Tommy Fleming

Tommy Fleming

Irish singer Tommy Fleming’s career was just taking off when he broke his neck in a car crash in 1998.After a year of rehabilitation and healing Tommy did what he promised himself he would have recorded a new album and be back on the road within twelve months.And now his career has hit new heights as his new album A Journey Home celebrates Irish music over the centuries.I caught up with the Irishman to discuss the current record, his fight to get fit and his career back on track and what lies in the future.
Your new album is A Journey Home what can we expect from it?

It’s my ninth album and it’s a live album the idea of A Journey Home is to give an insight into the journey that Irish music has made over the last two centuries really and more. And the one thing that the Irish immigrants had when they were forced to leave their home land, went to the U.S, Australia or whatever, the one thing that they brought with them was their music, that was one thing that was never taken away from them, and it has made it’s way back in home in many different forms when you look at the likes of U2 who have made a huge global success.

What was the appeal of releasing a live record?

There was no real appeal it was done for PBS in America, which is Public Broadcasting Service, it kind of grew legs after that really because for PBS you need a DVD and all of the stuff for the TV station so it was easier to go and do it live than mime it, unlike a lot of acts. There was no appeal it was just one specific concert and that was basically it.

The album contains classic Irish Songs such as Isle of Hope and Isle of Tears how did you decide what was involved in the live show?

Well you see what we did we went from old to new and trying to make the decision Helen was impossible because, as you can imagine, there is so much Irish material out there.

So we went from the like of Carrickfergus and Raglan Road, all really old old songs, right through to modern writers like Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears, which is writer by Brendan Graham who wrote You Raise Me Up, I mentioned U2 earlier and you can’t d a record like this without doing a song by U2 and all the modern day writers, which to me are the modern day poets.

And do you have any particular favourites?

I have to say The Quest, which is a Christie Hennessy song, and then when I did the Yeats poem The Sally Gardens I really enjoyed that, I hadn’t snag or said it since I was a child at school so it was strange a man in his late thirties doing stuff I hadn’t done since I was twelve or thirteen.

How did you get involved in music?

You know I always say I never chose music, music chose me for some strange reason. I never got involved deliberately, if that makes any sense to you? I had been singing since I was six or seven and people used to sit up and take notice when I was doing it.

The one thing I love about music is when I close my eyes and sing a song and when I finish and open my eyes I seem to have taken the people to the place I have gone and that’d what made me do it, it’s a place to escape to you a have your own little world in many ways.

How did I get involved in it? It just happened from singing in choirs when I was a kid to working in bands when I was a teenager and it kind of just developed over the years and ended up as a career.

how did you find the whole band experience, I read you were in a couple early on in your career?

I was yeah (laughing) I was in two or three actually. The band experience was never one I liked because I’m very much a person who has to have it my way, when I’m working solo I am the boss, but when I’m working in a band everyone has their ideas and I believe when you are working n something that is so important it has to be one idea not four ideas, so compromise is a very hard thing for me and I prefer to work solo.

For the album how daunting is to take on these well known songs and how do you go about making them your own?

I suppose it was daunting to a degree because I thought should I cover them shouldn’t I cover them? And putting your own stamp on them I suppose it’s the way I sing if I have any type of talent at all I can do that with little or no effort.

The way that we did it, bringing in orchestra in and things like that, on songs that would never have been sung with an orchestra like Raglan Road or the U2 song All I Want Is You these sons have never been given that sort of treatment and that’s one of the main reasons that we put a different stamp on it.

And where there any songs that you wish you had covered but had to leave out?

It’s not because I had to leave them out it was simply because I hadn’t thought of them there was Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl and which I completely forgot about. We had chosen something like fifty songs and we had narrowed it down to eighteen or twenty but it was very difficult, it was extremely difficult to take songs out than to put songs in.

In 1998 you were involved in a very serious car crash what happened?

Basically I was coming home, I went to meet my brother for a drink and had spent about an hour with him, so I was on my way home and I fell asleep at the wheel. I was exhausted from being on the promotional tour for the album Restless Bird, because it was a new album and the budget wasn’t very big I was driving myself and al that sort of stuff it was very much on a shoe string. I had been driving solidly for about ten days, doing two or three hundred miles a day, then doing interviews and coming back at three in the morning and getting up at six so I was just exhausted I fell asleep and ploughed straight into a tree breaking my neck.

Everyone says it must have been an awful time but I look back and sometimes think that it was the best thing that ever happened to me.

That sort of leads me into my next question you have been left with a broken neck, your career is put on hold what made you fight to get back on stage?

Well I had a full year of recovery so I had so many things to think about, I couldn’t do anything but think I couldn’t read a book because I couldn’t hold my hands up long enough because my head was in a big cage, I could only watch daytime TV, and having done this fir a years the worrying thing is people do this deliberately.

My mind was just going crazy because I was watching crappy daytime TV like Rikki Lake and Trisha so I couldn’t do anything constructive so I just sat down and thought about what I really wanted to do and when I had decided that I wanted to come back and do a new album, get back on the road in a years time, recover what I had lost it kind of gave me the incentive to fight for my career and fight for what I wanted.

What was the feeling when you stepped back on stage for the first time?

It was a very strange one there was a mixture of fear and excitement and apprehension, there were so many emotions running through me at the time, finally when I stood up in front of the audience and got a standing ovation I knew I was going to be ok.

How has the accident changed your life has it changed your priorities?

It has changed, I don’t want to be clichéd and say that is what changed my life and everything else, it didn’t change me dramatically. It changed my priorities indeed when things get really crappy and shitty, I don’t know my arse from my elbow sometimes I’m so busy, I look around me and think it could have been worse I could have been killed in ’98 or I could have been in a wheelchair.

Since then you have gone on and found major success how are you finding all that?

Luckily the success came at an age when I could accept it and deal with it, if it had come when I was in my twenties I think it would have been very dangerous I was a bit hedonist in many ways, I enjoyed a party too much, so really success came at the right time for me.

So handling it is very easy, anyone who is mature enough can handle success, I don’t believe in celebrity or any of that kind of nonsense I’m very ordinary and very normal, I ground myself probably way too much, so I don’t have to deal with it I enjoy it.

Finally what is next for you?

We are going into the studio in the next few weeks to begin the next studio album, I have a tour in the UK set up for December, a tour in Australia in October, the U.S in September so I’m very busy. I suppose the one thing I don’t enjoy is the amount travelling and the amount of aeroplanes I have to get on because I don’t like flying, but I do get to travel first class which is great, there is so many things in the pipeline that I feel like a child sometimes running into a sweet shop because there are so many things that I want to do there are not enough hours in the day for me to put them all into practice.

I’m in the middle of writing my book at the moment so that’s taking up a lot of my time, it’s very therapeutic because I’m going back over things that I didn’t even remember, it’s strange.

While you touch on the subject why have you decided to write the book?

Well I’m forty in two years time and I just wanted something there for my own head really, and I know by the time I’m forty three or forty four I will have forgotten half of it, so I just decided it was time to write the book. Plus I had packed in so much in my thirty something years I kind of think it’s time to tell the story.

Tommy Felming’s album the Journey Home is out now.

FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw

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