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May 2019
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2002-03-21 From Tiny Tots to Celtic Tenor

My father has a really beautiful vocal quality. He also has a real love for the beauty of words and poetry, but unfortunately that's where it ends for him. For some reason, possibly just the lack of training, he can't actually "hear music"!


My mother on the other hand is very musical, has a lovely alto voice and a real gift for harmony. My paternal grandmother was a church organist, playing in some of the local churches, and she was a big influence on me as a young musician. She often boasted of winning a sight-reading trophy at the Sligo Feis, and had been guided by one Mark Franklin who seemed to be a big name in the Sligo music scene in my Grannie's day.


But the late Mrs Ger Cole was without a doubt my major musical influence in my early years in Sligo, and I'm certain she imparted her deep love of music on many other Sligo children in the 1970s. At the age of six, I used to run the few hundred yards from the top of Cartron Hill down to her house for my weekly lesson. My sister Linda came too and also showed great promise, but her love of animals began to far outweigh her love of music theory. If you asked Linda very nicely she may still play you Beethoven's Ninth (or Bells are ringing as it was known in the "Red Book" by Schaum).


Mrs Cole then moved to teach at the Regional Tech (now the I.T.), the journey there being a little more daunting for a seven-year-old on his bike! After a very short time under her tutelage, I had the "Tiny Tots Trophy" at the Feis Ceoil under my belt, and several other prizes for piano solo. I can still remember winning 1st prize in the Town Hall for my rendition of "The Minstrel Boy" on the piano, while Mum and Grannie looked on proudly. I was also ably steered through the first six grades in piano. I hope Mrs. Cole fully realised how much I appreciate her early guidance and I hope she was proud of the direction my life was to take, as much of it is thanks to her.


Around the same time, I was a not very dedicated "Cub-scout" in Sligo, but used to look forward greatly to Mrs Wood-Martin taking out her accordion and having a good ol' singing session. Her son Michael was my best pal, and on my regular visits to their house I would perform my entire piano repertoire (including whatever pop songs I had bought in Fitzgeralds Music Shop with my weekly pocket-money). Mrs. Wood-Martin is now my sister's mother-in-law! My god-daughter/niece Claire is Mrs. Wood-Martin's eldest grand-daughter, and incidentally is one of the most musical children I have ever come across. Maybe between us all we'll get Linda practicing again?


It must have been obvious to both my mother and my Grannie that I was heading straight for the stage. Mum took me to see Austin Gaffney giving Sligo his Danilo (Merry Widow) and The Red Shadow (Desert Song). The stunning Sligo soprano Deirdre Folan shone as the leading lady in both performances, though I seem to remember Mrs. Sweetnam momentarily stealing the show in a secondary role. Twenty years after these two evenings at the Father Flanagan Hall, I would have performed both of these operettas in London, but we sure could have done with Mrs. Sweetnam!


Also twenty years later, Sligo now has schools of music, a new theatre staging musicals, plays and pantos utilising the wealth of local talent as well as hosting touring opera companies, a thriving Arts Centre (my Alma Mater!), Con Brioá with an exciting line-up of recitals and concerts (thanks to the enthusiasm, passion even, of Luisa McConville, and of John Buckley) an early music ensemble under the direction of Rod Alston, a host of choirs, a lively Trad scene, not to mention world-dominating Westlife! Is it any wonder they say our town is a musical one?