An Ulster Scots prize-winning song has earned rave reviews from some of the most influential figures in country music.
Fareweel Celtic Hamelands, by Pauline Nelson, from Ballyclare, Co Antrim, was one of three songs which won a competition at this year’s Continental Airlines Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival.
However, it attracted particular interest on a specially recorded CD of prize-winning songs from the competition when it was circulated to major players in America’s country music industry capital, Nashville.
Colin Magee, of Panarts, which organised the festival, explained: “The song contest has been going since 2004 and this year it was incorporated into our first ever festival.
“We chose the best songs in English, Irish and Ulster Scots. Basically we are interested in the quality of the songwriting and the way language is used in particular.
“Pauline Nelson’s Fareweel Celtic Hamelands was really captivating and a big hit at the festival. In October we brought 100 CDs of it and the other prize-winning songs out to Nashville to circulate among music industry figures.
“A measure of just how good Pauline’s song was can be seen in the words of Jason Blume, who has written for the Oak Ridge Boys, Karen Taylor-Good and even pop acts like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears.
“He said the song was exquisite.”
Blume will be among a host of country, folk, blues, pop and bluegrass talent heading for Belfast and Londonderry next year between February 22 and 26 for the second festival.
Workshops and concerts are being staged over five days at locations such as W5, the Hilton Hotel and the Pothouse Bar in Belfast and the Millennium Forum in Derry.
“We have a very impressive line-up,” Mr Magee revealed.
“The Texan singer-songwriter Gary Nicholson is coming. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Trisha Yearwood, Travis Tritt, Vince Gill, BB King.
“Steve Seskin is a singer-songwriter who has scored several number ones in the country music charts with songs like Grown Men Don’t Cry, which was recorded by Tim McGraw, and All I Need To Know, recorded by Kenny Chesney.
“Mark Selby is a highly rated American songwriter and artist whose songs have been performed by the Dixie Chicks. We also have Grammy award winner Tia Sillers.
“There’s going to be country, folk, blues music, bluegrass.
“We have Irish artists like Juliet Turner, John Spillane and Mick Hanly and we have also lined up Graeme Gouldman of 10CC fame.”
The winners of this year’s song contest will not only have their work recorded but will also walk away with three Avalon guitars worth £1,600 (€2,333) each.
There will also be workshops on melody, lyrics, recording songs, the production of albums and how to write a country music hit.
“There is a real affinity between Ireland and American country music and the explanation is pretty simple,” he said.
“These songs are structured pretty much like ours because essentially they emerged out of Irish and Scots-Irish emigration in the 1700s.
“People from our part of the world came across the Atlantic during the formative years of American culture when people were sharing their folk music.
“The reason why people love country music in Northern Ireland so much is they are basically hearing their own folk music coming back in slightly different shape.”