Tom O’Mahony waited until he retired from his top government job before ‘coming out’ as a singer/songwriter, says Margaret Jennings
BY day he was working with ministers and dealing with government policy and legislation, but behind closed doors at home, former civil servant Tom O’Mahony was composing lyrics for songs about love, life, and the universe.
The 63-year-old Co Meath based man who retired as secretary-general of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in 2015, has now ‘come out’ as the leather jacket wearing, keyboard-playing, gravelly-voiced Tommy Keyes, with four self-released albums of original songs already to his name.
He made a perfectly smooth transition from retirement: “As secretary general of a department I knew for a number of years that at the age of 60 my contract would end and that I would be retiring,” he tells Feelgood. “And maybe about three years before that day came, I began to think very seriously about all of these songs I had written. Once retired, I would have the time and the energy, but the music would also be a motivation and a drive to keep active and busy.
“The career I had was quite consuming and you can’t just turn off that tap when you retire — like falling off a cliff — you have to look at where to put the energy and keep living to the full. That’s my perspective.”
He advises everyone in a similar position to plan ahead for that day.
Tom isn’t a newcomer to the music scene though and has come full circle: “When I was a youngster in the ’70s I was in a band and we were reasonably successful around Dublin. I changed my name because O’Mahony wasn’t a very rock’n’roll name. Also at the time I wanted to keep my civil service identity and music identity separate — and because I played keyboards I used Keyes. It was all tongue in cheek, but it’s a great name.
“There wasn’t ever a suggestion though that I would jack in the civil service, to become a fulltime musician, so I got married and it all became a private passion. I would sit at home and play the piano and write songs and record them on my little home recorder and put them away on the basis that someday I might do something with them.”
Now that day has come: he released his fourth album Temptation Once Again, last month, with a review in Hot Press, the music magazine, saying: ‘It’s all there: love, loss, success, failure, pain, loneliness, friends and family’.
He hopes with this to have a repeat of previous success which included reaching the top of the Irish singer/songwriter charts on iTunes with his track, Christmas Eve in Dublin.
Tom is also a fixture now three times a week at singer-songwriter venues around Dublin: “It was quite funny when I started, because I would arrive at the sessions and because they were all youngish, I would look a bit odd coming in —as if I was coming to collect my child.”
But, describing himself as “a kinda reincarnation of Tom Waits or Randy Newman”, he explains:
Young musicians tell him they have been influenced by the great singers of the ’60s and ’70s, so when he goes on stage that gives him “a kind of cachet with them. I’m not just tolerated; they are really happy to have someone from my generation there— particularly when it is original material.”
The skills he learnt in his 42 years in the civil service are also coming in handy: “I apply a lot of the disciplines I had to apply in my career to this: I am my own manager and promoter, I use social media very intensively. I’m always putting videos on YouTube; I post three times a day on Facebook... I put the hours in and do everything I can - not for fame and fortune, but to get people hearing the songs, because I think they deserve to be heard.”
His whole family are fully behind him too: “We are a very musical family — one of my daughters is a TV producer and she has done some of my videos; another is studying music and is in a band and is on some of my albums and my son who now has a career in business, was a singer in a band and sings on the albums as well.
“And obviously I couldn’t do it without the incredible support from my wife, Jackie,” he says. “So every time I am doing a new album I have to be very careful that I write a nice love song on it to show my appreciation for her.”
And he quips: “Jackie happens to work as a physiotherapist as well, which for an elderly musician is no harm.”
Check out Tom at www.tommykeyes.com