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Derry singer George Hutton on launching his second album during coronavirus lockdown

The talented tenor is riding high in the world music charts

George Hutton

Phil Coulter, George Hutton and John Sheahan of The Dubliners.

Derry tenor George Hutton launched his new album last week; he was supposed to be celebrating with an intimate gig at Bishop's Gate Hotel, instead he's in isolation in Navan with his girlfriend.
Like the rest of the entertainment industry, George and his partner, Celtic Woman star Megan Walsh, have had all their gigs cancelled due to the coronavirus."Megan actually had a really scary experience," explains the 32-year-old, who first found fame with the Five Irish Tenors.
"When this all started she was three weeks into an 86 concert tour of America, performing to thousands of people.
"She was ringing me and it was all becoming a bit real and she nearly didn't make it out of the country.
"I picked her up at the airport and now we're isolating.
"It's all very strange and slightly surreal."
Thankfully the pair are safe and well and George has a refreshingly laid back attitude to the turn in their professional fortunes.
"This is literally the worst time ever to launch an album, but it is what it is," he shrugs.
"I mean, it is a shame because I had so many concerts coming up and an album launch at the Bishop's Gate Hotel which was nearly sold out, but everybody is taking a hit. 
"It's not just me.
"At the end of the day, it's people's well being that is most important and there'll be plenty of other concerts.
"The very fact that people have to self isolate means they'll be exercising, watching TV and listening to music, so a lot of people might be looking for something new  to download."
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus George was on the crest of a professional wave, and had recently finished supporting Phil Coulter on tour.
"If you don't have something ready people wonder where you have gone," he explains.
"I can't rest on my laurels.
"It's an independent release and I've put own money into this to pay the producer and musicians.
"But I'm not worried about it. If I lose money on this, I lose money on this.
"I'm not one to shout from the rooftops but I am very proud of it and I don't think we could have done a better job."
His new album 'Home' was produced by Paul Casey with Johnny McCullough on piano, Liam Bradleyon drums, Paul Cutliffe on whistles, pipes and saxaphone, Nicky Scott on double bass and backing vocals by Lauren Doherty and Liam Bradley  
George has been hard at work for the last year-  touring the States, supporting Phil Coulter and headlining the Ulster Hall with a 150 piece choir.
"My parents were so proud, they just couldn't believe it," he recalls.
"My first big solo performance was singing 'Bring Him Home' at the Waterside Theatre when I was 20.
"My mum was terrified and she was saying 'I can't deal with this, aww that's my wain'," he laughs.
"My dad was the opposite. He just couldn't wait to see me perform and it's still the same now."
George's father and namesake is a former Derry City FC player, and his uncle Peter Hutton captained the squad for 17 years.
"All my uncles and my dad played football, but it didn't quite work out for me," he says with a smile.
"I always loved it though."
George's parents George and Ann have 9 children and raised their family in Creggan's Butcher Street before moving to Troy Park in 1974.
"My mum always wanted to maintain that link with Creggan and that's why I went to St Eugene' s Primary School and after school I'd go my granny's house in Circular Road in Creggan Heights or my auntie's house in Butcher Street."
George had always wanted to go to St Columb's College, but his plans changed after he didn't get the mark he needed in his 11+.
"I remember crying eyes about that," he admits.
"I went to St Patrick's and St Brigid's in Claudy instead and that was a good experience and then I did go the College to do my A-Levels.
"My brother had been deputy headboy so I felt I had to follow in his footsteps and after about two or three weeks I got made a prefect.
"There were lads who had been at the school for a lot longer than me and they were saying 'this is a joke'," he laughs.
"They weren't one bit amused."
George is classically trained and has been taught by Derry’s Eoin O’Callaghan and Ciáran Kelly and Mexican Tenor Benito Rodriguez who is married to Derry singer Laura Rodriquez nee Sheeran.
Last year he was a judge on the BBC show 'All Together Now' and his first album 'Chapter One' was met with critical acclaim,.
George finished up supporting Phil Coulter's tour with a show at St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin on January 4, where he got the seal of approval from one of his music idols
"One of my biggest influences growing up was Luke Kelly and the Dubliners and the only surviving member, John Sheahan, was performing that night.
"He's 80 and still performing and I've followed that man for years and I got to sing with him.
"He came up to me afterwards and said 'keep nurturing your gift, you've got such a good voice' and that was just an amazing moment for me."
Dery born pianist Fergal Murray was also playing on Phil's tour.
"I thought that was great because it was like three generations of St Columb's College pupils, me in my 30s, Fergal in his 40s and Phil in his 70s," says George.
Phil later tweeted that George was the only support act in his lengthy career to get standing ovations each night. 
George is very grateful for his fellow Derry man's support and guidance and calls him his mentor.
"For him to contact me and take a chance on me is massive.
"He's a fantastic mentor and we'll be doing another tour together this winter and there's a few other things in the pipeline that I can't talk about yet.
"I look at Phil and he's a man who is just not going to stop.
"He released a book at the end of last year and one of the things I admire about him is that he has never been afraid to take a chance.
"That's something I've learned to start doing."
Such a chance presented itself when George was asked to be a judge on BBC NI SChool Choir of the Year competition alongside the Richard Marr of BBC Radio Ulster and the Ulster Orchestra, Ciaran Scullion head of Arts Council NI and conductor Lynsey Callaghan.
George admits he struggled with imposter syndrome at the start of the process.
"It was a great experience and it was really nice to be asked," he says.
"But i was surrounded by these amazing people and then there's me, George Hutton.
"It's such a wonderful experience to find yourself sitting amongst these people and I just had to remind myself the BBC had asked me to do it for a reason and that I was there on merit.
"I feel more confident being on stage singing than I do having to judge."
Choirs have played a big part in bringing George to the world stage.

He sang in the school choir at St Eugene's PS, but fell away from music as a teenager before finding his voice again aged 20, first in the Encore Contemporary Choir, followed by the Ulster University Choir.
"The Ulster University Choir changed things for me," he says.
"Dr Sean Ryan was the musical director and it was him who encouraged me to take this further
"I joined the BBC Youth Chorus at 21 and then I went to Dublin and joined Anuna which was my first real taste of touring.
"You learn a lot in choirs and you make a lot of friends.
"You are learning and developing all the time.
"You get better at reading music and your ear improves and that's all completely transferable to being a soloist.
"There were so many people at that time telling me that this was what I needed to do."
George got his big break signing with the Five Irish Tenors when he was in his early 20s, and his cousin the singer songwriter Noella Hutton was on hand to help and guide him.
"She's a really successful singer and had supported Sheryl Crow and been signed to labels like Universal so she really knows the industry," he says.
"She said to me 'what does it say in your contact? Are they giving you this, are they giving you that?' 
"I said 'don't worry it's with Columbia' and she said 'I don't care who it's with, you need to know what's in your contract."
"That's what I love about Noella. She takes no shit!"
Just before the corona virus struck George ticked another item off his bucket list singing with The Priests in Derry's St Columb's Cathedral where he was accompanied by pianist Ruth McGinley.
"I'd always wanted to perform with Ruth, she's widely regarded as one of the best pianists in the world.
"She's used to playing Rachmaninoff and she was accompanying me," he laughs.
For now George is keeping busy plugging his album online and enjoying spending time with Megan.
"The most important thing is people's health," he says.
"My brother Christy is a doctor and has a private clinic in Belfast but he's going back to help the NHS, which is going to be terrifying.
"I'm just down here in Navan going for walks 
"I'm grateful that I have an album to plug and something to give me a creative outlet."
George's second album 'Home' is out now on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon.

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