A DECADE ago three tenor singers, then total strangers, performed together for the first time after just one hour’s rehearsal as part of the World Cup celebrations in Blackburn.
Since then, Tenorissimo have gone from appearing in Lancashire working men’s clubs to achieving worldwide recognition travelling the globe with their songs.
Now Tenorissimo are coming back to Blackburn for a celebratory concert to mark their 10th anniversary.
We spoke to one-third of the group, Darwen-born Jim Fitzgerald.
IN June 1998, entrepreneur Alfred Wright had the idea to bring three tenors together for a one-off concert at King George's Hall, Blackburn, to complete the World Cup celebrations in the town.
So he asked Geoffrey Coles, Jim Fitzgerald and Morgan Lee James, who had not met previously. With some hesitation they agreed and after practising for only an hour on the night of the performance they brought the house down and Tenorissimo was born.
Tenorissimo went on to become a sensation, being requested to play at working men’s clubs and the like all across the North West, then beyond, and before they knew it the men were performing onboard cruise ships in exotic locations all over the world.
And at 64, an age where many would be considering retirement, Jim and the others have many more years of work ahead, with bookings into 2010 already.
For Jim, forming Tenorissimo was more than just a good career move – it was a real lifestyle transformation too. But it could have been quite a different story says Jim, who was unsure whether to do the first concert at King George’s Hall 10 years ago.
“I thought it would be like three prima donnas fighting for song choices and I wan’t sure we’d even sound good together so I was going to pass on the idea,” says the father-of-three. “I’m very glad now that I didn’t. It was actually amazing how well we gelled together. It really came as a bit of a rescue at a time when news of another working men’s club closing came every day. I was getting less and less solo work and Tenorissimo turned it all around and we did things I would never have achieved alone. It was just one of those chance things that actually changed our lives.”
From a very young age that Jim realised he had been born with the gift of song.
He said: “Some people think everyone can sing. I’m not one of those people. I feel very lucky to have been given this talent. It comes from my mother’s side of the family, where all 10 siblings could sing.
“It was when I was very young at primary school, at St Joseph’s, in Darwen, when I first knew I could sing but I just thought everyone could. I didn’t know I could do anything special. But the penny dropped when I got dragged up in front of the class and at any concert that was my role. My first solo was Gounoud's Ave Maria.
“And then at secondary school, the first music lesson we had, our teacher suddenly got up from the piano and started walking round the class then he hovered over me in a sinister manner and I thought that was a bit odd. He said ‘see me after class’ and made me sing for him after the lesson. He gave me a note for my parents that said I had an excellent natural voice and that they should consider paying for me to have some formal training. And so from then until my voice broke I had lessons at 4.15pm every Friday. I used to get a bit of stick off the lads but I wasn’t bothered,” he smiled.
And it was at just 16 that Jim had his first taste of a performing professionally. He did his first gig at the last minute when the intended act at Darwen Central Working Men’s Club did not turn up. He remembers: “I was at home one Saturday evening ,which I usually was, when my father rang up and said to my mother 'Get our Jim in his best clothes and send him down to the club with some sheets of music.' So I didn’t question and I was suitably washed and dressed up and off I went. We went up a dark staircase and to the concert lounge and I was presented to the concert chairman. The act hadn't showed and there were 150 people waiting to be entertained. I told them I only had six pieces of music so they said I had to play them twice! I was paid two old pounds and 10 shillings and told to give it to my mother, which I did. I remember looking out from the stage to a cloud of smoke. It's all I could see and I wasn’t given any formal introduction. I just got on with it.”
Performances these days are a very different experience and Jim is loving every second of it. His highlights have been while singing for crowds of people on board cruise ships all over the world.
Jim said: “The cruise liners are fantastic. They have full theatres on board, just as good as anything you’d find on land. We have had a lot of fun but I’m not saying we never had row. There were some issues over what to sing and some problems of sleeping arrangements when we started to do the cruises, as they would only give us two cabins between three of us and that wasn’t ideal, but in general we got on exceptionally well.
He added: “They don’t go bananas on cruises. They don't jump up and down. They just clap. But one of the nicest things about cruises is you can’t hide on the ship. You are there with your sun cream and your gin and tonic and people come to find you and take the trouble to say how they enjoyed the show, or they invite you into their company. Nothing beats that feeling.”
l See Tenorissimo at Thwaites Empire Theatre on Saturday November 15. Tickets are available from the Empire Theatre Box Office or from 01254 680137.