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Hugo Duncan: The night Daniel O'Donnell's singing saved me from ire of hotel residents


Daniel on stage

Daniel on stage

Daniel on stage

There are country stars, then there is Daniel O'Donnell. From shortly after the time he took his first faltering steps in the country music sphere in the mid-1980s, the Donegal crooner has revelled in superstar status.

We may be in dank and dark December, but already Daniel is preparing the way for a countrywide concert tour of major venues next August.

He has just released a new album, he is attracting bigger than ever television audiences no matter what role he is fulfilling, and his live shows still carry that hallmark of sheer class.

It was not always like that though - and Daniel is the first person to admit it.

He is due to feature on my BBC Radio Ulster programme on Tuesday, December 18, and no doubt we will reminisce on the good old days, if the 1980s could be called that.

Not only is Daniel a superb singer, but he is also a marvellous storyteller, someone who is never hesitant to enjoy a laugh at his own expense.

Like myself, he found the going rough at the outset of his career and, on one memorable occasion (memorable for all the wrong reasons that is), he hooked up with a Scottish-based band for a tour of Scotland.

He recalls that he was "taking a big chance" then, and it quickly became apparent just how big the challenge was when he discovered that the only 'country' song the band knew was It's A Long Way To Tipperary.

Undaunted, Daniel managed to feed the band the keys of some of his songs, they responded and he battled on to get through the night.

"I like the song Scotland the Brave, but on that night I think it was a case of Daniel the brave, or maybe Daniel the foolhardy," he reminds me when the topic comes up in conversation.


Daniel with wife Majella

Daniel with wife Majella

Daniel with wife Majella

But that was just one of the episodes while his career was in its infancy. It was an infancy that was to last only a short period though.

Within a few years of going on the road, Daniel had won the hearts of thousands of followers for his simple, uncomplicated approach, his easy laid-back style and his engaging humour.

When he achieved unparalleled success in the recording sphere within a relatively short period, he became the hottest act in the country and remained at the top of the tree until he was given the slightest of nudges by Nathan Carter.

Undeterred, Daniel pressed ahead, his annual safaris to Branson in Missouri the highlight of each year's itinerary.

Right now, he is basking in the success of his new album, Walkin' in the Moonlight, and revelling in his longevity as a supremely gifted entertainer.

He has also recorded Your Health is Your Wealth, which was written by popular Co Down musician Gerard Dornan, one half of Country Harmony, who has been making quite a name for himself as a songwriter lately. The song has been covered by several artists, including Philomena Begley.

Daniel is without doubt one of Donegal's most famous sons, and when he owned the Viking Hotel in Kincasslagh the craic was mighty when singers and other artists got together.

I well remember a group of residents leaving their bedrooms one night and coming down the stairs with the intention of chiding a group of us who were up on the big tables (they needed to be big to take my weight), belting out a number.

But the residents' anger turned to awe when they saw Daniel up alongside me giving it everything.

It was about 3am, but I said to Daniel: "Will I set up a cash desk and charge them in?"

I can tell you, he nearly fell off the table laughing.

While I look forward to hosting Daniel on my programme, I am very much aware that I may have difficulty in getting a word in edgeways - and that's highly unusual for me.

You see, when Daniel starts to talk, people just love to listen to his familiar Donegal lilt. It would not be an exaggeration to say that they are captivated by it.

When I last had him as a radio guest, he stopped at one stage and said: "Have you nothing to say, Hugo?" To which I responded: "Sure, you're doing enough talking for the both of us."

He has just returned from his latest stint in Branson, and will be appearing at the Waterfront Hall on December 18, the day of our chat on the radio.

Do tune in (1.30pm-3pm), because the show will provide you with a helping of pre-Christmas cheer.

Singer Gerry seeing double

Gerry Guthrie is certainly taking big strides in theĀ  entertainment sphere right now.

The Ballina singer, who appears with his band tomorrow night at the Mourne Country Hotel in Newry, has not one but two songs in the Irish Country Music Airplay Chart.

Sitting at number one is If I Had You to Have and to Hold, while Did She Mention My Name is at number four.

The chart double is giving the star no small amount of satisfaction.

"These are two songs of which I am particularly fond, and the fact that they are both in the chart is a great source of encouragement to me and my band," says Gerry.

"We always put a strong emphasis on our recording material, and we appear to have come up trumps this time. We are delighted with the reaction to both of them."

Gerry is facing a busy festive period, with appearances scheduled at venues all over the country.

Last Sunday night, he appeared in concert in Banteer, Co Cork, where he had what he describes as "an amazing night".

"While I enjoy playing at dances, I also quite like performing at concerts," Gerry explains.

"We had a great show in Banteer, and it certainly gives me tremendous encouragement going forward."

Gerry, a proficient lead guitarist, reckons he has had one of his best years, and is looking forward to 2019.

"We hope to break new ground, and things are certainly looking very encouraging indeed from our perspective," he tells me.

Hard-working Sean's Christmas shows are sure to be real crackers

There are few people who do more to promote country music across Ulster than Sean Wallace.

The Katesbridge man is known throughout the province for his staunch commitment to all things country and for his professionalism in staging the shows with which he has become associated down through the years.

Now that Christmas is drawing near, Sean will be very much to the fore once again with his range of shows.

This year Sean has Conal Gallen in the Millbrook Lodge Hotel in Ballynahinch on Saturday, January 5, and a Christmas Country Showtime concert at the Market Place Theatre in Armagh on Friday, December 28.

For country fans, this will provide a feast of the songs and music they love.

Topping the bill is Ireland's first lady of country music, Susan McCann, known for hit songs including The Old Man on the Porch, When The Sun Says Goodbye to the Mountains, Penny Arcade and many more.

Susan will be joined by the versatile Stephen Smyth, the popular Boxcar Brian, the fantastic country voice of Jordan Mogey, Olivia Douglas and 15-year-old singing sensation Owen Mac.

The Barry Doyle Band will be playing, and Farmer Dan has promised to join the party for the craic. I have known Sean Wallace for quite a long time, and I have always admired the excellent work he does in keeping the country music wheels turning.

I have no doubt that he will continue to do this throughout next year.

Belfast Telegraph