Last year, when he was Grand Marshall for the Waterford St. Patrick’s Day Parade, I had the privilege to hear Val Doonican sing the Donnelly’s Sausages Song, without accompaniment, at the Mayoral Lunch and he told some heartfelt and wonderful anecdotes. Now, in his new autobiography, Val Doonican The Complete Autobiography, My Story, My Life, you can get many more wonderful stories of the life that began on Passage Road Waterford and through decades of show business over several continents, he has brought the name and fame of Waterford further than you might have thought possible, in a sixty year career.
His first book, The Special Years, was published in 1980 and he followed it six years later with Walking Tall. Now he has expanded his backwards look into My Life, My Story.
Those early years from the thirties growing up in a much different Waterford are delightfully recreated, as are his descriptions of working at Graves and Co., Park Road. I worked there for a while in the late sixties and remember older men showing me fading photographs of Val, with The Four Ramblers and their pride is still fresh in my mind.
But there is a lot more to Val Doonican that feel-good stories, self-deprecating jokes, dodgy sweaters and a celebrated rocking chair. Because even in those early reminiscences, there is a sense of a young man wanting to go places and become good at his chosen career. His strong sense of purpose and ambition to learn music, to go to Dublin to purchase a good guitar and his singular ambition to earn a living at music and entertaining and by long hours spent arranging music for others.
It may have taken him 17 years to become an overnight success but he learned his craft well and paid his dues up and down the UK – no gig too small, no place too awful.
There are some fine landlady stories and mishaps playing Army bases in Germany but page after page you get the sights, smells and joys of being in a business just opening to mass audience radio and then mass appeal television. He was a big television star for over 25 years and had five top-ten hits in the charts in the sixties.
Yes there are sadnesses and disappointments in this book, there might even be too many golfing stories, but that seemed to be the afternoon life of lots of touring entertainers. But in that long career he learned woodwork, water colour painting and also mastered a number of musical instruments.
Towards the end of this fine book, there is a rather sad salutary tale about a gift of a Waterford Crystal Rocking Horse that reads as follows: Sadly Waterford Crystal has been one of the casualties of the recent economic slump – all the more reason to cherish the precious collection of unique pieces given to me over the years and wonder at the skill that went into making them. They have pride of place in my home.
Good on you, Val.