Belfast Telegraph

Back Then: How Chandelier Charley Pride lit up whole city of Belfast

The day promoter Jim Aiken persuaded legend Charlie Pride to play concert in Belfast in 1976

By Eddie McIlwaine

It was the winter of 1976 and there was snow on the ground when concert promoter the late Jim Aiken knocked on the stage door of a theatre in Ohio and asked to speak to country singer Charley Pride who was the artist that particular week.

And there in the warmth of his dressing room, Jim persuaded Charley to come to Belfast, which was a dark and miserable city as the Troubles rumbled on with top entertainers reluctant to appear.

"But my dad and Charley struck up an instant friendship and a date at the Ritz Cinema that November '76. was quickly arranged," says Peter Aiken. "And after Charley, other mainline artists started to follow for Aiken dates even though the Troubles continued.".

Yes, Charley Pride did indeed appear that first time all those years ago to brighten up Belfast with his biggest hit The Crystal Chandelier and all his other hoedown songs.

Even then, there was the hint of a smile again on the anxious face of the city. Now he is coming back for the umpteenth time to play the Waterfront on April 16 and 18.

"I couldn't have refused Jim Aiken in '76," explains Charley. "He had to take four internal flights there and back, including one in a puddle jumper and then drive miles to the Ohio concert hall to see me."

Charley has been here many times since and was deeply saddened when his friend Jim died seven years ago.

And now he is coming back yet again, promoted by Jim's son Peter. The occasion will be the 50th anniversary of The Crystal Chandeliers which Charley recorded in Nashville in 1965.

"That was a significant release for me," says Charley now. "I knew in my heart Chandeliers would be a hit. It was first heard as a track on an album called Country Ways months after the recording and the fans loved it, especially when it came out as a single."

Chandeliers is now a popular pub song in Belfast, Charley is delighted to be told.

He is, of course, officially, a Nashville legend. One night 10 years ago he was having dinner with Jim and me in a crowded restaurant in Nashville.

When he got up to leave the diners rose as one and applauded him to the door. Now you don't get that at every meal.

Was love meant to last? The time I met Kenny Rogers' wife backstage

Did the late arrival of Kenny Rogers, another country singer, at  Melbourne Park really give Andy Murray a helping hand into the final of the Australian Open? 

Andy's semi-final opponent was Tomas Berdych who initially had the Scot in trouble. Then veteran Kenny (76) arrived late and unable to find his seat.

While he searched, play on court had to be stopped. And when the match resumed Andy gave Berdych a thumping. Would his ultimate victory have happened if Rogers had been on time? Sounds a bit far-fetched to me, but Murray is a Kenny fan and did not dispute the claim by the hoedown star that the pause in the proceedings had helped him to victory. I have always liked Kenny for his hoedown style. We first met at the Grosvenor Hall in Belfast where he got a standing ovation in the winter of 1977.

Afterwards in his dressing room he introduced me to his latest bride, Marianne, whom he had married a few weeks before. I noticed that Marianne was wearing a necklace with the word 'Love?'.

When I asked the reason for the question mark, she replied: "Well, Kenny has been married three times before and I am taking no chances."

Unfortunately the marriage did end , the couple were divorced in 1993.

Belfast Telegraph

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