The Plantin’s got talent!

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with members of The Plantin performing Christmas songs at the Ness Santa Trail. (2211PG78)
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness with members of The Plantin performing Christmas songs at the Ness Santa Trail. (2211PG78)

Many years ago as a soccer-mad schoolboy, I used to torture my grandfather into taking me to the various Summer Cups held across the northwest. It usually meant a trip in his car to exotic locations like Buncrana, Bull Park or the Brandywell Showgrounds.

Continuing his countdown to City of Culture 2013, Garbhan Downey looks at how a local group is set to impress at Britain’s Got Talent...

Many years ago as a soccer-mad schoolboy, I used to torture my grandfather into taking me to the various Summer Cups held across the northwest. It usually meant a trip in his car to exotic locations like Buncrana, Bull Park or the Brandywell Showgrounds.

But one evening Bertie, who lived at the Collon, simply walked us up the Racecourse Road as far as ‘The Plantin’ at Belmont School, pointed to a big hole in the wall and told me he’d meet me at the pitch inside. The match was every exciting, and whoever it was we were cheering won thanks to a last-minute penalty.

Many years on, and last Friday, I and several of my colleagues from Culture Company got to revisit The Plantin, which is now the site of Foyle View School for children with learning difficulties and associated disabilities.

The occasion was the school rock band’s final practice session before their audition for Britain’s Got Talent on Sunday.

But in a special twist, headmaster Michael Dobbins had ruled it would be fun to stage a three-hour sing-a-thon for Children in Need. So the entire assembly preceding the rehearsal and all the business thereafter was also conducted through song.

No-one was spared; no teacher, pupil or visitor was exempt – but it was one of the best morning’s craic we’ve ever had. I haven’t laughed so much since Manchester United spelt the name wrong on the Alex Ferguson Stand.

And yes, it was also quite scary - there is nothing on earth that focuses the mind quicker than teacher Dan Byrne grinning wickedly as he bears down on you with a live mike.

The band, in honour of their ancestral home, naturally call themselves ‘The Plantin’. And by any yardstick, they do huge credit to Derry’s reputation as a city of music.

They feature Sorcha Friel on vocals, Jason Welsh on drums, Robert Canning on keyboard, along with Principal Dobbins on guitar and Head of Music Denise White on keyboards. And on Friday past, they were beautifully assisted by Louise and the school choir on backing vocals, and by an assembly hall full of energetic dancers.

The event was also very poignant. Sorcha’s soulful singing on numbers such as Dylan’s Forever Young had added impact in light of the tragedies that have affected youngsters at the school recently. And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after her powerful rendition of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina – the song the band selected to play at the Belfast try-out. Ant and Dec, bring your hankies – you heard it here first.

Our showcase ended with a batch of upbeat rock standards including Twist and Shout, Don’t Stop Believing and Teenage Kicks, which I’m counting on them performing when they reach the latter heats of BGT. Jason Welsh’s percussion, in this set, was top class.

Finally, just a word on Robert Canning’s dancing – simply awesome. Bez from Happy Mondays wouldn’t have a look in.

The Plantin, if there is justice in this world, are going places.

Britain’s Got Talent, take note - Derry is coming to get you.