Tommy Fleming to play Derry - then the World

Tommy Fleming.
Tommy Fleming.

Tommy Fleming returns to the Millennum Forum with a 35 piece orchestra on Saturday February 4 to celebrate 20 years in the business and attributes his first break to Derry man, Phil Coulter.

It will be one of only a handful of Irish dates for Tommy in 2012 as he is also touring in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, China and the USA.

Describing the milestone anniversary as “a marker on a great journey, which was tough at times but ultimately a great reward in itself,” Tommy has compiled his greatest hits called: The Platinum Collection. It is his 12th full length studio recording.

In keeping with Tommy’s prolific workrate, ‘The Platinum Collection’ is a whopping triple CD set. The first CD is “The Irish Collection”, disc two is “The Contemporary Collection” and disc three is “The Duet’s Collection.”

There is a decidely Derry flavour to the affair as Tommy is joined by Cara Dillon (‘You’ve Got a Friend’) and Phil Coulter (‘Stealaway’) on the last disc.

“I really enjoyed compiling that album and working not only with those two but everyone who joined me,” said the father of two. “I picked material that I loved. I initially decided that 25 songs would be included but I’ve been singing and touring from 1991 so that was ambitious. I later decided to include every favourite I have.

“I always believe in giving value for money. Some artists are cutting back on the scale of their tours and albums but I want to offer as much value for money as possible. That is why I was determined to bring an even larger orchestra on the road with me on this tour than ever before.”

The platinum selling Sligo man has just celebrated 20 years of recording and touring great music and recalls that it was Phil Coulter who first invited him on a tour of North America. “My first big break was in 1996 but it was Phil who took me on the road before that. I was playing in pubs and clubs and he took me to the states. I always had a strong yearning to do something on my own. Working with Phil was a great learning curve and it was great to record something with him for the album.”

Tommy’s first solo effort, 1996’s ‘Different Sides to Life’ was followed up, in November 1998, with the double platinum selling ‘Restless Spirit’ which reached No.5 in the album charts.

Just when he was on the crest of that wave, came the event which almost defined the artist. Tommy was involved in a major car crash. The accident left him in a Jerome halo brace, a contraption which was screwed into Tommy’s skull for four months.

Luckily he made a full recovery, it was however an event which left its mark and made him introspective.

“I almost have a bucket list for every year. This year it was to get back out on the road. It’s been over two years since my last tour and I really can’t wait,” he enthused. “I love what I do. It’s not like touring in the old days. There is no small cramped tour van, thankfully I can manage to do it in a little comfort. The family can meet me wherever I go. I suppose that is one factor that has changed from 20 years ago, touring is not as difficult.

“I’m a workaholic, I always need to be pushing on musically. My wife said I could never retire or we’d divorce.”

Workaholic or not, ‘The Platinum Collection’ was almost accidental. Tommy who still lives in Sligo said: “I was clearing the office and I found the first Digital Audio Tape (DAT) I recorded twenty years ago. It was a recording of ‘Loving Hanna.’ My wife Tina said I had to do something, so when we found the second DAT the album grew organically. “It took four months to put it all together but I loved working on it, I’m really proud of it and of making it the best it can be.”

Since making his breakthrough in 1996, Tommy has; “Kept working to pay the mortage.

“I always need to keep it fresh. I love introducing new music but I never venture too far off the track. The audience is the best barometer you have, if it wasn’t for them liking what I do I couldn’t do it.”

Asked was he more confident when it came to performing and recording two decades on Tommy said: “I don’t think I’m ever confortable with recording. I’ve never been one to sit on my laurels. I’m always striving to improve it, to up the ante. The aim is to have my contemporaries say ‘What is Tommy up to now?’ It is important that each album and tour is different from the last, that is always the challenge.”

Discussing the the differences in the industry, Tommy answers: “There is a big difference in recording then it cost an awful lot of money to hire a studio. Recording budgets are slashed to a fraction of what they were then. Sales are way down, 20 years ago sales of 100, 000 were common but today 20 to 30, 000 sales are a big deal.”

There is also one other difference: “I think my voice is better now than 20 years ago,” he almost whispers.

“I’m not sure I noticed that until I found the DATs but I’ve worked with a vocal coach for the last twenty years, I’m always looking for knowledge and am trying to improve my voice. To be honest I was a little shocked at the difference.”

Those very same improvements will see Tommy play to some of the largest venues of his career in 2012. Venues such as the O2 in London and the Royal Concert Hall with its capacity of 2,500 are commonplace.

“I’m really looking forward to the tour, it’s unusual for me to look back but I have done so when compiling the album and to have played to so many people is a great joy to me.”

That period of reflection will culminate in the release of what he promises will be; “A very personal album. I’ve been working with some great songwriters and I think I’ve, for the first time in my career, writen from desire and my personal experience. The album wont be out until 2014 due to the tours but I am really enjoying working on it. I have a grand piano set up in the house so it really is a labour of love.”

Tommy Fleming plays The Millennium Forum on Feburary 3, tickets from £29.50 box office 71 264455.