Belfast musician & songwriter Michael Cunningham released his debut album Hidden Treasure, in early 2018
Already, several of the songs have been highlighted by ReverbNation, one of the world’s leading online music platforms, which provides tools and opportunities for musicians. Their user base has about 4 million musicians, fans, and labels in more than 250 countries.
But if the early reaction from Reverbnation has been positive, the story behind Michael’s album music reads a little like an adventure movie…with the songs lying unsung for almost 20 years in a dusty box in a garage in Dollingstown Co Down.
Michael commented: “Growing up in north Belfast, music was at the heart of our home. I think there might even have been a set of B&O speakers in my pram! But I was an old man aged 8 yrs before I got my first basic guitar…It was at the time of the Beatles Blue & Red album. And those songs lit a musical fire in my heart which won’t expire until I do..!!”
“My passion for entertaining meant that my earliest performances were as a busker in Belfast city centre, during the IRA bombing campaign. Busking was tremendous fun, but (as my worried mother insisted!) it was also quite risky, often involving very rapid changes of pitch….both musically & physically! And what a way to build confidence & to develop your first play-list…!
“Like many other hopefuls, in my teens and as a young man, I was a member of various rock bands and groups, with ambitions for that magical hit to stardom!”
“As lead singer with one group “The Unusual Suspects”, I worked with Jim Anderson, a shy and very talented guitar player & songwriter. Singing & writing with Jim as a duo called “Thelma & Louise” was a high point of my early musical career.”
“For over three years we wrote our own material & played in Singer/ Songwriter nights and in popular Belfast spots such as the Duke of York, Katy Dalys, John Hewitt etc. Media appearances beckoned, with lots of press, radio sessions and even a slot on UTV’s Kelly Show. We also managed a number of recordings in local studios.”
“But despite huge investment of talent, time and money, instead of breakthrough to stardom, it was break-up that happened. The harsh realities of life… job, mortgage & marriage… followed by the arrival of a young family, meant that Jim & I inevitably drifted apart.
Inevitably, music moved from centre-stage in my life to an enjoyable hobby.”
“I can remember sadly tossing a pile of cassette tapes & recordings into that cardboard box in my garage…and, literally, pulling the shutters down on my youthful dreams and ambitions of fame as a rock star…”
The next 20 years saw Tracy and me build a loving, happy home with our two boys Ben & Joshua. Music was still important, of course… but only in the background… with the continuation of my old group “The Usual Suspects, my new tribute band U2 Elevation (I was “Bono” of course!)”
In the foreground of my life was a frustrating career of well-paid but high-pressure advertising jobs…which left me all too often on the cusp of depression…
Until 2016 …my breakthrough year…
Thanks to Tracy’s fantastic support, last year we made one of the biggest decisions of our lives.
I gave up my job…! And made a new beginning…
Working for myself in music and digital consultancy….Free at Last..!!
It was like having a huge weight lifted off my shoulders…
And, 20 years on, I could once again actually afford serious time for my own MUSIC…!!
Some exciting outcomes followed quickly…
Personal Nights… I had the time to indulge my passion with lots of one-man “swing-nite” performances as George Michael, Lionel Ritchie or Michael Bublé gigs…
“The Unusual Suspects”… My old band had managed to survive, but not thrive. I now had more time to secure us new gigs, & out of the bright Belfast blue secured our best event ever.
It was the Halloween Special, Belfast Titanic Quarter: organised by Belfast City Council.
We were the solo band playing to over 33,000…the biggest local crowd ever for a cover band. With a massive stage, huge screens & the fabulous backdrop of world-class Titanic Belfast centre.
As lead singer, I felt like a rock star, was treated like a rock star…
Dammit, I even looked like a rock star…!! The icing on the cake was we got the gig again in 2017!
20 years on…I wasn’t just freed from the shackles of a mind-numbing pressure job…
20 years on….I was back seriously in the local music business…!
My Life-changing Experience…!!
On 26th November 1922, and explorer called Howard Carter knocked down a wall in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings and discovered amazing treasures in the 3,000-year-old tomb of a young Pharaoh.
On 26th November 2016, I had my own (much smaller!!)“Tutenkamun Experience” when I blew the cobwebs off that dusty old cardboard box in my Dollingstown garage, & discovered the magic of those lost tapes of 20 years ago…
Playing back those cassettes & recordings was a lightbulb moment for me. The sound quality and recording factors were dire, but I was blown away by their compelling power. Their themes of love, loss and loneliness were timeless, underpinned by haunting melodies and heart-tugging lyrics. I felt immediately they had real potential.
Since then, it’s a been life-changing experience. I’ve dedicated myself to producing and recording the best of those great songs.
That’s included an emotional re-connection after two decades with my former singing partner Jim Anderson who’d written most of the material. Sadly, Jim’s no longer writing or singing, but we’ve happily agreed all rights & contractual issues.
The cassette tapes and recordings were impossible to re-master. However, it’s been a wonderful experience to sing and produce the first album, using top local musicians and state-of-the-art recording facilities…I’ve been thrilled with the quality factors.
Appropriately the album’s entitled ”Hidden Treasure…” and will launch on Dec 11th.
My recent journey and music adventure story seems like a dream.
However, boosted by some great feedback, that endorsement by “ReverbNation”, who knows, my musical dream just might come true….!!!