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Pride of place Crystal Chandeliers star Charley Pride 'paved the way for other huge acts to come to Ireland during Troubles'


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Charley was a huge star in America in his younger years

Charley was a huge star in America in his younger years

Charley was a huge star in America in his younger years

He had a wicked sense of humour and an easy, down-home charm that endeared him to Irish audiences for decades.

Charley Pride also blazed a trail that an army of American music superstars would follow since he first performed here in the mid '70s.

Back then, international country music and rock 'n' roll acts were refusing to play Ireland because of The Troubles in the North.

The Crystal Chandeliers singer, who died last Saturday in Dallas, Texas, from complications of Covid-19, told the Sunday World in recent years that it was the late Irish promoter Jim Aiken who first persuaded him to come here on tour.

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Charley Pride died last week in Texas from Covid-19 complications

Charley Pride died last week in Texas from Covid-19 complications

Charley Pride died last week in Texas from Covid-19 complications

Jim's son, Peter, yesterday confirmed that as a result of Charley Pride agreeing to perform several concerts in Dublin and Belfast in 1976, it led to his father starting Aiken Promotions, which is now one of Ireland's biggest concert promoters.

However, Jim Aiken had decided that he would return to teaching if he couldn't persuade Charley Pride to do the Belfast shows.

Journey

Having been unsuccessful in dealing with Pride's agents on the phone, he took a chance and flew to America to negotiate personally with the country superstar.

"He spent all that money to fly to America," Peter recalls. "At that time, we didn't know anybody who went to America. It was a big deal that he went, and it took about four plane journeys to get there.

"When he arrived at Charley's gig they wouldn't let him backstage, but eventually he got to meet him. Charley said, 'Well, OK, if you're going to drive me and look after me and I can stay in your house then I'll come.

"If he had said no, my father would probably have gone back to teaching. That's what gave him the confidence to go on, that he could talk to people. At the time he was contemplating going back to teaching."

Peter, who now runs the company, was then a 12-year-old boarding school student, and he recalls being allowed out to see Charley's concerts at the ABC venue in Belfast that year.

"I was more interested in getting home than seeing Charley Pride at the time," he laughs, "but I do remember that when he walked out on stage he looked like a star in his white suit, and the whole of the ABC stood up and applauded.

"After that, all the big country acts such as Kenny Rogers and Charlie Rich came in their droves. Prior to that, they'd seen Ireland as a war zone. The Miami Massacre had happened the year before Charley came over." In his last interview with the Sunday World, Charley recalled being confronted by Jim Aiken before an American show in 1976.

"A promoter in England had sold Jim four shows, one in Dublin and three in Belfast," Charley told me.

"My attorney said I wouldn't play in Belfast because of the conflict there - this was all happening without my knowledge. As I was going on stage one night in Waterloo, Iowa, I heard a voice behind me saying, 'Charley, it's Jim Aiken, you gotta come to Ireland!'

"I spoke to Jim after the show and agreed to go over. We did the show in Dublin and then travelled up to Belfast. I travelled in Jim's Jaguar car, and at the border the soldiers stopped us and lifted the bonnet. That was quite an experience.

"Jim told me later that when I went and played in Belfast that first time it started his whole business. After that, he said, everybody came."

In the 1990s, Jim Aiken flew to America and doorstepped another country sensation to persuade him to come to Ireland. Garth Brooks took up Jim's offer and became a major artist in this country - his biggest market outside America.

Charley's last performances in Ireland included a Late Late Show country music special, and his friend Daniel O'Donnell's Opry le Daniel show on TG4 in 2018.

In an interview back then, Charley told me a hilarious story about his first meeting with Daniel in the 1980s when he was a guest on the Donegal singer's first TV series.

He said: "When I first met Daniel he wasn't as big as he is now. On the show he said to me, 'Charley, my favourite singers are Loretta Lynn and Charley Pride'. Well, I was honoured to hear that.

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Charlie Pride sings with Daniel O’Donnell

Charlie Pride sings with Daniel O’Donnell

Charlie Pride sings with Daniel O’Donnell

"I said to him, 'You ain't doin' so bad yourself, you're doin' real good, all you gotta do is keep on humpin'. The audience started to laugh.

"I looked at Danny and he just put his hand up and said, 'That's alright Charley, don't worry about it.' And we just continued the conversation. I didn't know until after the show what humpin' in Ireland means."

Pride laughed at the recollection, adding: "In America, when we talk about humpin' we mean working. I guess today, now that he has more experience, Danny would make a joke of it on the show."

Charley's gift was always to leave us with a smile on our face.

We'll miss him.

Sunday World


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