Arts Q&A: Broadcaster and country music legend Hugo Duncan on his favourite music, movies and food

Jenny Lee puts performers and artists on the spot about what really matters to them. This week, broadcaster and country music singer Hugo Duncan

1. When did you think about a career in music/broadcasting and what were your first steps into it?

My mother, wee Suzy, who was only five foot tall and wore a size two shoe, sang in the house, hail or snow; so music was in my heart and my soul.  I sang operatics in school and was cast as Buttons in the Cinderella panto when I was just nine years of age.  Then I began taking music more seriously and started off as a drummer in a Ceili band.  One night I ended up singing a couple of songs in St Pat’s Hall in Strabane. After that, I was asked up for requests every time we did a gig.  I taught myself the guitar with three chords and the rest is history. At first, I worked in a nylon factory full-time and played music part-time.  It was actually in the nylon factory that I met Joan and thankfully, she hadn’t heard me sing, as she probably wouldn’t have agreed to go on a date with me. With regards to broadcasting, I started off on pirate radio stations in Donegal, then I was asked to fill in on BBC Radio Foyle for presenter Don O'Doherty, for five weeks. That progressed to my slot on BBC Radio Ulster on October 5 1998.  I was only supposed to do a six-week series and I’m still there. 

2. Best gigs you’ve been to?

I was lucky enough to see the amazing George Hamilton V in Nashville.  As for my own gigs, I’ll never forget performing in The Royal Albert Hall in London on St Patrick’s Day and also a gig in Lifford when my single Dear God got to number one.

3. Fantasy wedding/birthday party band?

Dolly Parton and Tom T Hall.

4. The record you’d take to a desert island

Tom T Hall’s Old Dogs Children and Watermelon Wine.  I fell in love with the lyrics ``God bless little children while they’re still too young to hate.” I also love The Isle of Innisfree, which is in The Quiet Man movie, and Two Loves by Sean Dumphy and The Hoedowners .  I came from a one-parent family, so the lyrics resonate fondly with me.

5. And the book you’d take to a desert island?

I’d take the book Uncle Hugo, The Wee Man From Strabane with me, just in case I forgot who I was.

6. Top three films?

The Quiet Man, as the chemistry between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was so special.  Going My Way with Bing Crosby is another favourite with Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral (Irish Lullaby).   Last but not least, ET. I’m a big softie and I did cry when ET pointed his finger to the sky saying “ET phone home.”

7. Worst film you’ve seen?

I don’t watch to the end of a movie if I’m not enjoying it.

8. Favourite authors?

I’ve never read a book in my life.

9. Sport(s) you most enjoy and top team(s)?

I’m not really into sport, but do watch the odd Tyrone game or Manchester United or Liverpool match when my family are with me.  I have played a few charity football games; I’m usually stuck on goals as I’m a brave size of a man.

10. Ideal holiday destination?

Would you believe Joan and I have never got on a plane together? It’s definitely on my bucket list. We’d both like to go to Rome.

11. Pet hates?

Trying to talk to people who have hair coming out of their nose.

12. What’s your favourite:

Dinner? Whatever is put down in front of me, especially spicy salmon.

Dessert? Joan’s home-made sherry trifle at Christmas

Drink? At one time, drink played a big part of my life, but I’ve been off it since December 28 1983. Now I drink minerals.

13. Who is your best friend and how do you know each other?

I’ve loads of friends who pulled me out of dark times, I wouldn’t single any of them out.

14. Is there a God?

I came through a few rough years and if I didn’t believe there was a God I never would have got through them. I don’t preach to anyone, but I’m a person who prays every day.

:: Hugo and Friends will be coming to Belfast’s Grand Opera House on Monday  March 13 with: Brendan Shine, Declan Nerney, Trionagh Allen, Claudia Buckley, Joe Mahon, Gerard Dornan, Kenny Archer and the band Country Harmony. Tickets available from www.goh.co.uk or phone 02890 241919. 

Hugo will soon be releasing his new 20-track album Faith, Family and Friends on Sharpe Records. You can listen to Hugo Duncan on BBC Radio Ulster, weekdays at 1.30pm.