Irish country music legend Gene Stuart – a favourite on the showband scene – has died.
The County Tyrone musician, who also ran a record store for years at Irish Street in Dungannon, was 72.
The inimitable Gene Stuart had originally planned to join the priesthood but he was to take an entirely different path.
He travelled to England in the 1960s and, like many, spent time working on buildings sites around Birmingham, before returning home and teaming up with the Monaghan-based Ken Kennedy and his band.
He also played with the McGeough Brothers before he teamed up with Larry Cunningham and something special and hard to compare on the music scene was born.
The Mighty Avons – with Cunningham at the helm – were at the top of their game.
And Gene, then a photographer with the Dungannon Observer, auditioned for the band in 1969 and that was it.
What followed was four years of huge success as one of the leading showbands toured all over Ireland and the UK, racking up hits and setting dance halls alight with their musical magic.
Gene’s first track – ‘Before the Next Teardrop Falls’ – climbed to number three in the Irish top 10.
And it was followed by many more, including ‘Kiss An Angel Good Morning’, ‘Don’t Go’ and ‘Christmas in Connemara’.
Four years after it began and Gene fell ill with tuberculosis and, after time in hospital battling back to recovery, he returned to a different scene.
Some of the band had gone their own way, but one of the Avons, Peter Smith, went on to manage the Tyrone man as ‘Gene Stuart and the Homesteaders’.
He had travelled all the way to the home of country music, Nashville in Tennessee, to record an album, one of 20 he would release during a remarkable career.
He was an inspiration to many fresh faces on the new and emerging country music scene.
A true gent, a legend, his mix of Irish country music and gospel, was delivered like only he could, a man with an unassuming way, an army of fans and we will never see his like again.
Sad to hear about the death of Country & Western singer Gene Stuart held in high regard by all of us in Killeeshil Parish & further away RIP
— Bronwyn McGahan (@BronwynMcGahan) February 11, 2016