The Passing Of Brian Coll Has Robbed The Country Of One Of Its Most Popular And Charismatic Entertainers

The 79-year-old’s death drew tributes from across Ireland and beyond. It was in 1970 that a casual conversation which the Omagh singer had with local man Seamus McCusker was to prove the bulwark for an enduring business relationship and warm friendship that was to last up until the time of his death.

Brian, gifted with a superb singing voice and imbued with a personality that could have charmed the birds from the trees and won him friends everywhere, never looked back from then.

When the showband business was at its peak and dances were held throughout the country six nights a week, Brian and his band were there delivering their own particular mix of country, ballads and rock ‘n’ roll.

Monday should have been their night off but Brian being Brian, it wasn’t. Instead he could invariably be found at one of the famed Monday night Jimmy Magee All-Stars shows which were staged in various locations throughout the country in order to raise funds for local good causes.

GAA personalities and many of the singers and musicians would form a team and play against a local side with hundreds of people subsequently flocking into a local venue where the entertainment continued until the wee small hours.

Along with Ireland’s biggest stars – with no one getting a cent for their troubles – Brian would give everything on stage and in the process capture the hearts of people.

In typical fashion he only ever required one sentence to sum up his involvement in the All-Stars concept: “Sure the craic was mighty altogether!”

And all the time the hits came flowing, delivered in his distinctive singing voice. Indeed, he was always viewed as a truly ‘authentic’ country singer who had a style very much his own.

Numbers such as ‘These are my mountains’, ‘Give an Irish girl to me’, ‘I’ll take you home again Kathleen’, ‘When my blue moon turns to gold’ and ‘Ireland Swings’ not only sustained him in the limelight but emphasised his immense talent and intense feel for country music.

‘Ireland swings’ was his own personal tribute to the musicians and others who helped to create and nurture the showband boom and it was a song which was to prove a musical anthem.

Time of course waits for no man and when the curtain came down on the showband boom, Brian made an effortless transition into becoming one of Ireland’s top country stars, joining people like Big Tom, Larry Cunningham, Philomena Begley and Susan McCann in the elite bracket.

In more recent years, he had focused on concert and cabaret appearances, his name on the bill always destined to bring fans flocking in.

And when it came to expressing his views, he could not only have talked for Ireland but for the United Nations as well.

Yet he invariably made for compelling listening, his often forceful views articulated in a manner that ensured they were heard – and remained with – all within earshot.

I well recall when a few of us were gathered together in Kelly’s Inn, Garvaghy near Omagh at the height of the 2008 recession and concerns were being expressed in relation to the ongoing welfare of the entertainment industry.

That was the cue for Brian, who of course needed no second bidding, to deliver his immortal assessment of the pertaining financial situation: “Look, boys, here we are talking about a lock of gigs and the country up to its knickers in the sheugh!”

Yet if music brought him fame, it was motorcycling that remained an abiding passion.

Even at the peak of his career, it was not uncommon for the band diary to be significantly rearranged so that Brian could take in the events that mattered so much to him – the Isle of Man TT, the North West 200, the Skerries 100, the Cookstown 100, etc.

Let’s just say that Seamus McCusker’s diplomacy, tact and inherent good manners were required in abundance when the necessary diary amendments had to be made.

For a man at the peak of his profession and who could well have driven the most luxurious cars had he so chosen, Brian was never more at home than in his leathers and goggles on his own motorbike.

Even until quite recently until overtaken by failing health, he had been making occasional appearances on stage and putting his own particular stamp on shows.

His passing coming so quickly following the death of another Omagh country music icon Pio McCann has come as a great shock to the Tyrone town in particular which has long been closely associated with this genre of music.

Brian was particularly close to Fr Brian Darcy, who is the unofficial chaplain to country music scene in this country.

“He was a world-class country singer who brought great joy to many people. I know he will be sadly missed by all who knew and especially his family and close friends,” said Fr Brian.

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