| 16.1°C Belfast

On song... the Northern Ireland singers showing how they care


Close

Bringing sunshine: David Kelly playing at a care home in the north west

Bringing sunshine: David Kelly playing at a care home in the north west

Musician David Kelly

Musician David Kelly

Ring of fans: David Kelly doing a Johnny Cash tribute gig for care home residents

Ring of fans: David Kelly doing a Johnny Cash tribute gig for care home residents

Getting better: Malcolm McDowell

Getting better: Malcolm McDowell

Anthony Toner performing at Sydenham Court in east Belfast

Anthony Toner performing at Sydenham Court in east Belfast

Anthony Toner

Anthony Toner

Stepping out: residents dance to Anthony Toner at Sydenham Court

Stepping out: residents dance to Anthony Toner at Sydenham Court

Bringing sunshine: David Kelly playing at a care home in the north west

Around 16,000 people are in lockdown in care homes across Northern Ireland, many of them self-isolating to curb the coronavirus threat. Linda Stewart talks to three entertainers who have been putting on a show to help lift the residents' spirits.

‘I wanted to do something useful and the response has been just overwhelming’

Musician David Kelly (50), originally from Coleraine and living in Portstewart, has been entertaining residents of three residential care homes a week with his Johnny Cash tribute act, singing outside when the weather is good. He is married to Michelle (52) and has three sons, Jordan (24), Daniel (22) and Michael (19). He says:

I've always loved music and I recently had the opportunity to go full-time as a musician. I would travel about the UK and Ireland and sometimes go on to the streets and do a bit of busking - you get to meet people and sing whatever you want.

I had developed a Johnny Cash concert, telling his story and using his songs, doing it in an inspirational way to bring hope. His story ran from rags to riches, going through torture but ending up free - he went through drugs and illness but ended up strong.

I've performed at some care homes before and when I travel with my tour, I always seem to end up in a care home somewhere. It's good craic because you meet some really interesting characters and they lap up the live music. Even people with dementia or Alzheimer's can join in the singing along with you and end up singing all the words of a hymn or a wartime song.

Close

Ring of fans: David Kelly doing a Johnny Cash tribute gig for care home residents

Ring of fans: David Kelly doing a Johnny Cash tribute gig for care home residents

Ring of fans: David Kelly doing a Johnny Cash tribute gig for care home residents

I'm not great at sitting at home and I wanted to find a way I could go out and do something useful and help, while staying within the guidelines.

I heard how badly care homes were struggling and I came up with an idea of doing care home concerts. There's no risk - I have battery powered equipment and I set up in the car park and sing some songs.

In some care homes, the residents were only permitted to open the window and listen through the windows, but it's good to see all the heads bobbing about.

In others, residents were allowed to bring out their wheelchairs and sit in a semi-circle, socially distanced and enjoying the sunshine. Some even got up and did a wee boogie or a waltz.

They were clapping, tapping their toes, singing along and calling out requests. There were no stage dives or anything like that, but everybody seemed to enjoy it.

So far I've done five or six concerts and there are a few more in the pipeline - it's all good.

Close

Musician David Kelly

Musician David Kelly

Musician David Kelly

They are so isolated. I was at one care home the other day and a staff member said these people haven't been outside for 41 days. In some cases, everybody is quarantined in their rooms.

There was one lady who had to go outside for dental treatment and she had to stay in her room for a week as a precaution. There was a lovely moment when I was able to go to her window and serenade her though the window - she had a lovely big smile on her face.

The response has been just overwhelming and I'd love to inspire other people to do it."

‘We’re playing uplifting songs and all the residents are so thankful’

Close

Getting better: Malcolm McDowell

Getting better: Malcolm McDowell

Getting better: Malcolm McDowell

Country singer Malcolm McDowell (43), presenter of Irish Music Memories on Sky TV, has been asking singers to visit care homes as a morale booster and bringing treats for the staff. He lived in Belfast until December when his mother was diagnosed with cancer and he moved to Brookeborough, Co Fermanagh, to be close to his parents. He played a few gigs before succumbing to coronavirus himself, but is hoping to start again. Malcolm says:

I'd brought together a group of singers and musicians from across Northern Ireland who were not classed as vulnerable. The idea was that there would be one singer per care home and they were going to set up their equipment outside the care home singing for half to three-quarters of an hour and I'll be there with traybakes for all the residents and staff.

We've been doing gigs from Crossmaglen to east Belfast. Before we go to any nursing home, we contact Community Policing to let them know.

When you're putting on a gig, you have to think of the age group and think of the current environment. Especially with a lot of country songs, they can be very depressing, with lyrics about people dying and all sorts of things.

