Tuesday 17 September 2019

Obituary: Jim Tobin

The singer, one of the biggest stars of the Country and Irish scene, quit music to drive a truck, writes Donnie Cassidy

Popular: Big Jim Tobin had a distinctive singing voice
Popular: Big Jim Tobin had a distinctive singing voice

Donnie Cassidy

Jim Tobin started his career with The Firehouse Showband in 1969, after singing with a local band in Co Meath called The Craftsmen. He spent the next 12 years performing at the top of the Country and Irish music scene and along with Larry Cunningham, Big Tom, Gene Stuart and Brian Coll, made Irish country music what it is today.

It all started by chance when Jim auditioned for The Times Showband from Mullingar. The band was actually looking for a pop singer, when Jim announced he was a country singer - but Des Doherty said to Jim: "Seen as you're here, sing a few songs anyway."

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On hearing Jim sing, Des instantly knew which band would be right for him. He called me, as I was leading the The Firehouse at the time.

I tracked down Jim about six months later, and Jim Tobin and The Firehouse became a household name, reaching No 1 with their first record, the Jim Reeves song This Is It (selected by the then band manager Noel Carty).

The night in January 1970 that they hit the No 1 position in the charts, The Firehouse were playing in Loughrea, Co Galway. They were suddenly in demand all over the country and were especially popular in the west of Ireland. They became one of the biggest bands in the country during the 1970s.

Jim, who was born in Skryne, Tara, Co Meath, where his family had lived for generations, had a distinctive voice. He sounded a good deal like Jim Reeves and this prompted music writers in 1970 to ask if he would be the next Reeves. Within a year they had their answer when Tobin - or Big Jim Tobin, as they called him - recorded an album of Jim Reeves's songs called Jim Tobin Remembers Jim Reeves.

Recording hits rolled again for Big Jim Tobin and the Firehouse with Don't You Fight The Feelings Of Love, The Happiness Of Having You, May The Wind Be Always At Your Back and the top-10 charting hit Rhythm Of Love. Having appeared on numerous TV shows and achieved much radio air play, they reached No 1 in September 1979 with a special song Welcome John Paul to mark the visit of the Holy Father to Ireland that year.

Jim Tobin and The Firehouse were extremely popular all over Ireland and the UK, where they toured four times each year. Jim left the music scene in 1982 after 12 good years with The Firehouse and returned to his first love of truck driving, where he continued the family business until retirement in 2015.

This was a very sad year for Jim, when his wife of 45 years, Caroline, died suddenly in May. It was an extremely heart-breaking time for him and his family. Then in 2017, Jim was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, which he bravely fought for the last two years with the great support of his family.

Jim Tobin died in his home on Saturday, August 24, 2019, surrounded by his loving family and friends.

He is survived by his daughters Avril and Yvonne, grandchildren Jamie, Cheyenne and Daniel, and his extended family and friends in the music industry.

Fr Brian D'Arcy was the chief celebrant at the funeral Mass in St Colmcille's Church, Skryne, Co Meath.

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