The selling of brand byrom
After the success of 'Celtic Thunder' and a couple of blows to the considerable ego he admits having, singer Paul Byrom tells Ciara Dwyer he is hungry for more, now that he's moved to New York with the woman of his dreams
'I've always been as hungry and ambitious as I am now," says singer Paul Byrom. I had just asked the 33-year-old Dubliner if his move to New York had changed him. Having toured in the US, and beyond, for the past four years with Celtic Thunder (the highly successful show with five male singers), he finally decided to live in the Big Apple in December 2010 with his Irish girlfriend Dominique. The plan was to embark on a solo career. While Celtic Thunder was a wonderful opportunity, which had brought him to a wide audience, he says that it was never his show. There was a hunger for more time in the spotlight, and no wonder. He had started out as a solo performer, singing since the age of seven, first as a boy soprano in church for mass, funerals and weddings and later, he was packing them in at the National Concert Hall (he returns to the NCH on August 9). He tells me that it is in his blood.
"I'm the type who will say, 'Why are you standing in my light?'" It is to his credit that he mocks his ego and dramatic ways. He tells me that the musician Phil Coulter, who will be his father-in-law and the man who asked him to join Celtic Thunder, puts him straight about perspective in life.
"He says to me, 'Paul, you're not curing cancer. You're singing songs. Let's not get carried away'. And he's right."
He laughs at this, conceding that sometimes he loses the run of himself. There is something refreshingly honest about Paul Byrom, especially the way he admits to his ambition and the way he now talks about his career.
They say there's no business like show business. An astute actor once pointed out that the word 'business' features twice in that adage. Paul is very aware of this, even more so since he moved Stateside. Frequently during my time with him, he uses business terminology. It is all about "re-branding" since leaving Celtic Thunder and "building the brand". Paul Byrom is the brand on sale and he wants to get the word out to the world. He tells me that he has 16,000 followers on Twitter. He does online chats with his fans and on his website you can buy everything from iPhone covers to T-shirts with the logo "Byrom Babes" to a pillow with Paul Byrom's face.
When I jeer him about the pillow, he takes it in good spirit and then replies cheekily: "Well, if you want to go to bed with Paul Byrom, now you can."
These things sell. He knows that all this may seem bizarre to an Irish audience and it doesn't sound like he will be producing the pillows for his Dublin concert but it is a different world in the US and he has made it work. It hasn't been plain sailing and there was a gap of months after he left Celtic Thunder when he despaired.
"It was bleak. My objectives for 2011 were to get an agent and a manager, an album and a tour and I thought it was going to be as easy as that. I was going to give Josh Groban a run for his money. But doing it solo was a different ball game.
"I was meeting people who were promising the earth, moon and stars and nothing was coming from it. You go over there a real Paddy off a ship, thinking, we're going to find our millions in America. I got down in the dumps, just spending my days going to the gym and practising my scales. I don't make decisions lightly but I was thinking, what am I doing here? Dominique was always the voice of reason." Then one day Paul's friend, a jazz singer called Matt Dusk, asked him if he would like to join him to do a song at his gig in a small pub in the East Village. He happily got up and sang. A woman from a big shot agency spotted him, remembered him from Celtic Thunder and soon he was signed up and on his way. Up until then, he had been knocking on doors and not getting any responses. Now there weren't any doors. He was in and his solo career was finally turning around.
After the worrying struggle, who can blame him for selling any ware he can.
"Merchandise is a huge part of being a singer," he tells me. "Making music and albums is as expensive as it ever was. (His latest album This Is the Moment is doing very well.) You've got to figure out where am I making my living? How am I fuelling the bus from one gig to the next? If it sells, go with it.
"I didn't lose money on my first solo tour in America. That's some achievement. The merchandise funded the tour."
In the US, women frequently turn up at Paul's concerts wearing T-shirts with the Byrom Babes slogan.