So we are trying to make it uplifting stuff - the older people all love the Sixties stuff anyway, so I would do songs like Lipstick on your Collar or Que Sera Sera where they can all sing along.

They're all so thankful and you want to go and chat to them, but you can't.

It's done outside and the homes have to have suitable space to do it outside, and for residents to have space to come outside or have good visibility right out to the garden so they can watch from inside. They're loving it.

I had done it a couple of times, but then I started to feel ill and I had to pull the plug, but I'm hoping to be out again next week.

I had rented a cottage beside my parents to take my mum to treatment and was looking after them.

I've been looking after so many people, shopping for them and delivering stuff to hospitals that it was kind of inevitable that I was going to get the virus.

I had a brain tumour and a bowel tumour last year and I was told not to be doing anything, but I wouldn't be the kind of person to sit in the house.

The first symptom that made me think I had coronavirus was when I was sitting one night at about 11pm and I started to get very warm and sweat was coming out of my head. I went to the front door and I was roasting - I started to feel sore down my left side thought I must have pulled something.

The next day I felt it go into the other lung on the right-hand side - but it wasn't like a chest infection. I could feel it around the outside of my lung. My throat started to close in and then I had a problem with my hearing.

I had to be isolated totally from anybody - my brother would come up and look through the window to see how I was.

When I contacted the GP, he said I needed to be admitted so I went to the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen. They didn't do a test for coronavirus, but they said I'd obviously had the symptoms.

At the time I wasn't really that worried, I was that sick. I isolated further for two weeks after that. My aim was to get clearance that I would be no threat to anybody - I didn't want to be going round nursing homes if there was any risk at all.

It got to the stage that I couldn't talk. It was a choice between going to phone the ambulance or see what happens at home, but I would prefer to be lying in my bed.

It's very difficult and that is the truth. I am clear of it now thankfully, although I'm still very sore and weak with it."

‘The only complaint was that I didn’t play any songs by Cliff Richard’

Close

Anthony Toner performing at Sydenham Court in east Belfast

Anthony Toner performing at Sydenham Court in east Belfast

Anthony Toner performing at Sydenham Court in east Belfast

Singer-songwriter Anthony Toner (55), originally from Coleraine, is in lockdown with his wife Andrea, a theatre director, in east Belfast. His daughter Sian lives nearby on Belmont Road and is mum to seven-month-old Jude. He recently put on an outdoor concert at Sydenham Court. He says:

My father is in a care home up in Coleraine and they've had a couple of cases of coronavirus - none fatal but we're into fingers-crossed territory.

Like anybody else in the creative sector, I've found the diary completely emptied out. I'm a singer-songwriter and for the last 10-12 years I've been releasing CDs, touring and doing live gigs and that has completely ground to a halt.

EastSide Arts have a tradition of working in care homes - for example, Eastside Arts festival would put on afternoon gigs in care homes and I've done a couple of those.

I think one of the care homes had got in touch with EastSide Arts (after lockdown) to say the residents were really quite depressed because they are kind of housebound and asked if they knew anybody that could do anything.

EastSide Arts mentioned it to me and it was literally just round the corner from me here at Sydenham Court.

Close

Anthony Toner

Anthony Toner

Anthony Toner

Luckily I have a little amplifier that is almost like a PA system and it fits into a space that's 4ft square. We worked out what to do in the car park at the back - I would be set up outside the kitchen window and could put an electricity supply in there.

The residents all walked past me at a distance of 15ft, and staff had set up 18 or 19 seats 20ft away from me.

I sat outside in the sunshine and played for about an hour and it was lovely.

I'm 54 and these people are maybe only 20 years older than me, so I was able to play a lot of old stuff - Elvis, country music like Jim Reeves and Glen Campbell.

There were a few waving their arms and a couple of them got up and had a dance.

The only complaint was from a lady who said I didn't do Cliff Richard, so if I ever come back I'll learn some Cliff Richard songs.

Close

Stepping out: residents dance to Anthony Toner at Sydenham Court

Stepping out: residents dance to Anthony Toner at Sydenham Court

Stepping out: residents dance to Anthony Toner at Sydenham Court

Who knows, when we get into summer proper, they might do a series of these. One of the things I was slightly conscious of was that it was an outdoor gig and if there were members of the public going past, there was a danger of people congregating to watch.

But we were okay - we were right at the back of the care home and it wasn't a very busy street so we were all okay. They seemed to really enjoy it.

The manager said to me they were very excited about it - it's all they'd talked about since they knew this was going to happen.

We take it for granted that people like you and me can nip round the corner, go into a local shop and buy an ice cream. But it's not that easy for people in a situation like that, especially if they've had a regular series of activities, and that suddenly stops."

Belfast Telegraph