Acclaimed Sligo singer Tommy Fleming, who performs all over the world, has often said he wants to concentrate more on singing here in the UK. He will be performing at the Union Chapel in London on 30 March and Glasgow on 5 April. Michael McDonagh talked to him about his plans.
The Irish World: You are back performing here again?
“The Union Chapel (in London) came to us. We were not planning to come back there until March 2020, but they asked us back and we are delighted to be doing it again, as we thought maybe it was too long to leave it. We are doing two UK shows, the other one is in Glasgow.
“We are also doing Australia, and the US, this year as well. It is a lot to take on but we are still building in the UK and did not want to leave it for too long to perform there (since the last concerts).
“The Union Chapel is a gorgeous venue, really lovely. I loved playing there last year, there is something very organic about it, there is something very earthy about the place. A full band and full orchestra would not work there so we are doing it with the set-up that we had last time, which was wonderful: three band members and a string quartet.
“For the music and the songs that we have chosen it is just very natural to use that set up in that venue. We got a great reaction from the people that came who seemed to have really enjoyed it.”
IW: When we last spoke you were preparing to record a TV special in Galway Cathedral for your Voice of Hope 2, how did that go?
“It was fantastic, and we sold out the two and half thousand seats. Trying to put the music together was a nightmare though as I did not want it to be all-new material, but I did not want to be regurgitating old material from the past either.
“We tried to balance it and I took songs I had not sung for a long, long time, like we did a new version of Danny Boy and we did new versions of different songs and it was wonderful.
“It is tough doing a TV special and I had not done one for a long time. You want to make sure that what you are doing will appeal to the audience in there as they have paid their money, but you also need to think about the TV audience and what will work for them.
“I could easily have gone in and just done the songs that we liked but you have to be aware of the audience in the Cathedral, as they are paying for it and they will tell you what they like. In the end, we got it right and it worked out well.
“I also brought over from Sydney, Australia a fella called Mark Vincent, who is a kind of Andre Bocelli tenor type of singer. It really worked bringing Mark in. I rarely bring in another male singer, usually it is a female singer, so it really stood out. We did an Irish version of Halleluiah together in English and Irish and we also did World in Union, which you will hear at the Union Chapel.
“The first time I’d done World in Union was for the Rugby World Cup when it was a big recording with Katherine Jenkins, Aled Jones, Russell “Watson, and Bryn Terfel and Kiri Te Kanawa. This time I wanted to do it on my own, with a simpler version and I’ve always loved the English hymn I Vow To Thee My Country, there’ll be those kinds of songs that really suit the venue.
“I am also doing Bring Him Home from Les Misérables as a salute to my acting side, which is what I do when I am not singing solo. It is very much a salute to 29 years of my career.”
IW: When will you be in the UK again?
“In March we are doing another big orchestral show in Dublin, with some special guests…I am going to Australia and New Zealand in September and that will be a long haul and I am also back to America in April and May…but we are planning to do a big 20-date tour in the UK in March next year.”
IW: Earlier in your career you sang in De Danann and since we last spoke one of its founder members, Alec Finn, died, a great loss. President Michael D Higgins was at his funeral. Were you able to go?
“It was a bit of a shock when I heard the news in one way but then I suppose it was no surprise, as we knew he had not been well. I did not make the funeral and I don’t think Mary Black made the funeral either and Frankie Gavin was in America. It is almost Jewish in this country as they organise it so quickly, so if you are away on the road it is hard to get back for the funerals. It is a great loss, but you had to know Alec to appreciate him. He was his own man and always made his views clear so the best way to describe it is that you had to know Alec to ‘tolerate’ him but he will be a great loss to Irish music, and he was a great character living up there in his Norman castle by the sea.
IW: Before he died, he and Frankie Gavin buried the hatchet and made their peace after their awful public dispute. They even got to make an album together.
“Oh yes that was great, and it needed to happen for both of their sakes, and I am glad they did patch it up.”
IW: What are you up to now?
“I’m in the middle of an Irish tour which is almost all sold out. I am 29 years doing what I do, and I love it and I love the experiences. I was at an awards show sitting near Mary Black and we were laughing and joking, and she remembered that in Japan I was the only one apart from her that would eat sushi, which I love. The others could not believe we would consider eating raw fish.
“I just love all the new places and experiences that my music has taken me to. Ireland is a very cosmopolitan country, which is especially noticeable when you are in Dublin, but there are many who have not moved on and are still in the dark ages.
“The one thing that my dad always told me was precious and he always encouraged me and that is the gift of knowledge and you get that by being open and having an enquiring mind and from travel and meeting new people. I have been very lucky.”