News broke this morning that a giant of country music, ‘Big’ Tom McBride, has passed away at the age of 81. A number of Tom’s friends and collaborators joined Sean O’Rourke to pay tribute to him and a career spanning over 50 years.
Sean opened the show with the song “Gentle Mother”, which launched Big Tom as the lead singer of The Mainliners on The Showband Show. As Sean said, “that song changed everything”.
“It was meant to be the b-side on a new single coming out but it quickly became the A-side. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Father Brian D’Arcy was friends with Tom for 50 years. He described him as “a lovely, gentle man”, “the King of country music.
“He was the one that everybody looked up to. He was the one that probably the elitists sort of looked down their noses at. And Big Tom outlasted them all.“
His influence hadn’t waned, Brian said.
“At his last gig, he was able to bring a thousand people into his show who still adored the ground he walked on. Who still loved him as a friend and as a singer. Who still appreciated what he had done for them. Who still made their hearts want to dance every time he opened his mouth and sang. Tom was one of them, but he was their king as well…he invented the term ‘country and Irish music’ really. He was the one who brought it to fulfilment.“
Kevin McCooey, Big Tom’s promoter and friend called Tom “Ireland with a suit on him”.
“He was very much an ordinary man, liked ordinary things. Liked football. Liked fishing…that’s what Tom was really.”
Musician Paddy Cole remembers Tom as a child. They used to gather spuds for a small amount of money.
“There was more acting the cod, craic going on than gathering spuds, I can tell you…he had a great sense of humour.”
Susan McCann called today “a sad day for the country music business”.
“He was just a lovely man, always had a nice word for you. He seemed to capture the heart of everybody that he ever spoke to…Without him, I don’t think there’d be any country music in Ireland today if it hadn’t been for the popularity of Big Tom and his lovely ways.”
Donie Cassidy said that Big Tom was “the most successful country artist that Ireland has ever known.”
“We’re all very sad that Big Tom has died but it’s a celebration of someone who has made an incredible contribution.”
Listen back to the whole conversation on the life and career of Big Tom on Today with Sean O’Rourke here.
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