Lynette Fay: Country's here to stay, folks, so why not try it? You might even like it
As a result of being surrounded by country music, I became allergic to it. During my teens and early 20s I couldn't stand a reference to it, never mind listen to it. How things change as we grow older
COUNTRY music. Like it or love it, it has never been more popular, particularly in this part of the world.
Growing up in Co Tyrone, country music and jiving were all around us. My mother’s vinyl collection was made up of Charlie Pride, George Hamilton IV and, of course, the Queen, Philomena. Daniel O’Donnell tapes followed. Mummy still loves him.
That was the soundtrack in our house when I was small. My auntie was mad into ‘the dances’ and played Margo tapes in her car when we went for drives on a Saturday. I knew all the words.
We also had a family connection to the Moy Inn (now the Ryandale). It's the orginal mecca of country and has remained so for 40 years. Every Saturday night, then and now, The Moy Square becomes a car park as hundreds of country-mad jivers make their way to the dance hall to strut their stuff.
As a result of being surrounded by this music, I became allergic to it. During my teens and early 20s I couldn’t stand a reference to it, never mind listen to it. How things change as we grow older. Over the past 10 years I have reconnected with the songs and my interest in country music grows daily.
The songs can be powerful, hard hitting, romantic, funny, tragic, wise. The audience who appreciate and love country tend to be maligned by those who don’t rate it. As a genre, it can be viewed as ‘simple’ and I suppose it is – simple, human stories we can all relate to, delivered by powerful voices.
I would say that the country music fraternity in the north are quite sophisticated in their knowledge and appreciation of the music. It's a wide church, that offers, I believe, something for everyone.
Irish country music's appeal is cross generational – any rural wedding will prove that. More and more young people are going to dances and concerts and young artists such as Nathan Carter, Lisa McHugh, Derek Ryan and Lauren McCrory are following in the footsteps of the all-time greats like Philomena, Susan McCann, Brian Coll, Declan Nerney and Daniel. What is lovely is that the greats encourage the younger generation and help them to make this music their own.
Having worked in this world for a good few years now, I can honestly say that everyone involved in it is lovely, good craic and down to earth.
American country has become hugely popular here too. I was in Dublin for this year’s Country to Country festival, an exceptional experience. This year Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town, Midland and Faith Hill and Tim McGraw were among the line-up – the biggest in the business and they appreciate the enthusiasm of the Irish audience.
In a couple of weeks the stars of US television drama Nashville will perform in Belfast for the second time in a year, such was the welcome they received last year. I met Charles Esten and Jonathan Jackson, who play Deacon Claybourne and Avery Barkley on screen, and, like many fans of the show, I was weak at the knees. Even though we haven’t seen the latest series on this side of the Atlantic yet, I have my front-row seat booked for the Belfast live show.
For the past three years, the world of country music has provided a way to showcase and better understand part of the lifestyle of rural Ireland. Not every country dweller is a fan of country music, but the BBC series Keepin Er Country has become quite the phenomenon.
I play a very small role in this as I provide the voice-over for the show. This means that I deliver a script and tell the story. Many people ask me if I'm on site during the production – I’m not. All the credit for finding the fantastic characters lighting up our TV screens on Monday and Tuesday nights at present must go to The Alley Cats production team.
What I really love about Keepin Er Country is that great characters and what is perceived mostly by city dwellers to be a different way of life are showcased and celebrated. The result is must-see, feel-good television.
I received a text message from a city-dwelling friend the other night telling me that he surprised himself by watching this week’s episode in its entirety. My reply was ‘Welcome to the dark side’.
Embrace it, people: country music is box office, it’s here to stay and, you know what? You might even enjoy the world that it opens to you.