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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Belfast's Michael Cunningham Discovers a Hidden Treasure

Michael Cunningham is a singer-songwriter from Belfast, Ireland. Music was always at the heart of his home, when he was eight he got his first guitar, and like many young musicians, he became obsessed with it.

''My passion for entertaining meant that my earliest performances were as a busker in Belfast city centre, during the IRA bombing campaigns. Busking was tremendous fun, but (as my worried mother insisted ) it was also quite risky, often involving very rapid changes of pitch, both musically and physically, and, what a way to build confidence and 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.''

Michael remembers the early years, ''I worked with Jim Anderson, a shy and very talented guitar player and songwriter. Singing and writing with Jim as a duo called ''Thelma and Louise'' was a high point of my early musical career. For over three years we wrote our own material and 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 local TV. We also managed a number of recordings in local studios.''

Michael continues, ''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 and marriage, followed by the arrival of a young family meant that Jim and 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 and recordings into a 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 Michael and his wife,Tracey, build a loving, happy home with their two boys, Ben and Joshua. Music was still important, of course, but only in the background. That was until 2016, his breakthrough year. Thanks to Tracey's fantastic support, they made one of the biggest decisions of their lives. Michael gave up his job and made a new beginning working for himself in music. Free at last, it was like having a huge weight lifted off his shoulders. 20 years on, he could once again afford serious time for his own music.

Michael blew the cobwebs off that dusty old cardboard box in his garage and discovered the magic of those lost tapes of 20 years past. Playing back those cassettes and recordings was a lightbulb moment for him. The sound quality and recording factors were not so good, but, he was blown away by their compelling power, their themes of love, loss and loneliness, the quality in the songs were timeless, underpinned by haunting melodies and heart-tugging lyrics, Michael felt immediately they had real potential.

Since then, it's been a life-changing experience for him. He has dedicated himself to producing and recording the best of those great songs. That also included an emotional re-connection after two decades with his former singing partner, Jim Anderson, who'd written most of the material. Sadly, Jim was no longer writing or singing, but they have happily agreed on all rights and contractual issues.

The cassette tapes and recordings were impossible to re-master, however, it's been a wonderful experience for Michael to sing and produce his first album, using top local musicians like John McCullagh on Keyboards ( Sinead O'Connor ) and Colum McClean (Foy Vance, Gretchin Peters ). Appropriately that album's entitled ''Hidden Treasure'' launched in 2018. Michael has since released a live EP recorded in Belfast in 2020, called ''Live at the Duncairn'' which gives a real feel for the energy and passion Michael has for the music.




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