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"Old Friends" with a difference for Philomena Begley    

June 22, 2006

By Tom Gilmore


You could become old friends again with the hits of Philomena Begley by simply listening to some of the songs on her current album titled "The Way Old Friends Do" which is a double compilation of some of her earlier recordings.

British label Prism Leisure have released the album at a time when the son of Ireland's Country Queen, Aidan Quinn, (her marriage name is Quinn) has also released a new album as he follows in the footsteps of his famous mother into the Country music scene.

The songs of Philomena have touched the lives of former Pogues lead singer Shane McGowan, fans of ABBA have been interested too in the way she made their "The Way Old Friends Do" song into a Country classic and Daniel O'Donnell has stated that she is his favourite Irish artist.

She has shared the limelight on the live scene with stars as diverse as Don Williams, Charley Pride, Charlie Daniels or even 70s boy band, the Bay City Rollers. Indeed the list goes on and on and one could say with sincerity that if you are simply a connoisseur of classic 'Countrified' cuts, which cut straight to the heart, Philomena Begley's songs on this double album are ones you are sure to enjoy.

Songs on disc one such as "Gold and Silver Days", "Have I told you Lately that I Love You" and "Look at us" express sentiments of joy about the emotional stability one can feel from having a partner and lover for life.

On the other side of the coin some of the songs on disc two express opposite emotions of having marital problems in songs such as "One of these Days", "Never Again" or "Blue House painted white".

Irrespective of the type of emotion that has to be expressed, Philomena wrings every ounce of feeling out of the lyrics

She sings from the heart, mixing melody with emotions and one can use the word 'Countrified' because that is what she did with the ABBA song "The Way Old Friends Do". Her version of this song from the stable of those top selling Scandinavian songsmiths almost had her competing with them on the British hit parade too.

"I would finish off the show with that song and get all the audiences to join hands and the reaction just went from strength to strength. It even bubbled under the British Pop Charts and that was probably the only time ever that I went near the UK hit parade," said Philomena with a laugh.

But what event or series of events led to the Irish Country Queen taking a song by ABBA and making it very much into a Country crowd pleaser at all her performances? "My brother Kieran bought an ABBA album with "The Way Old Friends Do" and I just kept playing it and playing it. I got the idea to put a wee Country feel to it and we tried it out with amazing success. It went down really well especially with audiences all over the UK at the theatre shows and as the old saying goes, the rest is history".

Even before she had the aid of the ABBA song many musically selective Europeans were already embracing Philomena's songs which some had heard first when she won the European Gold Star Award leading to tours in ABBA's back garden of Scandinavia. In Northern Europe, Denmark was, and still is, a favourite stomping ground for Philomena Begley.

In the home of Country music too, Nashville, Tennessee, Philomena has been recognised as an international star by many of her peers for many years. Her association with the Grand Ole Opry goes back to her early days and she is accepted as a true purveyor of Country music ever since she first graced the stage there to work with veterans of the Grand Ole Opry such as the late Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl or Ernest Tubb in the 1970s. So when she sings "Texas in my Heart" you know this lady has a 'lived-in' feel for that and similar songs on this set.

Strange as it may seem some world famous Pop stars too, and their fans, have been touched by the sincerity of Philomena Begley's singing style. The lead singer of The Pogues even referred to one of her hits in one of his own songs.

Philomena heard about Shane McGowan having mentioned her name on one of his songs while she was on her first ever skiing holiday in Europe.

"A crowd of us who were involved with the Dungannon Rugby Club went out together. One of the lads from the group came running into where we were staying and he asked if I had heard the song by The Pogues on the sound system in the hotel. He said that they mentioned Ray Lynam and myself."

"The Pogues were flying high at that time in the charts and I asked the receptionist to play the tape again. Lo and behold I heard these words from Shane McGowan saying that he had waltzed to Ray and Phil in his "Elusive Dreams." says Phil with laugh.

The song was "A Pair of Brown Eyes" and she says it was a great honour to be mentioned in a song by The Pogues. "I have never seen Shane perform live but I do like some of his songs, especially "Fairytale of New York", she added.

There is a duet with Ray on this album too and it is one that was hugely popular for the duo when they toured together titled "You and Me, Him and Her".

It was back about the time that Phil was at the peak of her popularity for songs such as "Ramblin' Man" or "Truck Driving Sweetheart" that she was also voted by readers of Irish Pop magazine "New Spotlight" as the Top Female Country singer and booked to appear on the same stage with Teenybopper stars The Bay City Rollers.

When the Scottish stars were late in arriving at the Pop awards concert in Dublin Philomena was given the onerous task of taming the teenyboppers who were surging towards the stage screaming for their Pop idols. Other singers might have flinched from this task, but not so Philomena. She went out centre stage and belted out some of her biggest Country hits and won the hearts of the teens too.

Staying with a Scottish theme Philomena, sings Paul McCartney's hit "Mull of Kintyre" plus the more traditional sounding "Scotland Again" on this CD.

Philomena toured the UK with Country legends such as Charley Pride and Don Williams and on occasions she has shared the same stage as current international star Daniel O'Donnell. Indeed Daniel has often cited her as one of the stars who inspired him into choosing a career in showbusiness. In the book "The A to Z of Irish Country Stars" published by RTE & Gill and Macmillian in 1991 he names Philomena as his favourite Irish artist.

From Tyrone to Tennessee or from Scotland to Scandinavia, Philomena Begley seems destined to continue to attract more fans and friends with songs that are on this double album such as "The Way Old Friends Do", "Cottage on the old Dungannon Road" or "Mull of Kintyre" which she has made into her own 'Countrified' classics. T.G.



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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006