Lunch with Bressie: I've got a word of advice for Louis Walsh and Brian Kennedy...
‘The Voice’ star tells Ed Power about his lucky break on RTÉ, celebrity friends and how success does not come overnight
How do you explain a phenomenon like Bressie? He's about as famous as you can be in Ireland, even if it isn't immediately obvious why he should be as madly beloved as he is.
His band, The Blizzards, were a meat and potatoes affair; as a judge on The Voice of Ireland, he does a decent line in sub-Simon Cowell straightforwardness and yet his zingers aren't exactly the sort you quote back to workmates around the water cooler.
Louis Walsh reckons it's because he's exquisitely pretty, an irresistible chunk of prime-time he-totty. Evidently, Bressie's good looks are a sensitive subject because when you repeat Walsh's critique to his face he breaks out in a very un-rock star blush.
"I am at this long enough not to get into a slagging match with Louis Walsh," says the singer who, at 6ft 4in, is a looming presence squeezed into a corner of Kitchen restaurant on Dublin's South Anne Street. "What I would do is offer him an open invitation – come into a recording studio with me and we'll see who knows what about music. His idea of music is different to mine."
It would make for a ding-dong tabloid story: Louis v Bressie in a no-holds-barred pop smack-down.
"Louis knows what he is doing. He knows I would laugh at his comments. This is what he has done through his career. You can't argue with his stats. At the same time, Louis has never seen me in a recording studio or watched me play an instrument. I'm from a different background from Louis. I'm from a band background."
Before The Voice, Bressie was Niall Breslin, a strictly B-list indie rocker. As frontman of The Blizzards he headlined the mid-tier Olympia and was once nearly bottled off stage supporting AC/DC in Punchestown.
As with many Irish groups, The Blizzards dreamed of breaking the UK. After it had become painfully clear that wasn't going to happen, Breslin put The Blizzards on ice and launched an unlikely pop career.
Following promising beginnings, by late 2011 he was facing professional ruin. A headline date at a Dublin club had turned out to be an unmitigated flop, with fewer than 100 turning up.
Surveying the empty room, he wondered what he would do for the rest of his life. Then he was asked to do The Voice. A big ratings winner for RTÉ, it had a dramatic effect on Bressie's life. From a minor alternative pop star, now he was a member of the 'famous for being famous' club. He's struggled to walk down a street unmolested since.
"It was a shock for me that anyone would give a damn about what I have for breakfast," he says, shaking his head. "That is the part of it I find strange. However, it's a modest price to pay for what is a brilliant job."
Besides, he knows that, compared with some of his acquaintances, his celebrity is small time. A client of Spice Girls founder Simon Fuller's 19 Entertainment, he has the same management team as Jennifer Lopez, Lewis Hamilton and David Beckham ("I've never met Beckham – apparently he's the nicest chap, a decent fella by all accounts").
Based part-time in London, he is also close to fellow Mullingar native Niall Horan of One Direction. In fact, Bressie has taken the younger singer under his wing and sees himself as a big brother figure of sorts.
"He's a good friend of mine. With One Direction, the record company was careful not to rush them. They saw the potential and allowed them develop. They said: 'Let's bring some seriously big writers in.'
"Most people who win X Factor never go anywhere – have you heard the new Frankie Cocozza single? It's like Jedward meets Pete Doherty. That's the only way I can describe it.
'Niall deals well with fame. He's 18. At that age, I was out drinking blue WKD. The day One Direction went to number one in America, I happened to be walking around Mullingar. I remember thinking: 'Does anyone realise how big a deal it is?'
"I do feel like a big brother. If we're out, inevitably you will always find some pissed guy being a twat. You go up to him and say: 'Look Niall isn't working – give him his space, he's 18 years of age.' The reason we're so close is that I've never asked anything of him, never tried to cash in on our relationship. Once you step over that line, you destroy the friendship."
