lisa has been of late, let me put you out of your misery: she has been in the United States for the last month, writing and recording new material.

Lisa, whose hits include Applejack and Hillbilly Girl, returns to her old stomping ground tomorrow for the Country Comes to City festival at Ebrington Square in Londonderry.

The north-west has always been a haven for country music and the area has spawned more than its fair share of talented singing stars who have helped to keep the tradition alive.

Some of Ireland's top acts, including Mike Denver and Michael English, will be on stage to provide a feast of music and fun in what has become one of the biggest events of its kind.

Like most such undertakings, it has blossomed from modest beginnings, but as the demand for quality acts mushroomed the organisers certainly did not hesitate to secure the services of the best artistes they could find.

That's why thousands will pour into the event tomorrow, anxious not only to enjoy the music, but to lap up the ongoing good weather in a convivial atmosphere.

They certainly won't be disappointed either. Mike Denver is currently on the crest of a wave and is playing to capacity crowds everywhere. His all-action stage show, versatile programme and lively dancing beat are certain to captivate the crowd.

Michael English is also going from strength to strength. He has just returned from a 10-day stint entertaining at a top hotel in Spain and is looking forward to going back there. But, for the moment, his whole focus is on providing a dynamic repertoire for what is expected to be a record crowd.

As well as being a talented singer, Michael is an instrumentalist of note and his stage presence tends to grab the attention of onlookers.

Along with his band, he has been travelling much further afield of late as his popularity continues to soar, but tomorrow he will be focused on delivering an exciting stage show in the Maiden City.

Incidentally, now that the summer is in full swing, we will be broadcasting my daily radio show from outdoor locations on numerous occasions. We will have five outside broadcasts in July and seven in August.

Full details of venues can be obtained on the BBC Northern Ireland website.

Like a fine wine, Louise Morrissey is just getting better with age

It's exactly 40 years since the ever-popular Louise Morrissey released her first single, when she was a member of the-then very popular Morrisseys folk group, with whom she performed in tandem with her brothers, Billy and Norman.

But the passage of time saw this gifted Tipperary singer's professional career take a rather different direction when she embraced country music.

From then, she has never looked back and, right now, Louise is enjoying a whole new wave of popularity as she continues to entertain concert audiences up and down the country.

Her distinctive singing voice, easy-going personality and infectious good humour have served to underpin her success.

She has become synonymous with numbers such as The Night Daniel O'Donnell Came to Town, The Rose of Allendale, Don't Say Goodbye and Tipperary On My Mind.

But it's her superb version of Satisfy You, originally recorded by top US outfit Sweethearts of the Rodeo, that helped propel Louise to a new peak.

A succession of awards and extensive tours incorporating the US, the Continent and the British Isles have helped to keep Louise in the limelight and even serious injuries sustained in a car accident over 20 years ago failed to quench her thirst for performing.

Ireland has proved the breeding ground for several high-profile female country music artistes - Philomena Begley, Susan McCann, Gloria, Margo and, latterly, Cliona Hagan are among those who spring to mind - but Louise has always managed to occupy her own pedestal.

Get your dancing shoes on for Ciaran's Ryandale debut

In recent years, a number of fresh acts have infiltrated the entertainment scene, and among those is talented Ciaran Rosney.

After just three months on the road with his new band, the likeable Co Offaly man is already carving out his own niche on the bustling country dancing scene.

While he is regarded as a newcomer in one sense, this does not mean he is lacking in experience.

Ciaran has enjoyed considerable success as a one-man act on the thriving social dancing circuit.

But he has always had a yearning to re-invent his career by fronting his own band.

It was only after weeks of careful searching and scrutinising that Ciaran felt he had come up with the right blend of musicians, and since taking to the road on Friday, March 9, the band have never looked back.

To date, they have played in numerous major venues, but tomorrow night they will make their debut in Ulster's leading country dancing venue - the Ryandale in Moy.

It's a date the affable Ciaran has been looking forward to for some time, and he is determined to make it a night with the difference.

"We know that it's only the top bands that get to play at the Ryandale, and it is our ambition to join those," he says.

"We have been working very hard lately on getting our sound and programme right and recent reaction would suggest that we are succeeding in both these respects."

Tomorrow night at the Ryandale will be extra-special as Ciaran is planning the Ulster release of his new single, Found.

"It's a great number and I hope that people at the Ryandale enjoy it," he says.

"We will certainly be putting everything into our show to ensure they have a great night's entertainment."

Doors at the Ryandale Hotel open at 8.30pm and admission is £12

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