Singer of the Year
This singer has a voice of great strength, tone, character and beauty. His technique is a joy to listen to. His art is particularly illustrative of the power of storytelling through song, beyond simply singing the song.
This singer has a voice of great strength, tone, character and beauty. His technique is a joy to listen to. His art is particularly illustrative of the power of storytelling through song, beyond simply singing the song. His style of presentation, of narrative and history before and around the song, is captivating. He has a unique ability to connect with his audience. On top of that, he carries with him that distinctive style of singing – a movement in the longer notes – known as ‘the warble’. This man is an ambassador for traveller singing and traveller song. In addition to his remarkable repertoire of songs, his recordings and his compelling performances in traditional music contexts, he collaborates with other artists across disciplines, most recently with Seamus Harahan in, ‘My Comfort and My Joy : Songs from the Irish Other’, at the Douglas Hyde Gallery. He travels throughout Ireland and worldwide, connecting his music and tradition with an ever-wider audience – from schools, to gatherings, to concert halls. He is one of the most exciting and moving voices singing today.
The recipient of Gradam Amhránaí TG4 2019 is Thomas McCarthy.
Thomas McCarthy was born in the town of Birr, County Offaly, into a well-respected Irish Traveller family. His grandfather was known as a “Seanachie” and thus was someone with a profound orally derived knowledge of the history and families of Ireland.
Thomas learnt his craft of singing and storytelling from his mother, Mary McCarthy, aunts and uncles. In fact his extended family has a long history of musicianship and includes the well-recognized and respected Doran Brothers and their grandfather “Big John Cash”, who all played the uilleann pipes.
At age ten Thomas moved to London but continued to travel with his family back and forth and around Ireland and England. He was recognized by his own family as a gifted singer from a young age, but was “discovered” in 2008 by the wider public after a “tip off” from a barman at a family wedding. This led him to Cecil Sharp House in Camden Town, London. Here he joined singers at a folk song club, who were amazed by his powerful yet subtle, ancient and authentic Irish Traveller style of singing and by the rare songs that he brought with him.
Thomas has since been employed singing in clubs and at festivals throughout the UK and Ireland as well as in Europe and the US. He has been described as “the most exciting thing to come out of Ireland in the last fifty years” by Joe Power who runs the folk song club in Dungarvan, Ireland.
In addition to this he has proved to be an engaging storyteller for children in the UK and the US, working in schools and at festivals and drawing on old stories and a “fireside” style of storytelling learnt from his family. He never fails to enchant, educate and engage the children, who come from all walks of life.
Since 2011 he has recorded three CDs. The first, the Ron Kavana-produced ‘Round Top Wagon’, appeared back in 2011 ,under the name Tommy McCarthy and caused quite a stir, not least for its welcome presentation of what for many listeners was a branch of traveller folk-singing not well represented on record, outside, that is, of the comparatively recent, laudably comprehensive Musical Traditions set ‘From Puck To Appleby’, which turned the spotlight on some of Thomas’s relatives and, much earlier, a Topic LP from the 60s featuring John Reilly.
The second CD “Herself and Myself” in 2014, was dedicated to his mother and pays direct tribute by including a recording of Mary singing ‘Young Willie’. The third recording in 2017 was a collaboration with the Cornish Romani Traveler Viv Legg. In reference to the two Travelling traditions, this CD is named “Jauling the Green Tober”. “Jauling” is a Romani word for walking and “tober” an Irish Traveller word for the road.
Thomas is also an activist on behalf of his people. This can range from a positive education about his people during performances, talks and storytelling to confronting racism and racist language against Travellers when he comes across it. He has contributed to a number of educative equality and diversity events and conferences, where he has communicated useful information and understanding to professionals wishing to work constructively with the Traveller community.