By Charlie Mcbride
TOM PORTMAN, performer, composer, songwriter and talented multi-instrumentalist, launches his new album At One, with a gig at the Town Hall on Saturday January 29. Portman is probably best known for his work with Dobro and guitar and both instruments are to the fore in At One’s collection of melodic, intimate, and contemplative tunes. Most of the tracks are instrumentals and feature a mix of Portman originals alongside his interpretations of traditional pieces like ‘Paddy Fahey’s Reel’ and ‘Bonaparte Crossing The Alps’.
Originally from Roscommon, Portman’s family moved to Chesterfield when he was a child. Music was a big part of his family life, as he revealed over a lunchtime chat in Sheridan’s Bar in Knocknacarra.
“All my family were into music,” he recalls. “My grandmother taught piano and sang with the Chesterfield Philharmonic Choir and my grandfather was a very good harmonica player. With my mum I remember we were always singing at home, she’s a great singer.
“My uncle plays guitar, my other uncle is a professional keyboard/piano player, and my dad was a lovely bodhran and bones player – he still plays a bit. I remember I got my first guitar when I was four or five, I couldn’t play it then though.
“My sister gave me loads of heavy metal records so I used to listen to those and jump off my chair with the guitar and pretend I was Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi!”
A few years later Portman began to study the guitar in greater earnest.
“My uncle started teaching me guitar when I was 12 or 13,” he recalls. “I heard it and I was captivated and wanted to learn. Later on I was taught by Kevin Walters who used to play with Shakin’ Stevens, he showed me some slide guitar and that got me kinda interested in the Dobro then my dad bought me one.
“I’ve always been curious about other instruments, I went travelling in my early 20s and wanted an instrument I could travel with so took a violin with me with the idea that I would learn it as I travelled – I’m still learning!”
Not only is Portman interested in different instruments, the music he plays and composes is like a melting pot, drawing on a wide range of sounds and influences. His eclecticism is borne out by his recent recording of an Indian classical fusion album, When Worlds Collide, with the Bah Band and his appearances with Kinvara rock group, Charis.
At One is Portman’s second solo album following 2007’s The Journey. He compares the two albums thus; “The first album incorporated my own compositions as well as some blues arrangements of people like Robert Johnson and Taj Mahal and featured more Dobro. This new album has Dobro but has more guitar work.
“I have some arrangements of traditional tunes like ‘Paddy Fahey’s Reel’ and ‘Bonaparte Crossing The Alps’. When I first came back to Ireland tolive when I was 19 I was listening to records by the likes of Martin Hayes and Charlie Piggott, that’s where I picked up some of those tunes and discovered a real love for them and so I wanted to record them.”
Portman expands upon At One’s gestation process; “I thought the album would turn out very different when I started, there was a whole other repertoire of things I’d like to have done. But I went out to Inish Bofin for three days, I was lent a cottage out there and I just recorded.
“When I was out on the island, it just seemed to be there that those pieces I used to play years ago came out so I recorded them and then I went on and did other pieces that I felt complemented them and formed a coherent body of work. At that stage the album wasn’t mixed or mastered but I got a Galway County Council arts grant which enabled me to do that so that’s how it all came about.”
He describes the type of music that he has chosen to feature on the album;
“A lot of the music I’ve recorded for the album is what I’ve been playing in my quiet time at home,” Portman says. “It’s not for a pub audience so it’s been a challenge for me to know where can I bring that kind of music because it’s very special to me.
“Sometimes I wonder would I have been better off making something really radio friendly, but so much music is really commercially driven, but this music is what I do and it’s honest. It’s not really pub music, and it’s not background music either, it’s something you can listen to and engage with, it’s delicate.”
At One is launched at the Town Hall studio on Saturday January 29 at 9pm. Admission is €12 which covers entry to the gig as well as a copy of the CD. There are also concessionary tickets for €7 which cover gig only. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 – 569777.
Charly McBride – Galway Advertiser,01/10/2012