By James Reddiough
It is with much sadness that this writer learned of the death of Brian Coll early in the hours of Sunday morning, 8th November, and I reflected and prayed for a wonderful life that contributed so much to the showband era and to the world of country music both in Ireland and worldwide. Brian sang with Jim Reeves in 1963 here in Ireland and he told me about this back in 2009 when I was preparing a booklet on the Jim Reeves Tour of Ireland 1963 – such was Brian, always willing to chat and help out if he could.
This writer first met Brian Coll in the supper room of the Beaten Path in or around 1983. One would not think he was a country star at the time. He was so calm and unassuming and was delighted to chat in the wee small hours of the morning after the dance. This was one of many times that I would connect with Coll by listening to his many hit recordings and attending his dances round Mayo, in the Beaten Path and in The Georgian or Molly Maguire’s in Ballina and in Enniscrone too. Little did I know then that he had been touring the country before I was born and during the years of my childhood in the 1970s, when he enjoyed recording success in the Irish charts with a whole range of songs, as broad as his vocal range (largely tenor) and with a great gift for yodeling too.
Some years later, I shook his hand at the funeral of the fellow Tyrone singer, the late great Gene Stuart, another favourite singer of mine. It was a real privilege to meet him and I must say I had the pleasure of meeting Gene Stuart also. Brian started out some 60 years ago with the Polka Dots in his native Omagh, where he was born on the 6th March, 1941; he was 79 when he passed away. He shared the stage with many famous American singers, including Jim Reeves, here in Ireland in 1963, and also Slim Whitman, George Jones and Charlie Pride. He then joined the Plattermen around 1961 and spent some time with them, and then he left them for a number of years, until he rejoined them in 1965 to have a string of successful recordings and stage appearances, and he toured in Nashville, Tennessee, also.
All of these marvellous years are captured in his autobiography from ‘Gallows Hill to Nashville’ published some years back. One of his most successful recordings was ‘Astroreen Bawn’, ‘When Are You Coming Home, and ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’, to mention but a few. He was a tenor with a high range, especially suited to the singing of Eddy Arnold and Slim Whitman, and he recorded ‘Cattle Call’ and ‘When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again’.
After a few years with the Plattermen during which he had a hit with a song inspired by a ‘Mayo Man’ and written by Johnny MacAulay, the Blazing star of Athenry formed his own band, The Buckaroos, in the early summer of 1968. They were a pure country band that saw Brian enjoy some of his 1970s hits, including ‘Give An Irish Girl To Me’, ‘These Are My Mountains’, ‘When My Blue Moon Turns To Gold Again’ and ‘Hometown On The Foyle’. These were all Top Ten successes for Brian and the Buckaroos. He had nine successful songs in the charts during the 1970s, including the, ‘Mail Call, Moon Behind The Hill’ and ‘She’s Mine’.
During these years he toured the many ballrooms here in Mayo and was especially popular in the Royal in Castlebar and in the Pontoon Ballroom too, as well as the many other dancing venues, including the Palm Court in Belmullet, where large crowds would turn out to see him perform.
He played during the 1980s too, until ill-health caused him to retire around 1989, but he made a comeback and also sang for a while during the early 1990s where he sang at the Bonniconlon Show dance in August 1991. He continued to sing down through the years and never really retired from the singing business. Sadly, ill-health bedevilled him of late and we were all saddened when we learned of his death on Saturday, 7 November, 2020 at 10pm.
May his gentle soul rest in peace and sincere sympathies to his daughter Kathy and all the family, and relatives of Brian Coll.