A Donegal musician and singer whose career took off following his teenage debut in St Mary’s Hall, Burt, is celebrating 60 years in showbusiness.
Ted Hegarty, who was born and reared in Skeoge Road, halfway between Burnfoot and Bridgend, in the ‘Gate House’ near the railway line, reminisced fondly.
Chatting to Donegal Live, Ted said: “My father, Bob, worked in the Swilly Railway all his life. Our family lived in the Cashelnagor Station in Gortahork, on the ‘Letterkenny and Burtonport Extension Line’ all through the 1930s. My mother was Margaret (née McCloskey) from Newbuildings in the Waterside.
“I went to Bridgend School and the Christian Brothers’ School in Derry (1955 to 1959). I left school on Friday and started work in the Civil Service on Monday, where I remained for almost 48 years.
“From 12 or 13 years of age, I started taking an interest in music. I used to listen to Radio Luxembourg back in the 1950s. Sunday night was my favourite night, listening to the Top 20. Around that time, I suddenly discovered I had a good voice.
“The first time I ever sang on a stage was in St Mary’s Hall in Burt. It was a wee singing competition. I think it was the summer of 1958 and the first song I ever sang on the stage was ‘Tom Dooley’ and the second song was a Ritchie Valens song, ‘Come On Let’s Go,’” laughed Ted.
Ted started work in Belfast in the summer of 1959. He had always wanted a guitar, so, in September or October that year, he bought his first guitar in a second-hand shop in Belfast.
Ted recalled: “It cost two pounds and ten shillings (£2.50 in today’s money). It sounds nothing but, in those days, it was about a third of a week’s wages.
“Meanwhile, I stayed in digs in Belfast with two guys, Terry McLaughlin from Fahan and Paddy Doherty from Clonmany, and I talked them into buying guitars too. We all learned guitar together.
“Our first gig was at a wee end of term dance in April 1960. Following that the drummer of another band, which was also playing that night asked me if I would be interested in becoming their singer and that was the real start of my musical career.
“The line-up of that band was: Brian Mulholland (Guitar), Dessie McCarthy (Drums), Eugene Ferguson (Guitar) and me. Interestingly, Eugene later became a TV producer in England and actually produced a lot of ‘Coronation Street.’ He produced the famous one where the Platts went into the canal,” said Ted.
As the front man and singer, Ted described himself as the “original Donegal rock and roll kid” with all the moves.
He said: “We were doing Elvis stuff, Eddie Cochran stuff, Cliff Richard stuff and Gene Vincent stuff. All the rock and roll stuff.
“We were very good. We were called ‘The Easybeats.’ We won a big talent competition in Belfast at Christmas 1960 and we had plenty of female fans. At that time, I wore a white rope tie as part of my costume and it got to the stage were every time we were playing, all these wee girls wanted my tie. I was out a fortune buying new ties. It was a great time.
“I left that band in 1962. Shortly after, I started playing with another fella who was in the Civil Service with me called George Newman, who was on TV at the time in a programme called ‘Teatime With Tommy’. George played bass. We played dance halls and dance clubs.
“In 1964, just before I got married to Susie, I was playing in a wee four-piece band with another fella out of work. We were doing all the Merseybeat stuff. After that I joined ‘The Debonaires’, a middle-of-the-road band, which played clubs and golf clubs. We were probably one of the first bands to play and sing in pubs in Belfast, around 1964/1965,” recalled Ted.
‘The Debonaires’ were regulars in The Victoria Bar in Victoria Square in Belfast on Friday and Saturday nights.
Returning to live in Susie’s hometown of Derry in 1969, Ted joined with George Devlin who had played in the Olympic All Star Showband in and around Burt and Bridgend.
When the All Stars disbanded, Ted and George formed a two-piece and started featuring more Country music in their repertoire.
Ted said: “We were playing Merle Haggard, Marty Robbins and Buck Owens songs.
“Over the years then, I played in different wee bands, a whole range of genres. Then in 1981, I formed what was to be last band, a group called ‘Caviar.’
“We played ‘The Mary from Dungloe’ Festival throughout the 1980s, the Christmas season at The Everglades Hotel in Derry and The Salmon Leap in Coleraine The Mayor’s Ball in Derry and a couple in Limerick. We were quite successful during the 1980s.
“That carried on until 1994 and then I just suddenly got sick of the whole business and decided to pack it in. There were too many late nights and there was not a great deal of money in entertainment at that stage. I was also working full time during the day,” said Ted.
By this time Ted and Susie also had five children, sons, Anthony, Gary and Vincent and daughters, Linda, and Martina.
Ted thought after a break of a couple of months, he would be dying to get back on the stage.
However, relishing his “newfound freedom” that was never to be.
Ted said: “It was brilliant. I actually did not do anything in the music business at all up until 2011, when, just by chance, a fella I played with back in the 1970s, Brian McGee, contacted me through Facebook and he and I recorded a few songs.
“One thing led to another and in 2012, I bought some recording gear for the house. I eventually started recording in 2013 and have been recording ever since, which has amounted to upwards of 500 songs, for my own amusement.
“I have recorded many different genres of music, including Rock and Roll, 60s, Western, Country, Country and Western music on CD, for family and friends.
“Believe it or not, I have also done a Hawaiian album. I have been to Hawaii five times. I love it. We have travelled all over the United States. I fell in love with the States after I travelled there to play in a Pro-Am golf tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1977,” recalled Ted.
So busy chatting were wee, Ted almost forgot about his first appearance on television, which took place in 1966.
It all started when his friend, George Newman booked him to play at the UTV annual dinner dance.
Ted said: “I had just finished an Elvis number when this guy came up to me and introduced himself. He invited me to do a spot on a show he was producing. I was all chuffed.
“A friend suggested I sing ‘The Green Green Grass of Home’ by Tom Jones. I had not heard it, so I headed into the music shop in Smithfield Market where I usually got my sheet music. I got the sheet music, but I had not heard the melody so, I knew one of the girls in the shop and asked if she had the record. She said go into that booth and I’ll play it for you.
“She played it a couple of times. I then headed back up to my digs and got the guitar out and started practising. By that evening, I had the song off and headed up to the studio and did the recording.
“I was very excited, and I had to phone everybody at home and tell them I was going to be on TV. At that stage, my father and mother did not have a TV. But, fortunately, a cousin of mine, Eunan, in Bridgend who worked with TVs got them one and set it up and they were able to watch me,” said Ted.
Ted’s love of music is clearly evident in his voice.
It has taken him all over Ireland and the world, including Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry, where he was privileged to meet Dwight Yoakam in 2012.
Hooked at the age of 12, Inish Times wishes Ted Hegarty many more happy years of music making.
From the Album "Songs of the Islands" by Ted Hegarty.
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