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Sandy back on road to share songs and memories

Country singer Sandy Kelly began her extraordinary showbiz career as a baby in the family’s travelling fit-up show, run by her grandfather. Highs have included her friendship with Johnny Cash and lows involved a long legal battle with her US agent. Having launched a new album and written her memoir, Sandy is embarking on a tour in which she’ll share stories from her life, as she tells JUDY MURPHY.

At 16 years of age, a time when many teenagers are dreaming of a career in showbiz, Sandy Kelly (Ellis as she was then), had decided to exit the profession.

She’d been on stage since she was a baby, touring the country with the family fit-up show, run by her grandfather, Dusky Dan.

“I’d be brought on stage in nappies if they needed a child for a sketch,” Sandy recalls with a laugh, recalling the show that visited almost every town and village in Ireland. Aged three, adorned in sequins, she was an assistant to her magician uncle.  Early on, it became apparent that she’d a wonderful singing voice. And she sang onstage all through her childhood, alongside other family members.

So, at 16, after the family had moved to Wales where they continued to perform in working men’s clubs, Sandy struck out on her own, careerwise. She got a job as an account’s clerk in a busy, local quarry company and was in her element.

But a different life had been mapped out for Sandy, and now, on the eve of her 70th birthday, as she prepares to hit the road to tour her latest album, Leaving it All Behind, she’s happy to share memories of those early days and happy that her career turned out as it did.

That’s not to say there weren’t ups and downs along the way – there were plenty, including her mother’s illness and premature death aged 47 in 1979, not to mention legal battles with her US manager in the 1990s which all but destroyed her growing career there.

But there were so many highs too – in the 1970s as a member of the Fairways Showband and later in the Duskeys with her late sister Barbara, which represented Ireland in the 1982 Eurovision.

Sandy’s singing talents have been lauded by the likes of Willie Nelson and the late Johnny Cash. Her 1989 version of Nelson’s song, Crazy, which was made famous by Patsy Cline in the US, achieved phenomenal success this side of the Atlantic and her recording of Woodcarver with Johnny Cash went on to achieve gold record status. She also starred in the West End production of the musical Patsy in the 1990s for several years.

Also in the early 1990s, she presented her own TV series, Sandy, on RTÉ, where guests included international stars like Emmylou Harris and Demis Roussos and Irish talent such as Ronnie Drew, Dolores Keane and Philomena Begley.

Pictured: Sandy’s new album, Leaving it All Behind, is her first in 30 years.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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