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Hugo Duncan: Talented ladies continue to blaze a trail in today's scene

By Hugo Duncan

In what has been largely a male-dominated environment, the challenges facing women keen to make their mark here in Ireland in country music were always deemed to be formidable.

It was generally accepted that the menfolk always had an advantage in that female fans were never slow in showing their appreciation and that they were better physically equipped to stand the long journeys and marathon sessions on stage which were the norm in the past.

Yet, I was reminded this week, as I set about preparing for further Country Legends radio shows, of the impact that some female singers, in particular, have made down through the years.

I am thinking here of people like Philomena Begley, Susan McCann, Margo and Louise Morrissey - all of whom not only reached the top, but also managed to last the pace.

Philomena recently celebrated her 75th birthday, and she shows no sign of curtailing the hectic itinerary that takes her all over the country and, indeed, to foreign parts, where she now performs regularly at country dancing weeks organised by different promoters and artistes.

While continental travel may be very much par for the course for singers nowadays, I well recall going to the United States in the company of Philomena, Susan and the rest as part of the Top Rank All-Stars.

Those were exciting times and I was among those who enjoyed a little liquid refreshment.

And, if truth be told, it was the ladies of country music who kept an eye on me and ensured that I did not enjoy myself too much, with Susan McCann, in particular, always ensuring that I looked my neatest!

Louise Morrissey's career began in her family folk band The Morrisseys, before she branched out into the country music sphere with considerable success.

Warm and friendly, she had a great personality and never had any pretensions of stardom.

While some singers were particular about dressing-room accommodation, Louise had no such inhibitions.

"Sure, anywhere will do me," she would say.

It does not surprise me that herself, Margo and Gloria have stayed the course, just like Philomena and Susan, who blazed the trail for female country music performers here.

The passage of time, of course, can throw up changes, and latterly we have watched Lisa McHugh and Cliona Hagan come to the fore.

They represent the new breed of female country singers - talented, glamorous and very committed to their roles.

Both are in huge demand for shows, festivals and concerts, and their affinity with their followers is eye-catching, as is their drive to better themselves.

Cliona only went on the road with her own band in the middle of July 2016, but within a very short period of time she had captivated many people with her dynamic stage presence and distinctive singing voice.

She could well prove the trailblazer for the next generation of female singers, with Olivia Douglas among those who look destined to follow in her footsteps.

While the world of entertainment can make big demands on people and, indeed, on the fair sex in particular, the fulfilment it can provide is such that it becomes all-consuming - a fact admitted by Cliona, who left her job as a schoolteacher to pursue her musical career.

"There's a lot of sacrifice involved, but I think it can all be worth the effort," she says.

Fans are really going to dig Andy's annual jamboree

Andy Lowry glories in the title of 'The Singing Diggerman'. There's not much about country music that the redoubtable Andy does not know, and he will certainly be in top form when he hosts his annual Country Jamboree in Drumquin on Sunday.

It's an annual event that invariably creates considerable interest and enthusiasm in the village, with all age-groups entering into the spirit of what is a superb community event.

The proceedings will last from 3pm until 6pm, and among Andy's guests will be Joe Moore, Patricia Maguire, Gary Fitzpatrick, Darren Burke and Shauna McStravick.

I have been invited along to act as compere, and it will be great to renew my acquaintance with the larger-than-life Andy. He's a man who believes in getting things done, and I have no doubt that he will be in fine fettle on Sunday.

In former years, Drumquin was the scene of a very popular series of Friday night dances, when all the big bands of the day played there.

It is a place I have visited on numerous occasions, and it holds very warm memories for me. Roll on Sunday!

Before then, I will be getting along to Dungannon Royal British Legion branch tomorrow night to help provide a little entertainment.

Boxcar Brian and Gerard Dornan, of Country Harmony fame, will be there.

I think that the night will go with a swing and be enjoyed by all.

Kelly keeps on trucking as he starts own band

It's all systems go for the Co Down launch of Liam Kelly and his band at the popular Mourne Country Hotel in Newry tomorrow night.

Liam, who hails from Creggan, near Omagh, is a particularly talented singer who is keen to make his bid for fame and fortune on the entertainment scene.

He has already scored a considerable success with You're Some Trucker, and his follow-up number, The Tender Years, is also proving particularly popular.

It was a chance meeting with Patsy McEnaney, from Big M Promotions, that led to Liam forming his band, and now Patsy is hoping to see the band climb the ladder to success.

A recording strategy has been put in place which will mean that we see singles released on a regular basis.

All the while, Liam plans and hopes to be touring the country, bringing good cheer and quality music to venues.

"We are looking forward to the challenge. People say that it might not be a good time to launch a new band, but when is a good time?" asks Liam with a smile.

"We are particularly looking forward to going to the Mourne Country Hotel tomorrow night, because there is a tremendous atmosphere there, with people of all ages taking their dancing very seriously indeed."

Liam is a young man who is obviously very dedicated to his music, and I certainly wish him well in his career.

He will undoubtedly find that there will be a welcome on the mat for him tomorrow night.

Supermarket left me off my trolley

I found myself in somewhat unusual surroundings on Tuesday - a supermarket at Sprucefield Shopping Centre.

I had been given a list of items to get by Head Office (in other words, Mrs Duncan), but I have to say that I encountered difficulty in locating the various products.

It was bad enough having to push a trolley around, but it did not help that I hadn't a clue as to where I was actually going.

Let's just say my cause was not exactly helped by the many people who appeared to take great delight in directing me to where the cream buns were on sale.

With my athletic figure, I would have thought that was the last counter I should have been going to!

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