By: Michael Commins
pays a fond tribute to country musician Shay Hutchinson
Shay Hutchinson, regarded by many as one of the most influential original pioneers of country music here in Ireland, died January 17th, 2004 at his home in Killyclogher near Omagh in Co. Tyrone.
He was in his early 70s.
Only the famous Clipper Carlton commanded the same kind of loyalty and following in the early days of the showband scene as Shay Hutchinson, David Coyle and the Melody Aces.
The band had a colossal following all over the country but especially in the West of Ireland and Ulster.
Shay performed country songs from the "roots" tradition and he was the inspiration for a host of others
who followed in his footsteps.
He made a number of television appearances his delivery of a song. Among his most requested numbers were Highway to Nowhere and Gypsy Woman.
Due to the promptings of Gerry Carroll from Rooskey, Co. Roscommon,Shay and two of the original members of the famous Melody Aces, Gene Turbett and Edward McNamee,came west to Roscommon to perform at two shows last year.
They joined the Brose Walsh Band from Mayo for two wonderful nights of nostalgia in
It was their first gig in the West since the 1960s and they were accorded a great reception.
It was also my first time ever to see members of the Melody Aces on stage and a real privilege to meet up with Shay, Gene and Edward at the end of the show.
Friends of the band from former times had come along from various parts of the West as well as from
Westmeath, Longford, Offaly, Dublin, Cavan, Fermanagh and Donegal.
The warmth of the welcome was truly special.
The Melody Aces were among the first superstars on the Irish music circuit. Shay Hutchinson's wonderful ability to grasp, live and render a country song touched hearts around the nation.
Their rise to fame coincided with the golden era of the Western films and Shay had an image and stature that would have been at home in any movie in the Western genre.The Tyrone boys delivered a quality show.
The Melody Aces was a great name for melody played a huge role in everything they did.
No hype, just sheer talent. Shay loved the stage and knew how to deliver a song.
Many were the hearts that were saddened when news spread of Shay's passing in the county he loved so well.
All who loved the showband era and all who had a fondness for traditional country music knew that a
true jewel of the showbiz scene had departed these shores.
In St. Mary's Chapel, Killyclogher, just outside Omagh, the sense of loss was palpable.
An overflow congregation, some of whom had travelled from various parts of the country were there to pay their respects to a man who had influenced their lives in one way or another.
John Egan and myself had left Mayo at 6 a.m. to share in the farewell tributes to a giant of the music scene.
Some gentle bluegrass and gospel hymns helped capture the dignity and quietness of the occasion during the Mass.
Well known names like Brian Coll, Gene Stuart, Philomena Begley and Dominic Kirwan were there to pay their dues and tributes.
At the graveside, Shay's great colleagues of over five decades, Edward McNamee and Gene Turbett, were joined by Ray Moore and they rendered some music that surely brought back memories of other days and golden times.
The soul of his voice
The chief celebrant at the Funeral Mass was Fr. Frank Bradley who delivered a lovely homily that beautifully celebrated the life of Ireland's first country star. With the help and cooperation of Fr. Frank, we are delighted to bring you the full text of the homily as delivered to an overflow congregation in Killyclogher Chapel. "The English poet Lord Tennyson wrote, 'and the stately ships sail on to their haven under the hill, and we long for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still.'
In many respects, that verse captures much of the sentiment here this morning as we gather to bid farewell to one of Killyclogher's most famous sons. As human beings, people of fragile clay, we are aware of our loss in the death of Shay and ours, however profound, is as nothing when compared to the loss which his family feel at this time.
But as Christians, as people of strong faith and real soul, what helps us come with our loss is our vision of Shay's gain that he has been released from pain and suffering to enjoy the delights of heaven for eternity.
When Tennyson wrote those words just quoted at the start, he could not have imagined how apt they would be to describe our feelings today: for it is the soul of his voice and the touch of his hand that will be missed most by everyone.
Certainly, God will not find Shay wanting in the area of talent - he buried nothing of the things God gave him but rather shared them out.
Born on 26th October, 1930, he grew up in a world unthinkably different from today. There was little to go on,
few opportunities - but through the love and devotion of his family home, through hard work and dedication on building sites in England with his father and through discipline and resourcefulness in the Merchant Navy, he learned how to make whatever he had go a long way. In an era of wastefulness and neglect, we would do well to take a leaf out of his book today.
The reading from Ecclesiasticus seems to mirror exactly the direction of his life - being instructed when he was young, learning through discipline, having the wisdom to listen and then marvelling at all those who wore out his doorstep drawn as they were by his magnetism and strength. Shay would have been the first to tell you in very few and direct words that he was not a man given to pious devotion or public practice of faith.
Yet his very nature made him spiritual.
Every good singer or musician - and there are so many of you gathered here today - every one of them must, long
before they sing or play, have listened to the beat and the rhythm, the harmonics and the pitch of any melody. The ear comes long before the voice! And as Christians, our prayer must be the same - our sense of God's presence comes not from what we'll say but from what we've heard. It came as no surprise to me therefore, just before Christmas, to witness his profound faith and humility in the presence of God - he had long been listening to a distant melody which had come closer of late, for we all march, don't we, to that sound of a distant drum which is the human beat of God's loving heart!
For Shay was a showman - a public gift of whom it could be said that where he stood was his stage - and he had no difficulty in telling you exactly where he stood. In his first broadcast from HMS Warrior to the shore of Cape Town in the early 1950's, to his singing at house parties or his years in the Melody Aces - and even to his whistling and good humour first thing in the morning, there was something of the breath of Resurrection in every step he took.His up-beat nature was what drew generation upon generation to the man and his music. I hope that American Country and Western music has reached heaven before him otherwise they're in for a big surprise!