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Imports gave local country music scene a shot in the arm

By Hugo Duncan

For generations, Ireland was synonymous with emigration. But the passage of history was eventually to prove more favourable and, in time, the trend was reversed, particularly in more recent decades.

Instead of people leaving here, folk of all nationalities have flooded into this country, bringing with them their diverse talents.

This is particularly so in relation to country music.

Roly Daniels, Robert Mizzell, Nathan Carter, Lisa McHugh, along with the Benn Sisters and a number of others have not only set up home here, but have continued to provide top-class entertainment on an ongoing basis for many thousands of Irish residents.

India-born Roly Daniels was the first of these to grace Ireland's stages with his superb singing voice, initially in his role as lead vocalist with the Jim Farley Band, before moving on to the Nevada Showband and, latterly, as a quality country singer, who achieved considerable fame with his big hits, such as Hello Darlin' and Mr Jones.

To this day, Roly continues to demonstrate his unique style at concerts and cabaret shows, and is still viewed as one of the pioneers of the flourishing Irish entertainment scene.

If Robert Mizzell, who has been here for 20 years, is regarded as being of rather more recent vintage compared to the peerless Roly, then he has certainly packed a lot into the time he has spent here since he breezed in from Louisiana.

Almost from he arrived, Robert has been fronting his own band and, boosted by the huge success of his Say You Love Me hit, he has remained in the top tier of country bands here, his all-American style being something of a contrast to our homegrown talent.

And, as if to provide further proof that country singers are far from carbon copies of one another, Nathan Carter and Lisa McHugh have been bringing their own inimitable qualities into play for the best part of a decade.

Liverpool-born Nathan, of course, took the Irish country music scene by storm virtually from the word go, while Glasgow girl Lisa continues to enthral audiences wherever she performs.

Both Nathan and Lisa, along with Carlow man Derek Ryan, have been largely responsible for the huge upsurge in country music, among young people in particular. At one time, it might not have been regarded as hip to be a country follower, but this trio changed all that.

The huge crowds that attended festivals over the course of the summer which has just ended bore testimony to the ongoing appeal country music has for the younger generation.

Nathan's Wagon Wheel was a monster hit that propelled him into the global charts, while Applejack has become Lisa's signature tune.

Nathan has only recently returned from Germany and is currently in the United States, where he is undertaking promotional work in advance of a tour there.

This only lends substance to the current popular belief that you can become a country singer and see the world.

Not to be outdone, Lisa spent the greater part of the month of June in Nashville, where she linked up with a number of leading songwriters and also gained experience of working in state-of-the-art recording studios.

The Benn Sisters, from England, took up residence in Northern Ireland several years ago, and their intricate harmonies continue to lend an extra dimension to shows throughout the country.

They have provided backing vocals on many albums by other acts, and their easy-going manner and professionalism have won them many admirers.

There will always be a welcome on the mat in Ireland for country music talent and I, for one, hope that we will be privileged to host several more artistes throughout the coming years.

Bluegrass Ray's legacy lives on through Michael's song

The country scene is festooned with characters - people who are very much individuals in their own right and who often cock a snook at convention but are all the more endearing because of this.

Ray Liggett, who sadly passed away earlier this year, was such a personality. He gloried in the title of Bluegrass Ray, and brought his own special touch to concerts and shows throughout the province.

The Drumquin man just loved performing. His enthusiasm for and dedication to country music was clearly evident.

It is perhaps appropriate that his legacy should live on through the fantastic Michael English, who has recorded Joey on the Fiddle.

It was Ray's musical wizardry at one of our outside broadcasts at Plumbridge - at which Michael was also a guest - that inspired Michael to write this song and then record it.

It is, indeed, a fitting tribute to Ray's love of all things country.

Although he was not playing the fiddle on that occasion - he was actually playing the Jew's harp and the button-key accordion - Ray's charisma, flamboyant dress sense and all-action style created a big impression on Michael.

Ray took a particular liking to Michael's Dance All Night, as it is a number which immediately triggers a response from listeners, who enthusiastically perform their steps as outlined by Michael in the song.

It is a testimony to his talent that Michael wrote and recorded Joey on the Fiddle in Ray's memory - a fact that Michael confirmed during our recent outside broadcast in Irvinestown.

Michael, of course, has had a number of huge hits, including The Nearest to Perfect, A Million Memories and Locklin's Bar - and now Joey on the Fiddle can sit up there alongside those.

15 years in and Mike's still at top of his game

Fifteen years have elapsed since Mike Denver first went on the road with his band.

In that time, the Galway singer has released a string of singles and albums that propelled him into the national spotlight and kept him there.

His new album, Enjoy Yourself, is among the best that he has come up with and, not surprisingly, it is serving to keep him very much in the limelight.

Indeed, a few years ago, he released Tommy K - a song that did extremely well for him and proved a big hit in the dancing venues.

Mike is that rare breed of entertainer who enjoys sustained popularity in all 32 counties, although it has to be said that he enjoys a particularly high profile here in Ulster.

His action-packed dance show ensures that he remains a huge draw, while his status as a concert performer has been enhanced over recent years because of his ability to sell out theatres.

"I enjoy playing at dances and concerts, and the greatest satisfaction I get is from seeing people enjoy themselves," says Mike.

"We have been fortunate in that we have had some success with our recordings, but you can't afford to rest on your laurels in this business."

He is right there. There is an ongoing clamour from bands for suitable recording material, with many anxious to come up with a song that would really help to put them on the map.

But while successful recordings can be a big help, the ability to offer an all-action, two-hour programme is, nonetheless, what people enjoy most.

And that's why Mike is still up there with the very best of them.

Belfast Telegraph

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