The biggest names in Irish country music gathered in Comber on Tuesday to pay tribute to former band leader and entertainment agent Jimmy Johnston who died last week after an illness, aged 77.
Several hundred mourners were in First Comber Presbyterian Church for the funeral service, where they heard the Rev Colin Anderson and showbiz chaplain Father Brian D’Arcy lead tributes to the Lisburn man, who was very highly regarded for his managerial and agency skills in working with singers and bands.
Fr Darcy warmly praised Jimmy’s entrepreneurial and business acumen and said many singers and musicians owed much to him for the breaks he had given them.
“Jimmy was a lovable character, a man who kept entertainment going during the dark years of the Troubles,” he said.
Attendance in the church represented a ‘who’s who’ of country and Irish music, with Jimmy Buckley, Brian Coll, Mike Denver, Robert Mizzell, Johnny Brady, Crawford Bell, Lisa McHugh and Declan Nerney present to pay their respects, along with Scottish singer Anne Williamson.
Musicians and fellow agents also attended.
During a moving service, Mike Denver sang two gospel pieces, while Declan Nerney gave an upbeat, poignant rendition of This World Is Not My Home.
Jimmy’s wife Carol, stepson David and journalist daughter Yvette Shapiro led the mourners. His grand-daughter Rebecca Crawford did a Bible reading.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, Jimmy fronted his own band - the Jimmy Johnston showband, an outfit largely composed of Lisburn musicians, and, with the late Merv Allen as main singer, they made several recordings.
Lead musician from that period Maurice Beckett nostalgically recalled those years when he, Jimmy and colleagues were on the road as a semi-professional band, playing mostly at weekend dances for money which, he said, today would be considered a pittance.
“Those were great years; we were not paid big money, but music was our oxygen and we kept going,” said Maurice, later Jimmy’s partner in the agency business.
Trevor Kane, another Belfast agency partner of Jimmy, also reflected on those years.
Jimmy was for 11 years a highly successful manager of the Seagoe Hotel in Portadown in the 1980s-1990s, and, still maintaining his showbiz links, he later set up his own Jayco agency.
Until his recent illness, he worked regularly in the business.