Tommy O’Sullivan (Courtesy of the Artist's site, 2006)
Known to many as the voice of Sliabh Notes and also a fine accompanist who has shared stages and recorded with Paddy Keenan, Tommy O Sullivan is no stranger to irish music audiences.
Tommy singing style is as versatile as it is unique. The diverse nature of his music is reflected thru it’s broad range; his personal interpretations of Roly Sally’s classic Killing the Blues and the more traditional Maids of Culmore (tracks 3 and 11 – The Long Grazing Acre) stand side by side with equal splendor. His is often described as a percussive flatpicking guitarist but he also has a highly developed fingerpicking style which is the fabric of his high strung playing and song accompaniment.
Tommy O Sullivan was born in London in 1961 to John L O Sullivan of Lispole, Co. Kerry and Mary Lynch of Garfinny, Dingle, Co. Kerry. He began playing guitar at the age of ten and shortly afterwards moved with his family back to Lispole, five miles east of Dingle. His already keen interest in music was fuelled by the great sessions that he heard locally and in particular in Cahir's Bar, Corofin, where he heard the likes of Mary Bergin, Tony Linnane, Noel Hill, and Paddy Keenan.
One early influence on Tommy was Dublin guitarist Eoin Pender who started him on fingerpicking techniques. Other major influences at that time were Dick Gaughan, Paul Brady, John Martyn, Nick Jones, and Donal Lunny. Tommy returned to London when he was 2l and there he played with, and absorbed, much from renowned London/Irish musicians such as Raymond Roland, Liam Farrell, Bobby and Sean Casey and the McCarthy family. He was also often found singing in english folk clubs and arts centres, both solo and amongst the likes of Barry Dransfield and Martin Simpson. After a time in Copenhagen playing with Ash plant where he replaced Seamus Cahill, Tommy returned once again to Lispole.
Shortly afterwards, he made a solo recording entitled Legacy to considerable critical acclaim. In 1995, along with Matt Cranitch and Donal Murphy (4 Men and a Dog) he formed Sliabh Notes. Their most recent album was released in 2002 – Along Black Water’s Banks, with guests including Liam O Maonlai, Steve Cooney, Matt Molloy and Kevin Burke.
Tommy has also kept a busy international schedule with Paddy Keenan (The Bothy Band) since 1997. While mostly concentrated in the U.S., they also appear regularly in Ireland and at European festivals. They made their first duet album – The Long Grazing Acre in February 2002 to rave reviews. The album was released worldwide in March 2003 with Nashville based – Compass Records.
For many his vocal contributions to Sliabh Notes three albums so far ‘Sliabh Notes’, ‘Gleanntan’ and ‘Along Blackwater’s Banks’ and his duet with Paddy Keenan ‘The Long Grazing Acre’ were highlights as much as the musical content. Tommy’s personal view of himself is as a singer who plays as opposed to a player that sings. To that extent he has booked his first solo tour of Ireland for June 2004 and plans on recording a solo album later this year with the accent on songs as opposed to his acclaimed guitar work.