Irish country music is big news in Ireland. Since the 1960’s , dance halls, marquees and country halls packed out to the sound of such artists as Big Tom, Larry Cunningham, Margo, Susan McCann and Philomena Begley. In more recent years names such as Daniel O Donnell, Foster and Allen Trudi Lawlor and Hugo Duncan took up the baton.
And the longevity of these singers is certainly not in doubt.
What is it about these singers and musicians that is so appealing to the thousands of fans who pack out halls and hotels week in week out?
Well, there are a few reasons. It goes without saying of course that audiences love them for the quality of their voices and their choice of songs.
After that it is the special relationship that artists have with their fans. The presentation of the singers and band members is second to none and of course time given by performers to their fans at the end of a night’s entertainment is legendary.
It is probably fair to say that although Irish country music and its stars are adored by hundreds of thousands of people the length and breadth of Ireland, the air time allocated to this genre of music on the national radio and television falls short of the expected mark.
And therefore it falls to local radio stations to take up the slack.
And boy they do that in style.
THIRTY YEARS PROMOTING COUNTRY MUSIC
A case in point would be the Johnny Barry show that lasted all of thirty years, eighteen of them on local radio station KCLR.
Johnny was asked to present a thirty minute programme a couple of times a week. “When I asked what I should play, I was told they would leave that to myself. So I started playing Irish tunes by Irish artists and I haven’t stopped since.”, said Mr Barry.
That was twenty eight years ago explains Johnny. As a young man Johnny was a member of the Kilkenny fire Brigade. He was later to become apprentice projectionist at the Regent cinema, then later at Stallards on Patrick Street. Following the closure of Stallards, Johnny joined Jackie Parle at The Savoy as assistant projectionist.
A love of music was always part of Johnny’s make up and especially Country and Irish.
Today, it is probably fair to say that there isn’t a country singer in Ireland who hasn’t reached out to Johnny to give his or her song a spin on his late night radio show on KCLR.
Having entertained the masses for thirty years, Johnny hung up his microphone last Easter, much to the disappointment of his thousands of fans.
IT ALL STARTED IN THE ARCADE
Johnny’s journey as a radio presenter started in the Arcade on High Street, when along with John Walsh and Seamus Brophy they started a radio station called AMS, (Astra Media Services).
Speaking about his colleague, Radio presenter John Walsh had this to say about Johnny. “My observations are that what makes him so popular is the common touch. He connects with the music community, what they like and what they want. It’s been a pleasure knowing Johnny all these years and in a world gone mad it’s great to see people like Johnny holding on to that simple understanding of what real people want”.
His audience numbers were huge and his programme was heard all over Ireland as well as a devoted listenership in parts of the UK.
Of course his hard work has not gone unnoticed. In 2018 and 2020 Johnny was awarded the Hot Country award for his contribution to Irish Country Music.
For a radio station to receive this award twice in three years was some achievement and one which no other radio station has matched.
THE MAYORS AWARD
Last Wednesday in city hall Johnny was to receive another award.
For his contribution to Irish music in general and the promotion of Iris Artists, Johnny received the Mayor’s award.
Mayor Mc Guinness congratulated Johnny, saying his recognition was well deserved.
M.D. of KCLR John Purcell commented that Johnny was unique in all that he did on local radio. “Johnny is a man who knows what he wants to deliver and nothing has ever stood in his way, said Mr Purcell”. The head of the radio station went on to announce that although Johnny was hanging up his microphone he expected a few guest appearance from Johnny in the coming months”
Mr Purcell also commented that Johnny was to be Irish Country music ambassador for KCLR.
Others that spoke on the night were fellow radio presenters Sue Nunn and Brendan Hennessy.
RADIO PRESENTER WAS NUMBER ONE
One quick story to finish.
A member of The Watergate Theatre in attendance on the night recalled a night of Country music at the Parliament Street venue.
The night’s entertainment was complete and the artists gathered in the foyer to meet their fans. The staff on duty wondered what the problem was, as the singers waited to sign autographs, but there was no sign of the audience leaving the auditorium. A staff member went into the auditorium to see what the issue was and could only smile at what he saw.
The audience of about two hundred were queued up alongside the wall and at the main door signing autographs was none other than Johnny Barry. Priorities, I guess.
Back to the Tholsel.
Surrounded by family and neighbours and staff from KCLR, an emotional Johnny Barry said he was thrilled that so many had turned out to wish him well and that he was very grateful.
When asked by the Kilkenny Observer what the secret of his longevity and popularity as a radio presenter was, Jonny replied, “believe in what you’re doing, don’t be afraid to show your passion for your work, and stick to your guns”.
And, that sums up Johnny Barry.