"One woman asked me to sign her wrist. I thought, you're a bit old for that -- she was in her 40s. A week later she sent me a picture of my signature which she had tattooed on her wrist. It was red and sore-looking and I thought, 'Christ almighty, I'm sure some people are going to say who the hell is Paul Byrom?' But look, that's where we're at. My fans are hugely supportive and I'm very reluctant to say anything bad about them. They feel part of the journey. They knew me when I first came to America with Celtic Thunder. They see me develop and are happy about it. They feel part of it."
Paul Byrom has come a long way. I met him almost a decade ago. He had just recorded an album -- I Hear You Calling -- which raised funds for his local church in Booterstown where he sang at Mass every Saturday night for many years. Back then he was very driven. That determination is still there and I think there is even more drive to him now. It's as if he moves at a faster pace and grabs all the opportunities he can. He tells me that the singer Brian Kennedy told him to say 'yes' to everything and then later on, he would be able to be more selective. And so, Paul tried his hand at all he could.
When Phil Coulter asked him to join him on a cruise, he leapt at the chance. At the time, he was doing weddings, funerals, going to singing classes with Veronica Dunne, while working in a sweet shop on Harcourt Street. He went on to record another album, Velvet, and when that was out there, he accepted the invitation to take part in Celebrity Jigs 'n' Reels in 2006. He enjoyed it and his competitive streak meant that he did quite well in the TV show, but the main aim of participating was that his profile would become bigger. He had an album to promote.
Byrom has always kept an eye to the business end of things but that's not to say that he is without soul. Music is his passion and he has always wanted to pursue his dream of singing. He credits Veronica Dunne for her wisdom and no nonsense attitude.
"I'm eternally grateful to her," he says. One time in Dublin, he fell in love with a long legged girl from Helsinki and so he announced that he was going to move there, to be with his love. Ronnie, as she is known, came on the phone and told him he was going nowhere. "Darling, I'll teach you how to sing. Stick with me and then you'll get all the beautiful women," she said.
The idea of Helsinki was parked. He finally met the woman of his dreams -- Dominique Coulter -- on a cruise while he was working with her father Phil for the second time.
A band member advised Paul not to touch the Coulter girl, knowing the complications which could arise, but it was too late. He was smitten. They got engaged this year -- he even surprised her by picking a ring -- and they plan to get married next summer.
Paul is a positive person who believes in getting out there and making things happen, but he has had tough times too.
"Life has dealt difficult cards," he says, "but that makes you the person you are and the performer you are." When Paul was 20, his father Michael committed suicide.
"I hadn't talked to him for seven years. I was never close to my father. I felt that he let us down when he left the marriage to be with someone else.
"He suffered from alcoholism and I know it's an illness. I only remember him sober for a week when I was a child and then he was a totally different man, a good man and a very generous man. We never wanted for anything and he paid for my singing lessons and it's important to remember that."
He pauses, adding dignity to the moment.
"But I think that suicide is a hugely selfish thing for people to do and I know I'll offend people by saying that, but that's how I feel. My father tried to make contact with me before he died but I didn't take the opportunity. I remember him talking to me at my grandfather's funeral and I could smell the drink off him at 11 in the morning. I said, 'Dad, when you're sober, we'll talk'. People get to the point where there's little anyone can say or do."
Was he angry when his father died?
"I was and I still am but my mother said to me, 'Paul, you can spend the rest of your life worrying about people that are passed on or you can worry about people that are alive'. You choose what you want to do. I'm not a soulless person and there are times when I think of him," he says.
His eyes fill. All the business-brand talk is long gone.
At that moment, a beautiful smiling blonde woman appears before us -- Dominique. Paul's face lights up. They are off to view venues for their wedding. Life is for living and they are doing just that on their short holiday in Dublin and big time in the Big Apple.
I wish them well.
Paul Byrom sings in the National Concert Hall on Thursday, August 9 at 8pm. Tickets from e20. Tel: 01-417-0000
See www.nch.ie, www.paulbryom.ie
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