Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tommy Fleming’s Journey Home

All text copyright Ita Kelly (c) 2008

Tommy Fleming is assured and confident. Why wouldn’t he be when his last live album and DVD ‘Voice of Hope’ sold a quarter of a million copies in Ireland alone! He works a phenomenal 190 nights a year and still manages to be enthusiastic and relaxed. ‘A Journey Home’ is his latest project. I call it a project because it’s not just an album, and it’s not just a show, it’s a completely themed experience which Tommy along with his wife Tina and musical director David Hayes planned meticulously and executed perfectly. “We spent months planning it” says Tommy. “We did a week of rehearsals, then we went to Killarney and we did a day there getting things right and getting the crew set up. Then we went for it!”

“A great venue” he says about the INEC in Killarney. “It can seat two thousand and it’s got everything there for a show. The Kerry people are brilliant. They’re a great audience. We fill the INEC twice each year.”

It was filled to capacity last March when thirty five musicians took to the stage to back Tommy singing his way through a top class selection of songs from the Irish repertoire. “It goes from old right up to new” says Tommy, “crossing lines like ‘The Sally Gardens’, ‘Carrickfergus’, Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh right up to U2”. The difference with this recording is the orchestration, arrangement and Tommy’s unique powerful delivery. The opening salvo on Timpani is every bit as grandiose as a Hollywood soundtrack, exactly the effect Tommy wanted to achieve. “I want people to feel what I feel when a show starts,” he says. It’s exhilarating, it’s exciting, it’s nervous energy pumping up the tension and letting forth. The up-tempo pace of the opening ‘Carrickfergus’ sweeps you along on its tide of grandeur. ‘Raglan Road’ beats to the same drum. What Tommy and David have managed to create is a whole new way of looking at and listening to tried and tested standards of the Irish tradition.

Although not Tommy’s first DVD, it is the first time he has taken complete control of the production. He set up his own production company a year ago called ‘tf productions’ and now operates everything through it.

‘A Journey Home’ is Tommy’s eighth album release. He’s been building a strong career for fifteen years and is now a household name. A native of Aclare in south county Sligo, Tommy is the youngest of six children. Their home was a musical one, renowned for music sessions. Singing all his life, he got a serious break when invited by Phil Coulter to guest on his tour of the USA in 1993. He toured with Phil again in 1996, and spent three years with traditional band DeDannan performing all over the world. Everything was rosy for Tommy as he embarked on a solo career in 1998 and released his first solo album. Then he met with a cruel fate. A car accident, which he was lucky to survive, left his neck broken and he had to endure months of convalescence until he was able to return to performance. “It’s nine years since my own accident” he relates. “It’s been a long road; it’s been a hard road. Those three years after the accident were a very hard time for me.” He avoided talking about his own experience for a while afterwards but now has lent his voice to the current road safety campaign. He admits to having been a ‘bit of a lunatic’ in a car when he was younger. “I was lucky” he says, “but ten or fifteen more weren’t so lucky. They’re still in rehab or on breathing apparatus. It’s time to sit up and listen. A car isn’t a toy for going out in the middle of the road at night doing doughnuts. You have to have responsibility, to be in charge of it. Who will be next? It could be you, or the fellow beside you or the girl in the back.” Tommy hopes his pleas for more care and caution on the roads will be heard as loudly as his music in the coming months.

His concert tour of Ireland in January and February will see him take a fifteen strong backline of musicians on the road. “It’s a big show to put on the road and it’s a big sound” he says. “It’s great craic too, there’s a great buzz because everyone knows everyone for years. We all muck in, it’s all for one and one for all.” Tommy oozes optimism and his enthusiasm is infectious. “I have to look at life as the glass half full” he muses. “There’s no such thing as problems that can’t be solved and there’s no such word as ‘I can’t’”. In terms of projects and ideas, there’s always something new to think about.” I have one project finished and I could wake up in the middle of the night and have another idea. When I did ‘Voice of Hope’ everyone said I was mental, because I was going to lose everything. I thought ‘No one ever staged anything in the Basilica before. It can’t lose!’ We sold a quarter of a million albums in Ireland alone. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it on television. I’m so proud of it.”

Tommy’s voice is in great shape at the moment. Is he hitting his peak? “I haven’t touched it yet” he replies. “There’s a pile more I have to do. Please God, I’ll still be around to do it. I’m only thirty six, if I’m at my peak at thirty six what am I going to do for the next thirty six? I never look at somebody as being at their peak. You keep bringing out different ideas and if they work, they work. If they don’t then you go back to the drawing board.”

When not doing the bigger shows, Tommy enjoys doing an acoustic tour with just David on keyboard and Ewan Cowley on guitar. “We play to about three hundred people and it’s a very personal show”

He looks after himself, doesn’t smoke anymore and rarely drinks. “If I have two nights off in a row then I might go for a pint” he says. On tour in America where they usually use a sleeper bus travelling between gigs, Tommy is the first to crash out for the night after a gig. “I have the iPod earphones in, I put on a piece of classical music and I’m gone” he relates. He listens to a wide range of music from Frank Sinatra to Barbara Streisand, James Blunt to movie sound tracks. “It depends on what I feel like or what I want to be inspired by” he says.

‘Quietly huge’ was how a newspaper described Tommy recently. I’m not so sure how quiet his reputation is, he’s easily one of the leading male artists in the country. ‘A Journey Home’ takes Tommy on a tour of Ireland in January and February and then to the USA in March. It’s not surprising to hear that Tommy already has ideas for the next ‘project’ and for the one after that – but we’ll have to wait a small while before all is revealed.

Tommy’s website is ‘A Journey Home’ is released on Universal Records.

Click here to buy Tommy Fleming's "Journey Home" from the .tradnet store on Amazon.

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