John McAnulty: Exceptional Co Tyrone singer had no desire for fame
JOHN McAnulty had an exceptional singing talent, a true and musical voice, which made him an extremely popular figure across east Tyrone.
Most people who heard him rated him very highly and many queried why he had not made any records.
Near the end John freely admitted that he didn’t achieve what he could have - but he displayed no regrets in that regard.
For John went through his life not ever really seeking to make a lasting impression on people.
On the spur of the moment he could be amazingly talented but he had no lasting drive for fame.
John was born in the Doon, Aughamullen, Coalisland in 1949. We grew up together and he was the lead singer in the various small music groups that we formed.
His ability to pick up pop songs from a few listenings on the radio and then perform them live with the minimum of practice and mediocre backing music marked him out from the rest.
John was as good as there was anywhere when it came to singing songs from the likes of Burle Ives, Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Englebert or Marty Robbins.
He could have included that wee hint of a yodel when necessary. He could whistle if a tune had to be whistled – Whistling Jack Smyth presented no problem.
And he was very good on the mouth organ and often impressed with the theme from The Magnificent Seven.
In later years John was very popular in many local clubs including Derrytresk. His renditions of hits by The Fureys and Foster and Allen put him greatly in demand.
The O’Neills and Hannas rated him very highly and that is no mean feat. When the late Sarah Ann and Co thought you were good there wasn’t much wrong with your singing.
I recall after one booking in the Derrytresk old clubhouse ('the Hut'), the late traditional singer Geordie Hanna came up to me and said: “Do you know what it is about McAnulty? He’s dead on the note.”
Yes, John was perfectly on the note. He never drifted off key. It was easy to accompany him because even when you didn’t play all the right chords, John could make it all sound good.
In recent years John became a great fan of Merle Haggard. Merle died in 2017 and if he made it to heaven then John should be in his company now.
Heaven won’t know what has hit it and I’m confident Merle will be wondering why he hadn’t heard of him when he was on this earth.
I have many fond memories of John McAnulty, as a boy, a young man and as an ageing man.
During his illness, whilst reminiscing, I'd tell him that he would have been better off without me in the group.
He always replied: "I never would have done it without you." Such was his sense of loyalty.
John died on June 23 and is survived by his wife Eileen, his daughter Tricia, son Jack and his sisters Mena McGahan and Pauline McNaney.