'I'm an overnight success," says Norman Teeling. "But it's been 50 years coming." Known to some as a painter of an iconic series of works from the 1990s, depicting the 1916 Rising, now, at the age of 66, Teeling is on the brink of the big time in the music world.
It's a moment he began practising for at the age of 14.
"That's when I started playing guitar," he remembers. "I was into all the popular stuff -- The Everly Brothers, Elvis -- but soon I began to get into the likes of Les Paul, Barney Kessell and Wes Montgomery, who were all big jazz musicians. The Shadows had just come out, but beyond that there wasn't much in the way of jazz on guitar."
In the intervening years, Teeling has had a varied career, from teaching art to background drawing for the Sullivan Bluth animation studios in Dublin. He spent 10 years working on film sets in Europe and Hollywood, painting backgrounds before the advent of CGI brought him back to Ireland. But all through that time, he was still playing his guitar, either on stage with various jazz outfits or at home, perfecting his skills with backing tracks.
"Jazz is a musician's music," he says. "It's so intricate and difficult, it's hard to have confidence in your skills. It doesn't help, either, when you have the world's greatest jazz guitarist in Ireland, namely Louis Stewart. The first time I came across him he was playing in a little place called The Blue Note on Stephen's Green. I go to see him every Sunday in town and I still sit there with all the other aspiring guitar players saying to myself, how the hell is he doing that?"
Still, Teeling kept practising in private. "It takes a while to become a jazz guitarist, you need to know the theory of music very well so you can put your own stamp on a song. I worked on some of the songs I play for years. I'd be playing them over and over again at home, thinking it's a shame the world can't hear me do this stuff."
Eventually, with the help of his old friend, Pat Henry (fitness guru of Operation Transformation), Teeling decided to make the dream come true. Bringing the drummer Phillip Rennicks on board, they put the Norman Teeling Trio together and recorded Jazzing At Midnight, an album of instrumentals that's become an unlikely success.
"Pat and I have been playing together since the '70s," Norman explains. "We're both in the Transformation Blues Band, but we always had a dream to do a jazz guitar album. Suddenly we're playing gigs like The Electric Picnic and next year's Glastonbury. We're going to New York and London, playing all over. People can't seem to get enough of it." Teeling says this with a note of disbelief in his voice.
By his own admission, jazz is hardly the most popular form of music these days. "You might play a gig and there'll be 10 people in the audience," he says. "Jazz is difficult, only a certain kind of person likes it. The music that's out there at the moment all sounds like karaoke to me."
In the meantime, Teeling's painting career continues apace. He has an exhibition coming up at Christmas in the prestigious Barbara Stanley Gallery in London. "It's A Tale of Two Cities," he says. "It's a series of cityscapes from London and Dublin in a kind of impressionistic style. In painting, I'm most interested in the play of light and colour."
There's a note of glee in Teeling's voice as our chat comes to an end and we talk about the future. "I'm a certified codger, you know," he laughs. "I've got my bus pass to prove it.
"But still, I'd be quite happy to be as famous as George Benson. It's a late flowering and I'm enjoying every minute of it."
Jazzing at Midnight by the Norman Teeling Trio is currently on release. Norman Teeling's new works will be part of an exhibition 'Come Meet the Artists' on December 1 at 6pm at The Oriel Gallery, 17 Clare Street, Dublin 2