Friday 14 December 2018

Waking Hours: Voice of Ireland champ Keith Hanley

Keith Hanley, 20, is a singer and a care assistant for children with special needs. He won ‘The Voice of Ireland’ in 2013 and has just released his debut album. Born in Limerick, he now lives in Charleville, Cork, with his mother and sister

Keith Hanley
Keith Hanley

Ciara Dwyer

I get up at half eight. I live with my mother and sister. They are early risers, too. I have a bowl of cereal and, a few minutes after that, if I'm in form, I go for 
a jog. It's a great way to stay in shape 
and also, I find it very therapeutic mentally. You put in the earphones and off you go. Quite simply: I enjoy it.

My morning activities depend on whether I'm working or not. I won The Voice of Ireland in 2013 and, ever since then, I try to do something music-related at least two days a week. I have just released my first solo album. It's called Hush. But I also have a day job.

Recently, I was on The Late Late Show performing a song from my album 
and people were shocked to hear 
that, the next day, I was going to do 
a 12-hour shift at work.

When I was doing The Voice, some said that I was using my job to try to get a sympathy vote, while others doubted that I really worked there at all.

I work in St Joseph's Foundation in Charleville. It's a facility that looks after children with special needs, and it has other facilities like speech and language, and occupational therapy workshops. Some days, I work as a care assistant and, other times, as a special needs assistant. It's not like I'm stuck with this job until the music takes off. I love it and I find it hugely rewarding. It keeps my feet on the ground. Even though the lads in work saw me on television and heard my voice on the radio, they were great about it all, and they still are. They just accept me for who I am.

Sometimes, I might be going through disheartening events associated with the music industry - your usual ups and downs - but then, when I see the lads in work, they make me grateful for what I have. They put things in perspective.

I see their struggles - simple things like they might be trying to tie a shoelace or learning to swim, and then, when 
I see them progress in life, I'm delighted to be part of that. Sometimes, I work 
a 12-hour shift, or it could be the hours before school, and I do nights, too. My job is not for everyone. There are ups and downs in it, but it is my passion.

My Uncle Laurence had Down syndrome and he died two years ago at the age of 31. I grew up with him, and so I understood his ways. This was long before I got into my line of work at 
St Joseph's. He taught me about life, and I got a lot of satisfaction from looking after him. It was difficult to understand him, so he used sign language, and 
I learned it, too. Now I have that skill for work. He was very passionate about music and he was my role model.

I have a tattoo of his face on my right hand, which is my microphone hand. I love that it's not only my mug on television and newspapers because, with this tattoo, it feels like he is with me.

Ever since I won The Voice of Ireland it has been a real learning curve. It is 
like a game of snakes and ladders. In 
a short space of time, I was given great opportunities and I learned so much about being on stage, working with cameras and how to handle a hectic schedule. Thankfully, I got through it 
all and now I have my album.

When you win the competition, the deal is that you get a recording contract from Universal Ireland. You do that and you see how it takes off. I've just released the second song from the album, so fingers crossed for the reaction.

Watching The Voice, The X Factor and other talent shows, I wouldn't have seen myself going for a show like that, but I'm delighted I did. When you are at home, sitting on your couch, it's very easy to shout criticism at these poor people exposing themselves at such a level.

I knew that it was going to be a bumpy road, and it still is, but I'm very glad that I did it. I give the music my best shot.

Jamelia was my mentor for the show, and I will admit that, throughout it all, she gave 110 per cent, understanding what I wanted to do and how I wanted to come across as an artist. In the beginning, they were unsure about me because I was dancing as well as singing, but Jamelia pushed for me to do both, which was great.

She did what she was supposed to do, in terms of being my mentor, and then she even said that she wanted to be part of my management process, and to make sure that I got the right performance opportunities, but, so far, I haven't had any phone calls from her.

At the moment, I'm still working on getting a few gigs and sorting out a live set to perform. I'd be delighted to do it anywhere, even on the back of a tractor or a trailer. I love performing, and I'm happy with my album, and I'm willing to perform anywhere in order to get to where I need to be. That's a priority and a passion in the next few months ahead.

My grandfather, my mother's father, was the musical influence in my life. He played the bagpipes and was an amazing singer. When I was starting out, he was the one who helped me along the way. Growing up, I did all types of music and musical theatre - jazz, tap and ballet, and I was in pantomimes as well. I was always performing. Right now, I'm learning to play the guitar and I am taking lessons. I would love to write music. I co-wrote some of the songs on the album and I'd love to do more.

When I go to bed at night, I put in my iPod. I love all sorts of music. I also enjoy watching Nashville. It's a drama series about the music industry, about how to make it in the Country scene, and in music in general.

Before I go to bed I pray. I step back and look at my day and what I did, and I think about how grateful I am for my health and my family. I continue to 
pray because it's like a security blanket. 
I find that it helps to keep me focused on the days ahead, to plan what I can do, especially with the music. Last thing at night, before I drift off, I think about what I can do next to push it and be the artist that I strive to be.

'Hush' is available for download on iTunes, and is in selected record stores

Sunday Independent

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