“I eat, sleep and breathe music”

tomas skelly

From opening for well-known Irish band The Academic and playing at the Grand Social in Dublin to performing a solo slot in front of some 3,000 teenagers at the Hype Youth Festival, Tomás Skelly has an incredible CV – particularly when you consider the fact that he is just eighteen years old.

Born in Boston, Tomás and his family moved to Longford when he was two, and despite being persuaded to take lessons by his parents, music was low on his hobby list. It’s a long way from his current, self-confessed obsession.

Starting out at the age of six with the tin whistle and later trying his hand with the piano and guitar, the Leaving Certificate student gave up on music for a while around the age of ten, and only picked it up again aged 14 when his peers took more of an interest in the subject.
“After that, I picked up the guitar and I learned one song – ‘Let Her Go’ by Passenger – and from there it just became an addiction. I became obsessed,” he said.

His success didn’t come about immediately – and not because of his level of talent, but because, he was a “bedroom musician”.

It wasn’t until he jammed with a friend at the Gaeltacht and entered the course’s talent competition that his love for performing took hold.

“I just thought ‘this is it, I love this, I love this feeling of nervousness’,” Tomás recalled. “We got a standing ovation and from there I was hooked.”
Tomás and his friend went on to win the competition outright, after facing other friends in the final. His winning streak continued when, as a Transition Year student in early 2015, he topped the competition at the Longford Youth factor, securing a spot on the Hype Youth Festival stage that summer.

“The year that followed the Youth Factor was crazy,” Tomás smiled. “I had my first gig with Brave Giant a month later, they were Poroma at the time, in John Browne’s. That was my first ever gig.”

He went on to support the Longford five-piece again when they played their debut headline gig at a sold-out Backstage Theatre later in the year, where the then 17-year-old attracted a lot of attention for his easygoing banter with the audience and skills way beyond his years.

While working hard at practicing and performing – to make amends for giving up music when he was younger, he said – Tomás has also been busy writing his own original songs which, he admitted, is not always an easy task.

“I probably have about a hundred demos on my phone of songs that I’ll never finish,” he revealed.

Part of this is probably due to his ever-evolving style that can’t be pinned down to just one label or genre.

Watching the young man in action, it’s not difficult to see why he has attracted such success. While playing, Tomás is completely engaged in his work, using the guitar as a percussion instrument and even impressively finger picking as he powerfully delivers a mix of mature, original songs and beloved covers – though more of the former than the latter.

Now, facing into the Leaving Cert exams, Tomás still hasn’t lost sight of his musical aims, in fact, they’re probably clearer now than ever.
“I think it’s good to keep up the music,” he reasoned. “You need something else other than your Leaving Cert.

“I love it and it’s a hobby and a passion. It’s never an effort for me so I’ll definitely keep it up – I can’t not! It’s about finding a good mix. It [the Leaving Cert] is not going to have an impact on me or hold me back, musically.”

While studying for his exams, Tomás hopes to record an EP and perhaps look for a slot at some of Ireland’s music festivals. Looking further into the future, he hopes to pursue a course at BIMM, the renowned Dublin music school.

While he cites Ed Sheeran, Passenger, John Martin and particularly Ben Howard (“I’d marry him in a heartbeat,” he laughed) as inspirations, Tomás was also heavily influenced by his ever-supportive parents, both musicians themselves, who encouraged him to follow his heart when it came to choosing a career path.

“Music is very unpredictable. You could spend a long time at it and never ‘make it’.

“I wasn’t going to do music in college, I wanted to do Economics,” he pointed out. “But my mother is very musical, she wanted to study music but went down the teaching route.

“It’s good to have her support and my dad’s support,” Tomás continued, revealing that his father used to be a jazz musician. “I’m so lucky to have mam making me follow music, because I wouldn’t do it otherwise.

Speaking to Tomás, it’s easy to tell that music is his life from his enthusiastic anecdotes about gigs played, friends made and artists admired. It’s even easier to predict that we’ll be hearing plenty more from him if his talent and drive are anything to go by.

“It’s a passion for me – I can’t explain how much I adore music, it’s always been what I’ve wanted to do,” he concluded. “I eat, sleep and breathe music.”