Lynette Fay: Musical snobs should take a look at outpouring of love for Big Tom

Big Tom on stage at a fundraising concert in Letterkenny last September for victims of flooding in Inishowen Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Lynette Fay

I OCCASIONALLY present the Hugo Duncan Show on BBC Radio Ulster, when Hugo takes a rare day off. Tuesday of this week was one of those days.

Usually, sitting in for Hugo means choosing upbeat, feel-good country music tracks, trying to baffle the listeners with brain teasers and having good craic for 90 minutes.

When the news broke on Tuesday morning that ‘Big Tom’ McBride had passed away, I knew that this would not be a run-of-the-mill ‘Hugo’ show.

It was a very humbling experience to present this programme. A lot of listeners took the time to send extremely considered contributions to us, such is their respect for the man and his music. It was a huge honour to facilitate this outpouring of love for Big Tom and his music. The playlist was made up of classic Big Tom hits such as Four Country Roads, Gentle Mother, Dim Lights and Going Out The Same Way You Came In.

I had the pleasure of meeting Big Tom a few times. I was genuinely star struck but, like everyone else who ever met him, I found him to be a very modest man, with a very down-to-earth nature. This is what endeared him to me. He was very witty too.

Staying true to yourself is not easy. Working out and knowing who you are and what you stand for is a challenge we all face. Have you cracked it? Big Tom certainly had.

I worked on the Opry Dhoire TV series for TG4 last year. The Big Tom special was one of the highlights of the series for me. It was my job to mingle with the fans in the foyer before and during the show.

Over a thousand people had travelled from all over Ireland to be there for what at that point had become a rare live performance from their hero. How they gushed about Tom, and his wife Rose. To most, both Tom and Rose came as a package. Most of the fans had followed Tom for years and seen him play live in venues all over the country, and further afield. He was the voice of home for generations of Irish emigrants who moved abroad in the 70s and 80s in pursuit of work.

Rose was there for the recording that evening and that episode of Opry Dhoire episode was broadcast over Christmas, a rare occasion when generations of families watch television together. Unsurprisingly, it was a popular programme.

Coincidentally, the subject of last week’s column was country music. I mentioned how the appeal of this music can be cross generational and how if raised on a strict diet of country music, we can often rebel but inevitably return to the fold. A number of texts I received into the radio show on Tuesday expressed the same sentiments.

I have had a few interesting conversations with friends and colleagues this week about Big Tom and country music in general. I really don’t understand why those who don’t get it seem to be so against it and are very dismissive of the music itself and its popularity. The love for Big Tom and his music required qualification for some.

There is definitely a snobbery towards country music and its appeal. If qualification were needed, Big Tom’s image adorned the front pages of most newspapers on this island on Wednesday. Ahead of his funeral yesterday, thousands descended on Castleblaney to pay their respects to Tom and his family. Last night The Late Late Show paid tribute to the lost legend. The music snobs should take a look at the viewing figures. I would hazard a guess that they were off the scale.

A statue of Big Tom will be erected in his native Castleblaney this September. It’s a pity that he didn’t live to see it unveiled, but I understand that he had seen the statue or at least its design and was happy with it.

Tom was Ireland’s Elvis; he was the king of country music. He was from Castleblaney, he sang in his own accent and he never forgot where he came from and was proud of it. He was laid to rest there yesterday beside his beloved Rose who sadly passed away in January. He and his music will forever have a place in millions of Irish hearts.

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