Tommy Fleming (Biography courtesy of the Artist's site, 2006).
Tommy Fleming was born in 1971 in County Sligo Ireland, a native of Aclare, County Sligo and the youngest of six children to Anne and Paddy Fleming. From a young age Tommy’s natural singing talent emerged as he participated in local talent competition and concerts Tommy’s performances always proving to be something special.
The flame haired singer is blessed with a voice that soars in every song, and it is proved beyond doubt that that Tommy is one of the finest voices to emerge out of Ireland in many years. Tommy Fleming has being described as putting his heart and soul into every song.
Eric Clapton was completely knocked out by his voice, Liam Neason secretly hopes he doesn’t take up acting such is the remarkable talented voice which is hard to describe but there are some serious goosebumps when he gets into a song.
After leaving school in 1990 Tommy started to establish himself singing in pubs and clubs around the country, regularly packing in the fans wherever he performed.
Like many young people it all began a little different for Tommy while he was still at school he had a rock band “The face of February” made up of local young people this was his first introduction to music playing in local pubs and clubs, moving on Tommy teamed up with four Castlebar lads and joined “Jarog” Tommy and the band moved up the music ladder somewhat by touring Ireland and playing at many festivals.
Despite his success in various venues during the 1990’s, recording companies weren’t that interested in his work. Then a chance encounter with renowned producer and composer Phil Coulter changed all that.
Tommy met Phil at a charity function at which Tommy was performing in Westport County Mayo, and within days he was ‘guesting’ with Phil and his orchestra in the Cork Opera House; The National Concert Hall in Dublin, and The University Concert Hall in Limerick. Four months later he was touring America, playing to huge audiences all across the US, culminating in two shows in the legendary Carnegie Hall and Boston Symphony Hall.
The New York Times described the concert…
“The success of this particular concert was Tommy’s classic interpretation of “The Leaving of Liverpool “The Auld triangle” had the audience on its feet.”
Boston Globe November 1993….
“Emotion was streamlined by the dynamic voice of Tommy Fleming, who soared on every song. He should be someone to watch as he matures”
After returning from the success of the US tour, Tommy’s career took another leap forward when he was invited by Galway Traditional group De Danann, to join them as lead vocalist following in the footsteps of such living legends as Mary Black, Maura O’Connell and Dolores Keane.
This collaboration lasted three years and introduced Tommy to a worldwide audience touring Australia, Hong Kong, China, and the U.S.A.
Tommy also features on the De Dannan album “Hibernian Rhapsody”
Tommy still had ambitions of a solo career and getting itchy feet Tommy recorded his first solo album in 1996 “Different Sides to Life”
As a result Tommy was offered a solo recording deal in 1997 by one of Ireland’s biggest independent labels, DARA Records. This offer was the start of a hugely successful solo career.
In November 1998, Tommy released his second solo album, “Restless Spirit”, which entered the Irish album charts at No.5 and went on to achieve double platinum sales.
On the release of “Restless Spirit” the press described it as something very special in the music industry…
Irish Times “Restless spirit is a landmark occasion in Irish Music”
News of the world…“This Album is 55 minutes of pure pleasure”
RTE Guide October 1998
“ The Album (Restless Spirit) is a mix of traditional, contemporary power ballads, the brooding title track wouldn’t go a miss on a foreigner album – plus the cover of Clifford T Ward’s The best is yet to come – the formula has proved aneminently successful one for young Fleming.”
Just as it was all about to happen for Tommy Fleming the reaction to the Album was phenomenal, suddenly things changed dramatically. During a promotional tour of the album Tommy was involved in a serious car accident, which could have cost his life, Tommy sustained a broken neck and left his career in jeopardy. Tommy was returning to his native Sligo when he took a shortcut to home, he veered off the road and hit a tree, loosing consciousness for some time the car burst into flames with the car door damaged it was more than luck to escape the burning car. Tommy walked two miles before being given a lift by a local couple, not realising he had any serious injuries he went home and then onto Castlebar General Hospital to be checked out, with severe pain in his neck the Hospital immediately transferred Tommy to the Mater Hospital Dublin. Tommy Fleming had a broken neck and was fitted with “Jerome halo” the name of which casts up surreal images.
The Jerome halo brace is a complicated and intimidating looking apparatus designed to keep the neck and head immobile while the broken bones mend. It is best described as a large crude looking metal cage, which comes down over the head and shoulders, and is literally screwed into the skull in four places to keep it in place. This is where modern medicine can still resemble medieval era.
