Irish son emerges from his father’s shadow to support Country music legend Don Williams on his major UK tour this April.
You’ve never heard of Omagh! You might not even know how to say it (Oh-mah). But out of the small Northern Ireland town comes Colm Kirwan, son of Dominic Kirwan, playing a genre of music that seems unlikely at first glance-Country. It’s what took him to Nashville, Tennessee back in 2009, where he’s been honing his blend of contemporary country with a Celtic twist ever since. Colm has distilled his cleverly concocted sound into a stunning debut album, “Colm Kirwan”, that fits right in with the best of modern country, whilst bringing an unexpectedly welcome Irish flair. The album was produced by Grammy nominee Victoria Shaw whose work includes Garth Brooks and Lady Antebellum.
Colm is used to the unexpected looks he gets when he talks between songs at writers’ nights in Nashville, but he explains that his choice of music is not as out of the ordinary as it may seem. “Country’s a massive genre in Europe. I grew up with it,” he says. “We’re no different than Americans. As kids, we delve into our parents’ CD collections, whether it’s ABBA or the Beatles. For me, it was a lot of George Strait and Garth Brooks and Collin Raye…it was that ’90s country. I loved that stuff.”
But growing up in Ireland didn’t offer Colm many opportunities to perform the music his father’s record collection had taught him to love. Country wasn’t the cool thing to listen to, so while his friends were listening to Oasis, Colm was holed up in his bedroom teaching himself George Strait songs on guitar. When he couldn’t find enough people to get a country band together, he took the only opportunity he could find to get on stage-musical theatre.
At 18 he moved to London and attended the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, where he earned a degree in performance and musical theatre. After graduation, he hit the road for a year long tour as an Apostle in the Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. “I knew I wanted to be on stage and I loved being on tour, but I didn’t necessarily love doing the same show every night for a year,” Colm says.
After finishing the tour, he had an opportunity to join his dad, leading Irish artist Dominic Kirwan, on the road for a seven-week tour. That was when he knew he’d found what he wanted to do. “I remember the first time I ever stood on stage with my dad to a sold-out theatre in Belfast,” he says. “I remember standing there and as soon as the spotlight hit me it was like a pure adrenaline rush. To me, that’s where I belong. It’s not just a buzz. It just felt right-it always has. If there’s one place I’m totally comfortable, it’s on stage.”
Things changed in 2008 when Colm met one of George Jones’ backup singers backstage at a country music festival. Though he had only been dabbling in songwriting at the time, she recognized his talent and encouraged him to move to Nashville to better his new craft. “After that, I got the notion to move, so one day I just did. Once I got here, I knew it was where I wanted to be. I moved in 2009 and have been writing as much as I can ever since.”
Two of his own songs, “Rain” and “You Know That You Know,” were cut for the album, in addition to several other songs he and his producer, Victoria Shaw, hand picked. Colm felt a particular connection to the song “Never Alone,” and looks to it as an inspiration for his own development as a writer. “It’s everything, lyrically, I would like to write in a song. It sounded like a song I would write. The first lyric is:
May the angels protect you, trouble neglect you
Heaven accept you when it’s time to go home.
May you always have plenty, your glass never empty
And know in your belly you’re never alone.
“I thought it was a killer lyric that I would love to write…and anything to do with angels has a good song in it,” he adds with a smile.
Colm will embark on a major UK tour supporting Country music legend Don Williams after which he will return to the US for further dates. “I moved from Ireland because I always thought outside the bubble. It just wasn’t big enough for what I wanted to do,” he explains. “But equally I don’t want to be an artist that’s big just in America. I want to be an artist who tours worldwide. There’s such a big world out there that loves a lot of this music.”
The self-titled album will be released in the U.K. and Ireland on April 19 and for a late summer release in the US. Colm’s objective for the album and the tour is simple-to continue creating that elusive sound he’s trying to find, sifting through the ideas until they come together to create his signature country Celtic sound.