Tenor Paul Byrom brings it home on his new release. This former star of the Celtic Thunder show has just released Thinking of Home, an immensely satisfying collection of some of the greatest songs ever produced on Irish soil.
His majestic voice brings songs like “Raglan Road” and “Go Lassie Go” to new heights, with producer Joe Csibi (Director of the Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland) keeping the piano-based arrangements crisp yet understated.
Byrom makes his debut as a songwriter on Thinking of Home, penning two originals. “On the island where you stand/so lonely you must be/watching people come and go/to the land of brave and free/as the ripples/I think of all the Irish that came to you before/I wonder how they must have felt when at last they saw your smile,” Byrom sings on his “Lady Liberty.”
“Lady Liberty is an awesome sight when you make America your adopted home,” Byrom explains.
“I wrote the song imagining what it was like for immigrants over the years to see that majestic statue after being on a boat to come over here for weeks. It is a big welcome from America when you do make it over here, at least for me anyway.”
Byrom, who now calls New York home, has had an amazing ride so far. He became a professional singer by the age of 12 when cast in his first opera with the National Concert Orchestra of Ireland.
He recorded his first album, The Golden Voice, as a boy soprano at 14. His second release, entitled Velvet, was in 2005 and reached number two in the Irish music charts. This led to many appearances on Irish TV and radio, including the show Celebrity Jigs and Reels where he reached the final.
Byrom became one of the original soloists for Celtic Thunder in 2007 before releasing his Christmas album entitled I’ll Be Home for Christmas in 2008, which charted in the classical Billboard charts.
Byrom is an avid sports fan and has also performed at many high profile sporting events such as six All-Ireland finals in Croke Park. He is proud now to be a regular at the TD Garden for the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Fans of Celtic Tenors called Byrom the Swanky Tenor for his suave and romantic style in performing, which is stamped on such numbers as “Remember Me, Recuerdame“ and “She” from the show.
In March he filmed his first solo TV special for Public Television called This Is the Moment Live in Pennsylvania with his orchestra and musical director Phil Coulter. The show is now airing here on PBS, with later broadcasts in other regions soon to follow.
I spoke to Byrom about his new CD and what it’s like to have Phil Coulter as a father-in-law (sorry, ladies — he just got hitched!). For more information visit www.paulbyrom.ie.
What can fans expect from a Paul Byrom show?
I think I’ve got to look at a repertoire that represents me as an artist, not a Celtic Thunder person or an Irish person. I’ve been doing various things over the last 20 years.
Obviously there is an Irish flair because I’m Irish and the new album is about being Irish. I do Gershwin, Beatles, Broadway. It represents me as an artist and as a person. I don’t feel like I should be pigeonholed into one genre. I like them all.
I have a lot of fun. I tell a lot of stories, interact quite a bit with the audience. That is a departure from Celtic Thunder.
Talk about that a bit more. Was that a difficult transition to do your own thing and be yourself after being part of a scripted and choreographed show after all these years?
I have been a soloist before Celtic Thunder so it was a return to form for me. I actually found transitioning to Celtic Thunder difficult. Waiting backstage for your queue was something.
In a way I thought I was cheating. It was too easy a paycheck in a way to be sitting around backstage more than you were out there singing.
But I missed the personal interaction and it feels good to be back to this.
Now that the Celtic Thunder show is more a distant speck in the rearview mirror for you, what did you take away from it?
I learned a lot from Celtic Thunder. Prior to that I toured the U.S. with the Three Irish Tenors. I did lots of musical theater in London. You learn different things from every experience, some good from bad.
I saw first hand what it was like to tour the U.S. with a massive show. As a performer, I became more comfortable in my own skin. Five soloists coming together was interesting and different. I loved that interaction.
Tell me about your album. It seems to me that you were trying to do something sparse to focus on the melodies of the songs while showcasing your voice.
That’s exactly what we were trying to do. I’ve been working with Joe Csibi for a number of years and this is our fourth album together. You go into each album with a different attack.
The last album was a big budget, hell-for-leather affair with an orchestra and the whole nine yards. We wanted something more stripped down.
I think this Irish album took time for me to approach correctly. I was reluctant to do Irish stuff. I thought, somewhat arrogantly, that I didn’t need to do that after Celtic Thunder.
But there was always something in the back of my mind to do something Irish. The people that come to the concerts really enjoy the Irish stuff because that is their heritage for the most part.
Joe and I decided to just do this nice album, a stripped down affair that brings a more contemporary feel to the old Irish pieces. Phil Coulter’s “The Town I Loved So Well” is the youngest piece.
I also saw this as a great opportunity to do a contemporary Irish tenors album. I totally love the Irish tenors scene. I love Ronan Tynan and Anthony Kearns, but I’m younger than those guys and feel I can bring a younger fan’s perspective to the genre.
Some people might not know that you married Phil Coulter’s daughter. I can’t imagine the pressure to not mess up his songs when you perform them considering that you now have to answer to him as a father-in-law?
(Laughs) I am a big fan of Phil’s and its funny to think of him just as my father-in-law. Our relationship has changed but my love of his songs has not. I have four or five of his songs in my show.
“The Town I Loved So Well” is something you reluctantly touch because it is such a signature tune. But then I thought I would just do my best on it and let the intimidation go.
I always try to sing to honor the lyrics and not just impress people with the pyrotechnics of my voice like some tenors are eager to do. I’m not looking to hit the high note all the time; it’s about telling a story. It’s a beautiful song that tells a great story.
I didn’t tell Phil before I recorded it because I wanted to do a unique take on it without any of his influence. He liked the fresh approach.
That said, the song I feel nervous about is “Score Not His Simplicity.” It is such a personal song for him. He played that on my last album and the PBS special and that was a high note for me.
I do get nervous around him because I still have respect for him as an artist, not because he’s a father-in-law.
So, he’s not this meddlesome father-in-law?
No. He’s actually a real calming, supportive presence for us.
People have the misconception that you’re on Easy Street after being on a big show like Celtic Thunder. The reality is that you still start from scratch again. You don’t have the big money behind you and it can be disappointing and daunting to go off on your own. You have to earn the fans that followed you on Celtic Thunder all over again.
That makes for some tough times, and Phil has been great guidance throughout the transition.
Did you have any trepidation about putting your own songs into a mix of tunes so well known in Irish culture?
It was a nerve-wracking thing to put your song in the middle of such well known songs. The majority of my albums were always cover songs.
There is never an easy time to drop in your own songs. I threw a couple of my songs into the set, and “Sunny Morning in September” is about a young couple making plans that were ruined when one of them dies on 9/11. I didn’t want to capitalize on a September 11 thing.
What are you doing for St. Patrick’s Day?
Good Day New York on the 17th and then singing for the Brooklyn Nets. I have been singing for Boston teams this whole time, so I feel like I’m cheating on a girlfriend.
Maybe this might lead to a duet with Jay-Z?
Wouldn’t that be mad? I can totally see it (laughs).
Three million people in the world are descended from one Irish High King