independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Tommy Fleming

Tommy Fleming, 36, is a singer. He was born in Aclare, Co Sligo, and now lives in Enniscrone, Co Silgo, with his wife, Tina

I live about a mile from the beach. It's the best beach in Europe because it's seven miles long. I don't walk along it often enough, although I did the other day with the dogs. My wife, Tina, works with me and in the morning, we have the debate -- shall we get up yet? I worked in clothes shops years ago, but I always hated doing the nine-to-five thing. I'm no good at accepting authority. I need to be in control. There are lots of headaches when you're in control but at least when you make a mistake, it's your mistake.

In the mornings, we turn on the radio to Today FM. Then, if I've an album out, we start flicking channels to see who is playing it. We like to keep an eye on that.

The minute we're up, we're on. You know you're in the 21st century when you check your emails before you have breakfast. There could be about 30 emails waiting for me. There's lots of admin stuff: we've got PayPal from the website; the record company could be looking for me and promoters are asking about tours.

Australia is online about 7am and then, at the other end of the day, we could be working late, dealing with the US. This year is going to be crazy because I'm touring America and Australia. The phone is constantly hopping and the pair of us will work away, but if I am away on tour, Tina deals with it all.

The great thing about our office at home is that I can be working away in my dressing gown and pyjama bottoms. These days, I am my own manager and I have no agent -- I am my agent. It wasn't always so.

On November 26, 1998, I had a serious car accident. I'd had a few pints after one of my gigs and I fell asleep behind the wheel on the way home. I ploughed into a tree, broke my neck and spent the next year and a half recovering. It was a horrible time. I had a big brace screwed into my head for four months. The one thing it taught me was patience. I got a second chance.

Before the accident, I was like a tractor stuck in shite -- the wheels were spinning and I was going nowhere. I didn't understand the industry. After the accident, I was working my backside off, but I was still getting nowhere. My career went up, but my bank balance was going down. I had loads of people around me -- a manager and an agent -- and everyone was getting paid but Tommy. My debts spiralled out of control. I was constantly overdrawn, constantly working off a credit card. Then I'd do a gig and make no money. It was no fun. Everyone was looking for me, so I ran away.

I went to Sudan to work with Goal. I was supposed to go for one month, but I stayed for three. I loved it because it wasn't about me. I was administering medicine and giving food to kids. It shook me up, but I loved every minute of it. Sudan gave me time to plan and think.

On my return, I did a tour -- 32 dates in two months -- but I got no money out of it. After that, I walked away from the management and decided that I was doing it my own way. Two days after that tour had finished, I met Tina at a funeral and that was it. Everything started to change for the better. I booked a tour on my own, but I also made up my mind that work was not going to be a priority all the time. Until then, my career had always come first. Tina and I work very hard, but we enjoy ourselves too. We've great fun together. She's a great woman -- very strong and a great organiser.

If I'm working on ideas for a show, I might go to the gym. I listen to the iPod and shut the world out for a few hours. You have to work your arse off to keep in shape. It's a constant battle. I suppose it's all just vanity, but you have to look good on stage. People have paid a lot of money to come and see you, so it's no good if you come out on stage in a tatty T-shirt. I never wear jeans on stage. I like to show respect for the people who put me in this position in the first place.

The other thing I hate is when artists only do an hour on stage. We do two hours and 15 minutes. I'm exhausted by the end of it, but I love when people come up and say: "You really give great value for money."

Music has always been in my family. My uncles were all musicians and we used to have loads of sessions. There was an appreciation of music. My father had a huge record collection, from Shirley Bassey and ceili bands to the Carpenters.

I'm the youngest of six. I was born and raised on a farm and one of my jobs was to milk the cows. We had about 30. The acoustics in the cowshed were brilliant. I trained myself in the cowshed. The milking machine was e-minor. I'd be walking up and down singing my heart out. My brother used to go ballistic -- it'd take him 40 minutes to milk the cows, but it'd take me about four hours.

When I was 15, I started doing pub gigs with my cousin, Belinda. Singing is an extension of me. I firmly believe that every one of us has been given a gift. I've been given an opportunity and I love using it to my full advantage. There isn't a day I don't sing. Even when I'm not touring, I sing around the house, or when I take the dogs out for a walk. I always wanted to be a singer. It's not that I wanted fame, I just loved the idea of doing these shows.

I get nervous before a gig, but that's because I want it all to be right. It's still scary being on stage. Somebody once said to me: "Do you have butterflies?" and I said: "They're not butterflies, they're bats."

The stage is my second home. I love the energy you get from different audiences. You never know what's going to happen with a Dublin audience; they're great. Some reactions can be confusing. Take Japan, for example. When you do a good job, they all start crying to show their appreciation. They were crying half the night for my show.

Years ago, I was too nervous to speak to the audience, but one night someone's guitar string broke and I had to talk to fill the time. I told a story and everyone was in stitches laughing. My brothers and sisters always used to say: "If they could see the Tommy we see at home, you'd win them over in minutes." So I decided to just be myself.

Tommy Fleming plays the National Concert Hall, Dublin on Wednesday and Thursday, tel: (01) 417-0000; An Glor, Ennis on Friday and Saturday, tel: (065) 684-3103 and at the Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny on Thursday, January 31, tel: (056) 776-1674. His latest album 'A Journey Home' is released on Universal. See www.tommyfleming.net

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