School Daze: DJ Colm O'Sullivan: 'Music set the tone of my life'

Colm O'Sullivan talks about his school days.

School Daze: DJ Colm O'Sullivan: 'Music set the tone of my life'
Colm O'Sullivan with his son Simon Murphy O'Sullivan.

PRIMARY school was where I discovered a love for music. I remember having conversations about sport and not having a single iota what was going on, although I did diligently collect the obligatory soccer sticker album. I can still remember Jan Molby’s ’80s hairstyle, thinking that would look great on stage rather than his playing prowess. 

My first guitar teacher taught me how to play acoustic guitar while I was there. The first song was Spancil Hill (a long way from the noise I later discovered) but it was a very pleasant time.

It was an all-boys school in Bantry, Co Cork, with a real sense of camaraderie.

I was a curious child and liked to take things apart in the technical sense. I did make a lot of noise with instruments and was known to talk a lot. I really enjoyed movies from an early age and had a ritual of planning movie rentals from the local video shop with stealth. You had to in those days almost stalk the people returning to ensure you got what to wanted to see. 

I liked to work part-time, which funded an early music career, and learned many life lessons in the local SuperValu — including what the response was when someone was asked to get a glass hammer and rubber nails (I was that someone, unfortunately).

I made some great friends at secondary school, some of whom I am still in contact with today. We formed lots of different bands with various incarnations leading to a brief time in the spotlight later on. 

But the most vivid memory involves music yet again. The very first year at school we held a Christmas concert where me and a friend, sorry Dave, mimed a Bon Jovi song, and to make matters even worse the wrong song was on playback.

I remember the first stark difference in secondary school was having individual teachers for subjects. There were more students and we had to get used to segmented 45-minute classes.

I really liked Technical Drawing and did think about studying architecture. I was good at Maths and ended up studying Computer Science at UCC and later Business at CIT and IT Sligo. I have to say that I had a love-hate relationship with Chemistry — I loved the people I studied with and hated the subject and struggled. The pull to the arts was very strong and that is ultimately where I spent over 25 years working after college.

As for lessons learned during my school years? I learned that focus is important and choosing something that you love no matter what it is will lead to a more stress-free life and give you a foundational happiness. I learned that Tom Waits is a better songwriter than Nik Kershaw.

What would I say to myself if I met that kid today? You will not become the fifth member of U2, but that’s ok because you will end up working with them and other acts that haven’t even been formed yet — sudden recollection of Back to the Future, I might even give a set of future winning lottery numbers and say keep them safe.

I had a close number of friends that shared an interest mostly in music and I am still friends with them today. It can be difficult to meet with frequency as most of us are now learning logic according to a toddler but we do see each other on special occasions.

I got a gift of a book called The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin from a friend Cornie Kelly. He encouraged me to listen and explore music and life. To actively listen is one of the most powerful tools, I would like to think that I am a good listener.

I had an English teacher, Anne Cronin, and she gave me a sense of reality and interpretation with language that I apply all the time. I tried to pull the wool over her eyes many times, to no avail. 

What would I say to her today? I would firstly like to apologise for trying to pass off a past Leaving Cert prose extract as my own and to thank you for pushing facts, reality and curious interpretation.

School Daze: DJ Colm O'Sullivan: 'Music set the tone of my life'
Colm O'Sullivan with his son Simon Murphy O'Sullivan.

Considering I spent 25 years as a radio DJ and quite successful if I do say so myself — tongue planted firmly in cheek — my first disco was an absolute fiasco. 

I tried to pay a random stranger at the door, confusing him for the actual doorman. I lasted about an hour and had to leave as I wore two jackets — it was a look back then — as the heat was unbearable. The two weeks’ practice on breakdancing (even a video was bought) was nullified as I couldn’t reach the floor in said jackets – thankfully, in hindsight. 

I had an idea I would work the music industry. I had such a passion for music which lead me through many facets of the industry in different areas, mostly radio at local (96FM/REDFM) and national (Today FM). My curious nature led me to explore a career behind the frontline business also which has led to me where I am today.

Family and connection is the most important thing to focus on in these strange times. All of us are looking at this with fears and questions, remember to be kind to each other as we have enough to worry about, and help all in your circle of influence.

My dad, Jimmy, liked to do things his way. He had a couple of sayings: “If you want it done right, do it yourself” and “I did that when it was dangerous to do it” — which referred to a time when serving in the UN, and as families do, we never let him live it down. So the grass became dangerous to cut at one stage. He suggested I study Communications, and that has influenced me to take a path in the field.

Becoming a dad is the best thing I have done in my life. I adore my son Simon and since the day he was born, he has influenced all of my life decisions. My advice to him is to never let anyone dull the light he brings in to a room, and to listen and respect. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself when needed.

Colm O'Sullivan is managing partner of Interactive Media & Marketing and former programme director, Today FM

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