Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Big Tom was a true giant of country music

Editor's Viewpoint

An entertainer knows they have made it when they are known to fans everywhere by just their first name. Big Tom was certainly a singer who reached the top of the tree in his chosen genre.

Inducted into the Irish Country Music Awards Hall of Fame in June 2016, Big Tom McBride was commonly referred to as the King of Country Music in Ireland.

Not only was he hugely popular - he had sold a million records by 1980 - but his career was remarkable for its longevity. His music was the soundtrack for country fans of the 60s, 70s and 80s, and he remained a popular figure on the circuit until very recently.

Many of today's young stars of country music are indebted to Big Tom for keeping the flame alive at a time when popular music was revolutionised by bands like the Rolling Stones or The Beatles.

And he did it without the assistance of television exposure. It was all due to personal appearances and word of mouth.

His enduring fame was earned by sheer hard work as well as talent. Like so many of those on the country circuit, Big Tom performed practically every night of the week, travelling the length and breadth of the island to play in the ballrooms of romance.

He also was a frequent visitor to Irish centres in the UK where, to this day, a thriving interest in country music remains.

A native of Co Monaghan, he was a man for whom the border meant nothing, other than perhaps which anthem to play at the end of a night's performance.

Country fans come from all sections of the community and the music is undoubtedly a unifying feature.

It may be easy to decry some of the homespun lyrics of Irish country music but one only has to look at the gig list in any newspaper to realise its popularity. Perhaps most amazingly of all, it is attracting more and more young people, drawn by the younger stars of the genre now performing.

Irish President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar were among the first to pay tribute to Big Tom when news of his death emerged. That in itself was an indication of the impression he made on the psyche of the country.

His wife, Rose, to whom he was married for more than 50 years, passed away in January.

He leaves behind him a rich legacy of his music - and there is no doubt that the songs he made famous will continue to be played for many years to come by his countless fans.

Belfast Telegraph

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