Today we fondly remember Irish easy listening star, Val Doonican, who–according to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper—had “an easygoing, homely charm that enchanted middle England.” Such high-ish praise! A relaxed crooner, he was oft-called the Perry Como of the UK.
Could he be more chill?
Val is not a common male name; it brings to mind Valerie, either Bertinelli or the Steve Winwood song. In truth, the only other masculine Val with which I’m familiar is Mistah Val Kilmer, whose name is not short for anything. In today’s case, however, it’s short for Valentine.
Michael Valentine Doonican was born to a musical family on February 3 (the day the music died, but hadn’t yet), 1927 in Waterford, Ireland. His musical career began by playing in his school band at the age of six, then performing as a duo with buddy Bruce Clarke in 1947. I imagine he was called a hooligan, as it rhymes so easily with his surname.
He appeared in a summer season at Courtown Harbour, County Wexford and was featured on Irish radio and in Waterford’s first-ever television broadcast. In 1951, he moved to England to join the Four Ramblers, touring and performing on BBC Radio shows and on the Riders of the Range serials.
While on tour, Doonican met dancer Lynnette Rae, whom he married in 1962. As women do, she pressured him to leave his group and go solo. And as often happens, she was right to do so. Soon he had his own radio show and concert dates.
His last name lent itself to confusion, as concert-goers yelled, “Doonican! Doonican!” which sounded curiously close to “Do it again! Do it again!” Thus, unintended encores could send a concert into overtime.
In the 60s and 70s, Doonican could be seen on TV in a cardigan, singing songs that sound so Irish, they almost sound made-up. Examples include:
- “Paddy McGinty’s Goat”
- “Delaney’s Donkey”
- “O’Rafferty’s Motor Car”
During the summer of 1971, The Val Doonican Show premiered in the US, airing on ABC on Saturday evenings and paving the way to enchant Middle America as well!
Val Doonican Rocks, But Gently. That is the real name of his album, y’all. And it looks like he’s in a rocker. Get this: It reached Number 1 in the UK Albums Chart in 1968 and knocked the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper off the top of the chart. Take that, Fab Four.
In total, he recorded over 50 albums. The 1966 single release “Elusive Butterfly” reached a UK chart peak of #5 and #3 in Ireland. Anyone remember it?
The Guardian continued its assessment of Doonican with more high praise, as “a perfectionist who knew his limitations but always aimed to be ‘the best Val Doonican possible.'” And isn’t that all we can ask?
Last July, Val Doonican passed at a nursing home in Buckinghamshire at the age of 88. According to daughter Sarah, “Until 87, he was as fit as a flea. It was just old age, I’m afraid — the batteries ran out.” Perhaps they did. But his records? Still going…