Belfast Telegraph

My pal Val Doonican who started out as a pub band drummer

By Eddie McIlwaine

Val Doonican the balladeer used to joke with me that he would never have made the grade if he hadn't befriended a goat.

Paddy McGinty's Goat, that is, the novelty song he was performing one night at a show in Manchester with his group The Four Ramblers when an agent in the front row pricked up his ears.

He persuaded Val to go solo - and the rest is history. We stayed friends and Christmas at our house was planned many a December to a background of his Yule series on BBC1. "Somebody once said Christmas was no more when my Yule series ended," he recalled. "That was going a bit far, but I know what she meant."

He was a good-looking Irishman in the Tom Jones mould with a voice that charmed in songs like Walk Tall and The Special Years. These were his big hits and he always had to sing them by popular request on his live BBC1 summertime series which ran for 21 years from 1956.

Val always appeared on screen seated in a rocking chair which is now a feature of his daughter Sarah's sitting room. He was always surrounded by a chorus of pretty girls. And beside him on the screen was a handsome clock.

"That timepiece was essential, it was always accurate and it was proof that my show really was live," he once explained to me.

Val - whose own personal idols were cowboy stars Gene Autry and Roy Rogers - didn't believe in hanging around and fading away like too many singers do. He retired from television in 1990 when he felt it was time to go and spent the rest of his time in stage shows. He retired for good three years ago, leaving behind a legacy of popular tracks including my own favourite Val number, Memories are Made of This.

Doonican and his songs and unique style will be remembered for a long time.

Not bad for a showman who began his career in entertainment as a drummer in a pick-up band playing Waterford pubs.

Belfast Telegraph

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