“Country music doesn’t offend anyone - it has such universal appeal,” says Derek Ryan, when pressed to list just a few reasons why he loves the genre so much.
“I have a niece who is 13, and you have to be careful at times about what songs she listens to because of the lyrics! But with Country music, both young and old people can appreciate it.
“You could have four generations of families at a gig, and even at a dance you could have a young couple in their early 20s, there with their mum and dad.
“You’d never see that at a niteclub.”
Later, as I say goodbye to the 34-year-old Carlow singer-songwriter - who is arguably one of the hottest acts on the Irish Country scene right now, with legions of fans from all over the Province - I glance at the line of people waiting to take their seats in front of the stage at the Glenavon House Hotel in Cookstown, where Derek’s due to perform in just over an hour’s time, and notice how right he is; patrons of all ages are queuing up with excited faces, ready to enjoy an otherwise cold and gloomy November Friday night out seeing their favourite singer perform.
Derek Ryan has been in the music business a long, long time. He’s wise beyond his years. And growing up in a musical family certainly gave him a head start and the grounding needed to go far and make a career out of it.
“My dad Pat is a singer; he played in local bands, so we grew up listening to Irish Country music - Philomena Begley, Big Tom, all of those. So that was my first influence really.
“My brother Adrian also works full time in music, and my sister, who is the Vice Principal of a school in Paris, is musical and does shows over there.”
Surprisingly, Derek initially tried to resist going down the musical path, putting his efforts into something else he loved - sport.
“I was outside playing soccer all the time, and my dad was trying really hard to get me into music, but I was against it!
“Then I kind of flirted with different instruments and settled on the guitar. No one put any pressure on me to play, and I started writing songs. I had a big interest in poetry at school as well and got an A in my English Leaving Cert.
“The first song I ever wrote was for my dad - and he recorded it!”
However Derek decided to drop his other great love - sport - once his music career began to take off; when he was 17 he was successful in landing a place in Irish pop band D-Side, and the glittering lights of London and pop stardom were beckoning.
His time with the other Irish lads who made up the five piece was unforgettable - for both its highs and lows.
“I would say the high points were doing Top Of The Pops and the likes of that; I can remember walking down the corridors of the studio and seeing pictures of Mick Jagger and U2 on the walls. And The Corrs were actually also performing on the first night we were on it.”
Life on the road as a boyband member was hectic.
“We would have gone to Japan, and say, got off the plane at seven in the morning, went to the hotel and had a shower, and started the promo at nine am, so we never even got the chance to recover from jetlag, and we would have been working to maybe nine or 10 that night. And it was the same in the UK. It really was every day for 18 or 19 hours. You worked hard for your success. It didn’t come easily, there was no doubt about it.
“We learnt so much. I was lucky to have the four guys with me, but at the same time it was still a big move, to go to London at 18 years old.”
His advice to other would-be young singers and pop stars is mixed. Whilst he admits to being “a bit wary” about the popularly travelled road of reality TV as a route to stardom, (“because if you make it really quickly, there’s only one way to go. Only one way.”) he concedes that certainly, “anything that puts you out there is good, and is better than sitting at home!”
For Derek himself, the next couple of weeks and indeed most of 2018 certainly won’t see him resting on his laurels.
He’s off to Nashville in January for “a week of pure music.”
He reveals: “I love it, because it’s a case of writing during the day, and then I go to a gig every night. The last time I was there I got to sing in The Bluebird Cafe, which was unreal.
“Then we’re doing the concert tour, and after that, I start work on my tenth studio album. And we’ll probably do a DVD somewhere along the line.”
The singer also has a lot lined up in the initial period after Christmas, and will be rounding off an amazing 2017 with a gig in the Tullyglass Hotel in Ballymena.
“They’re really into their Country music up here,” he says of his fans this side of the border.
“They really love the songs. When we play up here, they know every word, and sing it back to you. I love that.”
* For the rest of our exclusive interview with Derek, do not miss this SATURDAY’S News Letter.