Tommy Carey will be paying tribute to the late Gene Pitney at St David’s Hall this week with an evening of memorable hits including Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart and Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa.
As one of Ireland’s top cabaret performers during the 1970s and 80s, Tommy regularly sang to packed houses across the greater Dublin area, drawing huge crowds of fans with his Music of Gene Pitney show.
“I started at about the age of 17 or 18 entering talent competitions in Dublin,” Tommy tells Andy Howells, “I was singing songs like The Bee Gees’ I Started a Joke and kept getting to the finals of every competition. People kept coming back to me saying “Do you know who you sound like? – Gene Pitney!” So, I thought I’d better look into this and the song I latched onto was Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa and it all started from there!
Tommy’s successful impersonation of the 1960s star allowed him to play summer seasons in Spanish hotels and his show was the biggest draw in Ireland’s booming Cabaret circuit. In 1980 Tommy’s career peaked, when at the ill-fated Stardust Club he drew 1200 people to his most successful Pitney Celebration. “I was keeping his name going in-between concerts,” says Tommy, whose shows plugged gaps between Pitney’s own performances in Ireland during the 70s and 80s.
Ultimately Tommy and Gene’s paths eventually crossed when a shrewd club owner got the pair to share a car one evening on the way to a venue when Gene visited Dublin for a show.
|Tommy Carey (Right) with
Gene Pitney in the 1980s
“We spoke for thirty minutes about the Gene Pitney songs I did in my show,” recalls Tommy, “I was singing songs he didn’t have in his programme at the time. He said “Listen we’re going to have to rethink this!” Backstage was one of the biggest songs he ever recorded but he didn’t think the Irish were into that particular song, yet that was the most requested song in my programme. He wrote me an autograph which I still treasure “To Tommy, keep singing those songs, they’ll do you good I hope, Gene Pitney.” It’s my most treasured possession!”
Following Tommy’s enormous success with his Gene Pitney shows in the early 1980s, he didn’t perform any of the legends songs for three decades. He returned to the format last year for a special sell out show in Dublin’s Great Hall, “We sold every seat in the theatre. I discovered all those people over the years who were loyal Gene Pitney fans had identified what I was doing with his stuff and came back to see the show!”
Pitney himself died almost ten years ago at the age of 66, shortly after giving a performance at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall. Tommy will bring to life the legends music at the same venue once again this week as he performs 27 Pitney greats along with a big band and singers. “It’ll be very emotional” says Tommy of the Cardiff show “not only did he do my career good, but it does help if your singing songs of someone you’ve idolised for most of your life. I loved what he did with the songs and the way that he delivered them.”
- Catch Tommy Carey performing the songs of Gene Pitney in 24 Hours from Tulsa – The Gene Pitney Story at Cardiff’s St David’s Hall on September 16. Visit stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk for booking details.
- A version of this interview by Andy Howells was published in The South Wales Argus entertainment supplement The Guide on September 11, 2015.