The launch party for Breslin's new LP, Rage and Romance, was the previous night and he requires two bottles of Tom Crean lager to put his hangover to bed. Touring Ireland with The Blizzards he's had more dodgy meals than he can remember, so he has learned to appreciate good food.
Following some confusion – apparently the maitre'd thinks we are here for a photo shoot instead of a meal – he orders the heaving platter of pasta, washed down with a double espresso.
The son of an army officer and a one-time rugby pro with Leinster, Bressie has a reputation as a hot-head. Certainly his verbal spars with fellow Voice judge Kian Egan (ex-Westlife) are one of the reasons to watch the series. As you'd expect of someone with his profile, he receives torrents of online abuse, too. Usually this doesn't ruffle him, though he's lost his cool on occasion.
"I try not to let it bother me. There was this one guy who said stuff about my family. I had done a gig in Carlow and he was down the road. I tweeted along the lines of: 'I'm a fan of saying stuff to people's faces, so I'll do you the luxury of driving down to where you live. At midnight I'll meet you'. I took a picture of myself when I arrived there and put it on Twitter. Guess what, he didn't turn up."
He also got entangled in a Twitter feud with Irish fans of the American singer Chris Brown, a figure of controversy after he beat up his girlfriend Rihanna in 2009 (they have since reconciled). Bressie, not to put too fine a point on it, would love to punch Brown's lights out.
"How could 16,000 people pay to see Chris Brown?" he says. "The guy is a scumbag. I would pay for five minutes in a room with him.
"The worst aspect is that he displayed no genuine remorse. I mentioned him on Twitter the night of his gigs and I had all these girls coming back going: 'Who do you think you are? You're useless.'"
Contrary to perceptions, he is friendly with Kian Egan, he says.
Career-wise they inhabit different universes yet, as people, have a lot in common, in particular a passion for loud rock music (Egan is a huge Foo Fighters fan). Far rockier is his relationship with ex-Voice judge Brian Kennedy, who claims he exited the show due to a non-specific "outrageous" backstage incident. Breslin says that, while he respects Kennedy, he wishes the Belfast man would think before he rants.
"Brian and me get on really well. The only person who came out badly from his comments was him. I wanted to ring him and say: 'Dude, cop on.' It was like a teenage strop.
"It's a shame as he is such a talented dude and one of the nicest men you could meet. He has these outbursts and they don't do him any favours. When I say this to him he doesn't listen. Sharon [Corr, another Voice judge] is close to him and she says the same: 'Jesus, Brian just stop doing it.'
"I mean, with Brian it is always coming from a good place. He doesn't deal with it well. Airing your misgivings in a big interview is not the way to go about it. If he reads this I know he won't be disappointed –because I'm not saying anything that I haven't already said to his face."
The Voice has wrapped its second season, with the first prize of a record contract going to Keith Hanley, a 19-year-old from Charleville.
The show's star-making powers must be in question, however, considering last year's winner Pat Byrne – mentored by Bressie – sold a pitiful 3,500 copies of his debut album.
"My point – and my producers wish I'd shut the hell up about this – is that even if you win a show like The Voice, X Factor or American Idol, you are so not the finished product.
"There is so much more you need to develop. You have to work on your stage craft, your media craft. Pat can sing. But it is going to take him two or three albums before he can find his feet and put his personality into his music. He's one of the funniest guys I've met. He needs to figure out how he is going to get that across."
A life in brief
Born October 22 1980
Home Mullingar, Co Westmeath.
Education Attended UCD on a sports scholarship, graduating with a commerce degree.
Family The second youngest of five. His father Enda is a member of the Defence Forces. When Breslin was 19, the family moved to Palestine for six months.
Best known for The Blizzards released two hit albums before going on an open-ended hiatus in 2009. In 2012, Breslin was unveiled as a judge for The Voice of Ireland. His second solo record Rage and Romance topped the charts in April.
In the news About to begin a national tour.
Bressie performs at Cork Opera House tomorrow and The Academy in Dublin on Friday, May 17. He also supports Bon Jovi at Slane in June. See www.bressiemusic.com/