Paul Byrom’s majestic tenor has produced a range of emotions and many a lump in the throats of Celtic Thunder fans throughout the globe. He bid adieu to the show earlier this year and is looking to get his moment in the spotlight with his new CD This Is the Moment.
"Getting to tour the U.S. with a new album as a soloist is the ambition of a lifetime,” he gushes during our exclusive interview.
"After four years of laying the groundwork with Celtic Thunder it is great to get out on my own and show the full range of what I do."
Byrom says he intended to keep his Celtic Thunder fans happy while purposefully grabbing some new fans, and the diversity on This Is the Moment guarantees that there’s something for everyone on the disc.
Bette Midler's "From A Distance" is one of those anthemic songs begging for a tenor, yet Byrom throws a curve ball with a mournful read of the Beatles cheery “All My Loving.” To satisfy Thunder fans, he turns in an inspired performance of group founder Phil Coulter’s “Scorn Not His Simplicity.”
"With this album, I wanted the range of material to represent the full range of my talent," he says. "Just because I'm a tenor doesn't mean I have to just do classical music."
Byrom's vocal talent drew attention at an early age. Born in Dublin, he began voice study and training when he was just seven years old and went on to study as a tenor under the legendary Dr. Veronica Dunne, Ireland's leading lady of opera and renowned vocal teacher.
A thorough grounding in classical technique gave Byrom a strong foundation as a vocalist. He was a professional singer by his early teens and recorded his first album as a boy soprano, when he was just 14.
A second album, Velvet, was released in Ireland in 2005 and hit number two in the Irish charts. A Christmas album by Byrom even hit the Billboard classical chart.
Now based in Queens, New York, Byrom is ready for an exciting new phase in his career. "I am truly excited about what lies ahead for me," he says, " but I know I've made a lot of friends along the road who will never let me walk alone."
I spoke with Byrom while he was in Dublin getting ready for his first U.S. solo tour, which hits Foxborough, Massachusetts on November 16, BB King in Times Square on the 18th, and Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey on 11/20. Visit http://paulbyrom.ie/ for more information. Celtic Thunder is in the rear view mirror now. What are your thoughts on the show?
It was an interesting path. The joining of it itself, I was reluctant. I was doing bits and bobs and doing some things on my own. Phil approached me about it and it seemed like a good vehicle in the U.S.
As the show developed, the ensembles became a little bit more and the characters perceived by (Celtic Thunder co-creator Sharon Browne) and Phil that we had to play into. We didn’t have a lot of opinion of what that would look like. Ryan is the bad boy and he’s anything but, and I was the lovey-dovey tenor.
It was fine by me for a while. I soon thought I was a bit watered down.
How would you describe yourself to someone who has never heard of you or the Celtic Thunder show?
Yes, I fall in the category of a tenor, and yes, I am Irish, but I am really trying to cross over and do some things beyond that. There are musicals in the CD, like “Scorn Not His Simplicity” if you’re into Irish, with one or two originals.
In a way, it’s a mixed album and it says a lot of me as a performer. I like doing all kinds of music.
I have noticed a lot of tenors on the scene lately. Il Volo are these Italian teens being marketed to teens and soccer moms on the likes of American Idol. Do you feel that it’s a good time to be a tenor?
I think so. This has been building momentum in recent years. I first saw Pavarotti and the Three Tenors in 1990 when they performed at the World Cup. People didn’t realize why they loved them -- they didn’t understand the words, but something moved them.
Josh Groban and Bocelli have also done their bit to bring this kind of music to the average Joe, and I think that creates a great time for tenors. There’s a lot of bloody awful singers out there and there are music fans looking for good songs sung by good singers. Any temptation to just do an Irish album and ride the show’s wave a bit?
The obvious choice would be the Irish tenor thing and do an album of Irish songs. I didn’t want to be boxed off to just Irish Americans. I wanted to appeal to everyone.
Maybe that is a big ambition but you have to spring from the fences. Was there a worry you’d leave some fans behind when you left Celtic Thunder?
The support I’ve got from fans in America and Canada is overwhelming. I know that sounds like a cliché that all singers say, but I really mean it.
What they’ve done for me since I left the show is so moving -- doing street team work, calling radio stations, etc. I’m sure some fans would rather I stay, but I think most are excited by something new.
At 32 years of age, I would have been complacent to just stay there and milk this cash cow. What were some of the high lights and low lights of being in Celtic Thunder?
The audience. Working with the likes of Phil Coulter. He’s an amazing songwriter and producer. To perform in front of Obama was a huge honor.
Sharon always ensured a good standard of touring -- good food, great buses, good hotels, etc. You miss those things when you are on your own.
Every time you are away from home for a long time is a low point as well. There are also highs and lows about being a solo performer as well and on balance, you take the good with the bad. I read in your bio that you’re living in Queens now. Are we making a Yank out of you?
I don’t know about that. Myself and my girlfriend have been there for a year now. We’re home a lot between weddings, recording the albums. So, you have gone back and forth for these weddings and I assume they ask you to sing. Do you get excited to give your voice to the bride and groom, or is it a drag?
A bit of both sometimes if I am being honest (laughs). Sometimes a bit of a drag to fly back, and you have to rope other things to do when you’re over there. I voted, did visa stuff and did the wedding while I was here this time, so I am having a very productive trip and all of these weddings are involving good friends and family. I wouldn’t have missed these for the world. What do you think of Damian McGinty’s star turn on Glee?
It’s great for him. It’s an exciting time for the young lad. Myself and him were always close. To this day, we’re good buddies. It’s a great opportunity.
I’m a firm believer in progressing, and in order to do that you have to move. It’s a great time for him to move on from Celtic Thunder, and I don’t mean any disrespect to the show by saying that. It’ll be an interesting year for him.
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These song choices, each and every one, was highly personal. Mom was a huge Beatles fan and they always had great romantic, slow songs that I obviously could have done.
When I heard the song I thought the words were contradictory to the upbeat feel. You’re away from your loved one -- I know what it’s like to be in a relationship with a person and you’re on the road. So, I thought I’d try that on. Were there any songs that you did that you had a new appreciation for when you re-worked them?
“From a Distance” is such a great song -- you don’t have to do much for it. Julie Gold (songwriter) thanked me for recording it. I thanked her for writing it!
Recently, my sister had children, and Billy Joel’s “Lullaby” takes on a new meaning. I always loved the song but now I have a relationship with these young children and I could imagine me singing this for them. The house is on fire and you have to get your favorite CD -- what’s in your hand?
Older by George Michael. Beautiful stuff. Great, mature songs. I would also have some Billy Joel in my hand as well. Friends are coming over for dinner and you have to hide the most embarrassing thing in your collection. What’s in your hand?