October 11, 2008

New Generation to Discover Favourite Star

By Elizabeth Lawrence

THE life of legendary North East opera singer, Owen Brannigan is to be celebrated in a documentary on ITV Tyne Tees tomorrow.

Fronted by lifelong fan and fellow regional opera star Graeme Danby, The Owen Brannigan Story will chart the rise of "Branny" - as he was affectionately known - from his beginnings in Annitsford, Northumberland, to his performances at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden.

At the heart of the programme are rousing performances from Graeme, who recently stood down as principal bass with the English National Opera, filmed on Sunday at The Sage Gateshead.

Backed by a choir of 300 from local groups including Lemington Male Voice Choir, Low Fell Singers and Ponteland Ladies Choir, Graeme performed North East anthems Cushy Butterfield and The Blaydon Races, as well as Branny favourite Just A-Wearying For You.

"It was a wonderful, if a little tiring, day," Graeme said. "It was also quite emotional, especially for Owen's nephew who came along. I've always been a big fan of Owen's and it was great to be able to make a programme like this."

As well as performing, Graeme also talks to people who knew Owen, who died in 1973 at the age of 65.

"We spoke to Owen's accompanist Keith Swallow, who actually accompanied him the last time he sang Just A-Wearying For You, which was lovely.

"People rightly often draw parallels between myself and Owen ... we both sang the same roles and there are many other similarities in terms of our careers."

The programme, which will be screened tomorrow at 6.35pm, was directed by Geoff Wonfor and also features footage of Owen singing in The Mikado, receiving his OBE at Buckingham Palace and performing at the Edinburgh Fe stival.

It includes a reconstruction of a 1959 commercial for Newcastle Brown Ale, with Graeme taking Owen's place as the (Blue) star.

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