Ulster fans raise roof for Dolly

Dolly Parton.
Dolly Parton.
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She arrived on stage at the Odyssey bedecked in rhinestone and garish glittery blue, so lithe-limbed and her coiffed blonde hair just-so, not a strand out of place.

Launching into Baby I’m Burning with footage of roaring flames behind, this is one 68-year-old performer who is still on fire 40 albums and some 3,000 songs later.

Although known as the queen of tragic love, she begins with an uptempo, down-home mood that clearly delights the capacity audience.

Dolly is an easy raconteur and banters beautifully with her audience, explaining that she fully intends to play those songs that took her from a dirt poor childhood in the Smoky Mountains to the heights of Nashville mega-watt stardom. Her rendition of Jolene has lost none of its power with the passing years and Parton’s vocals are crystal clear and full of passionate sentiment.

Dolly even explains to a rapt audience that Jolene was written because a woman of said name had an eye for her husband Carl Dean (to whom she has been married 48 years).

“I’m grateful to Jolene y’know because if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have had that hit and taken all that money to the bank,” she says.

Parton segues into new material from her 42nd album Blue Smoke, which sounds folksy and very obviously bluegrass-influenced.

There’s a lot about rolling down tracks and climbing up mountains that are pure country and maybe also cod-spiritual in mood.

Dolly explains her love of Bob Dylan before doing a stunning stripped-back acoustic cover of Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.

After talking of her delight at being in Ireland (‘because we all have a speck of Irish in us’) she sings a stunning acapella spiritual song called Precious Memories, a paean to remembering.

What emerges is not only what a stellar, down-to-earth performer Dolly Parton is, but also what a generous and natural performer she is; full of grace and sincerity in her telling of anecdotes, even speaking movingly about her steadfast faith in God.

9 to 5 and I Will Always Love You draw near-hysterical levels of appreciative joy as Dolly refuses to go gently into the night, belting it out to the last.

Long may country’s grand dame continue in five-inch heels and buoyant blonde hair and dresses that defy her age in all their glittering glamorous gorgeousness.