Farm Ireland

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Rockin' Rowley: 'I was never comfortable with being the frontman' - Ray Lynam

Phenomenal vocal talent: Ray Lynam
Phenomenal vocal talent: Ray Lynam
Twin sisters Lizzie and Catherine Ward Thomas
Cliona Hagan

Eddie Rowley

Some performers revel in the glow of celebrity, but country singer Ray Lynam admits that, back in the 1970s, stardom didn't sit comfortably on his shoulders.

A shy man with a phenomenal vocal talent, Ray was one of Ireland's top attractions in that era as the lead singer with The Hillbillies band.

"I was never really comfortable with being the frontman," Ray tells me. "I would have much preferred to have been in the background, to be honest." In those times, the man from Moate, Co Westmeath, was a pin-up idol, appearing on the cover of Spotlight magazine, ensuring even more publicity.

"That was the hard work part of it," he laughs today.

Thousands of fans flocked to see Ray Lynam and The Hillbillies in dance halls across the land. He says: "I was very lucky that I was there in the good times. And it helped that I happened to be friends with good musicians."

They were managed by Sean Reilly, who later guided Daniel O'Donnell to superstardom - and members of The Hillbillies would go on to become Daniel's backing band.

"We had a great run, playing six and sometimes seven nights a week during our heyday," Ray recalls. During that time, he had a successful singing partnership with 'Queen of Country' Philomena Begley, including a big hit with 'My Elusive Dreams.'

Ray Lynam & The Original Hillbillies are now back together again for an autumn tour from next month.

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Fans can also look forward to a new single, 'Back On The Road Again', and a new studio album featuring their hits from the 70s, including 'Wolverton Mountain' and 'Brand New Mister Me.'

Emerging UK stars have links to Kildare

Twin sisters Lizzie and Catherine Ward Thomas

It's not just Ireland that is currently enjoying a country music boom among a young generation - Britain has it's own emerging stars.

The Shires - Ben Earle and Chrissie Rhodes - have been spearheading the resurgence of country in the UK over the last couple of years.

Now they've been joined on the scene by Ward Thomas, who have just released their second album, 'Cartwheels', and were guests on Nathan Carter's TV show recorded in Sligo two weeks ago.

Twenty-two year old twin sisters Lizzy and Catherine Ward Thomas, pictured above, whose paternal Irish grandmother is from Naas, Co Kildare, grew up on a farm in rural Hampshire and began writing songs in sixth class at school.

In their teens, they became stars with the release of their first album, 'From Where We Stand.' The sisters write as well as they sing and their trademark harmonies win them new fans wherever they go.

'Performing is my real passion'

Cliona Hagan

Cliona Hagan, who has just released her third single, 'Dance On', says she doesn't regret quitting music teaching to pursue her ambition to become Ireland's next big female country star.

"I really enjoyed teaching, but performing is my real passion," the young Tyrone woman says. "As soon as I first stood on stage I was hooked."

Hagan has been given the thumbs up by Daniel O'Donnell who says: "Cliona is a great talent with lovely country voice."

Cliona also won 'Newcomer of the Year' at the recent RTE Country Music Awards.

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