After weeks in hospital Tommy was allowed to go home, in Tommy’s own words “I spent the first few weeks wonder if I was Paralysed and what would become of my singing career, with a new Album just out and a string
Of concert dates cancelled, I spent most of that time very quiet which is
not like me”
As he recovered slowly from his painful injuries he wore the halo for 3 Months which meant sleeping in the one position propped up by pillows, a simple thing like taking a phone call became a major chore as it took so long to get it through the metal, waking into door was common practice as the cage was much larger than the width of Tommy’s body. It seemed that all he had achieved in a carefully nourished singing career was in danger of being lost. But in real Fleming spirit he fought against the odds and bounced back to good health and his fine voice seemed fuller and more haunting than ever. Looking back at that fragile time, the now fully recovered Tommy, describes that dark period as “scary, the worst time of my life”.
A year later, the determined Tommy was back on the road touring and in the summer of 1999, he started work on his next studio album “The Contender”.
This album would see him return to his more folk traditional roots, recording an album of entirely Irish writers such as Jimmy McCarthy, Christy Hennessy, Brendan Graham and John Hurley who had written the title track of 1998 album “Restless Spirit”.
He also brought old songs such as “Danny Boy”, “Hard Times” and “Black is the Colour” into a new era of Irish music. When asked why he chose such a wide variety of Irish material his reply is simple, “if a song is good and you sing it well then it doesn’t matter when it was written - it will always stand the test of time”. “The Contender” went on to become one of the best selling albums throughout 2000/2001 and went on to achieve multi-platinum sales making Tommy one of the most sought after acts in Ireland and abroad and attracting the attention of promoters in Japan, the US and Europe. This led to sell out shows in the first Japanese tour of his career.
Tommy was nominated for best male in the meteor awards 2000.
After the huge success of “The Contender”, it was time for work to start on a new album. In typical Tommy Fleming style, Tommy changed his musical direction again pooling from writers like Tom Waits, Dan Fogelberg, Callum McCall and John Hurley who was the only Irish writer to work on this new project. When all the writers and songs were compiled the album “Sand and Water” was born.
A song that remains Tommy’s favourite today was the title track written by Beth Nelson Chapman. One reviewer wrote after attending a show in the Olympia Theatre, Dublin that, “When Tommy sings this song you can feel the pain that was felt by the writer. He has a remarkable ability of taking you into his world when he sings, be it happy or sad.”
After the recording of “Sand and Water” was complete, Tommy made a decision that not even his closest friends or family expected. He took six months off and flew to Africa to work with the aid agency GOAL. He was a field operative in war torn and famine stricken Sudan.
This time in his life is one that Tommy could talk to you about for hours. In every interview, his eyes light up when he talks about his work with GOAL. “It was the best and possibly worst decision I have ever made”, he comments. “Working with so much death and hardship made me realise who I am and how lucky I am. I don’t take things for granted anymore. In some ways I’m pretty relaxed but in other ways I can be a real pain in the ass.
Don’t ask me to explain that - only people who work with me can do that”, he laughs.
During Tommy’s stay in Sudan he worked as a field operative which involved living in a hut in the middle of the desert in a village in Br el Gzal as part of a team of six whose daily job was to provide food and medical assistance to the famine stricken Sudanese mainly malnourished children.
The first couple of weeks were the hardest but once Tommy settled into his new surroundings he adapted to the situation as if he was there all his life, after six months Tommy dreading the day he would have to leave Sudan to return to his singing career, as this works as hard as it was, was fulfilling, vigorating and brought meaning to life.
After returning from Africa, The “Sand & Water” album was released and Tommy began a sell out tour of Ireland, Holland and the UK, which brought him an even larger audience. It was on this tour that the work of the last decade (1992 2002) of Tommy Fleming’s career was compiled. This paved the way for the release of the hugely successful album, Tommy Fleming: The Collection, which achieved huge platinum sales in its first week of release. This made Tommy Fleming one of the most popular singers in the last decade.
Tommy continued to tour and achieve huge success on the live circuit, which lead to the idea of “An Angels Breath” now titled “Voice of Hope”
The idea first crossed the singers mind on a visit to the Knock Shrine Basilica in County Mayo, close to Tommy’s home, this magnificent building has the capacity to seat 5000 and is set in the town of Knock in the West of Ireland. The Basilica has played host to Pope John Paul 11, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and millions of pilgrims for over a hundred years.
A concert of this type has never taken place in the Basilica and Fleming’s mad streak set about perusing his dream of bring a special celebration of Musical extravanza to the Knock Basilica. On 12th December 2004 Tommy Fleming succeeded in doing just that, after many months of planning and preparations a “Voice of Hope” was born.
5000 people packed the Knock Basilica for a once off concert that words cannot describe, the material was specially chosen for the night, it was meaningful, spiritual and relevant to the setting of the venue.
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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