Daniel O’Donnell has a loving bond with his north-east fans that stretches back some 35 years – and it all started with a sore throat.
Not his, but the Irish folk singer, Brendan Shine, who had been due to play in a gig at Aberdeen’s Capitol.
“Brendan was doing a tour, but he got a bad throat and at short notice he had to take time off and I got the call to come up,” said Daniel, speaking from his home in County Donegal.
“I still say to Brendan: ‘That was the best sore throat you ever got’, because that was the beginning of it for me up there in Aberdeen, very early on in my career.”
This autumn, Daniel – who is renowned for his close relationship with his fan base – will renew his love affair with the Granite City with a gig at the Music Hall on October 23. And he can’t wait to make new memories in the city.
Aberdeen’s Capitol had a special atmosphere
“It became such a huge part of my touring life, the Capitol. We did a number of nights there every stay and had a great following there,” he said. “We went to the exhibition centre a number of times and it was lovely, but never felt the atmosphere that I got in the Capitol.
“The Music Hall is a lot smaller than the Capitol and the exhibition centre, but it has the magic you get in a proper theatre so I’m looking forward to getting back to it.”
Daniel is also looking forward to playing in front of live audiences again – but he does have a bit of confession to make about his time in lockdown.
“I have to be honest and say I enjoyed the time off. It’s not the way you would choose to get a break, but I accepted the situation,” he said, being careful to add his heart went out to younger performers who found their working lives had come to a halt.
That was one of the reasons he livestreamed a show in November, with all the proceeds going to his band and crew who had been left without any opportunity to work.
So from playing in an empty theatre with a virtual audience, he is now itching to get back in front of his fans, promising his October gig will be a mix of old and new in an intimate setting.
Long career is down to his fans
“I’m very kind of nonchalant when it comes to the show. I hate planning very far in advance. We will have a plan, we will have a rehearsal, but I like to have the show a wee bit loose. That means if we want to do something that’s not planned then we can just do it, even if it is just me and a piano or me and a guitar. So if somebody says: ‘Can you sing this’ I say: ‘Sure why not?’.”
And he has plenty of songs to choose from. Daniel has sold more than 10 million records to date, become a cultural icon in Ireland, and in October last year, his studio album, Daniel, charted at number 3. That meant he has charted with a different album in the Top 40 every year for 34 years.
Without hesitation, he puts that success – and his long career – down to his fans, who he regularly meets after every show and can remember the faces and even names of the regulars who turn up to watch him in every city he plays.
“I was wondering how the new album might do because my audience would be about the physical CDs, but they have gone online and downloaded it because I got to hit the charts again, which was lovely,” he said.
“They have been very loyal to me. They are there all the time when we tour. It’s fantastic it has lasted this long. I used to say whatever comes first, either me not able to do it or the audience not there, that’s what will determine how it goes.”
Daniel O’Donnell has no problem with hitting 60th milestone
It’s clear the fans are still there and Daniel has no intention of retiring – even though he celebrates his 60th birthday this December – a big milestone that doesn’t faze him in the least.
“I have no problem with at all. If someone says to me are you worried about it, I always say the alternative is not to be thought about. You either get to 60 or you’re dead before it, so I’d rather be here and getting older,” he said.
The question of whether he has any plans of hanging up his microphone is answered by rolling off a litany of tour dates – around the UK in October, then on to America in November, a cruise in February, then Australia and New Zealand in March. And then the Irish dates.
There is a caveat for what comes after, though.
“Then I suppose I would like to do some shows, but maybe not tour as much. I used to tour twice a year in the UK, but we might just cut that down to once. Just to have a bit more time off, I’ve enjoyed that, too.”
Strictly Come Dancing was terrifying
Daniel doesn’t just stick to his singing career. He likes to push himself out of his comfort zone, such as taking part in Strictly Come Dancing in 2015.
“It was the best and the worst thing ever I did. I love Strictly, we watch it all the time. But I was absolutely terrified doing it. Every night I got on the floor I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t remember the steps at all. I just could not,” he said.
“I love dancing, I’ve danced all my life. We have a great tradition of dancing in Ireland. But Strictly was a different type of dancing altogether. I always say I’m organic. I just go where I end up, I’m not good at being told be there on that spot.”
His brush with the Glitterball has sated his appetite for TV celebrity shows. There aren’t any that would tempt him back.
“No. I’m quite happy having done Strictly. I’m not a jungle man and I’m certainly not dancing on ice, so I don’t think there’s much more I would tackle.”
So for now he’s just going to concentrate on getting back on the road and meeting his fans all over again and maintaining that very special connection.
“I enjoy people. No matter what I would have done career-wise, to be able to interact with people would have been very important for me. But meeting people after the shows has allowed that relationship to build and I have got to know a lot of the fans.”
For tickets go to www.aberdeenperformingarts.com