The Overtones’ Timmy Matley left Ireland aged 17 and never looked back. “To be open and honest about it, I didn’t have a good time at school,” says the 29-year-old singer, from Farranree in Cork.
“I was bullied a lot. As I was one of those quiet children, I suppose I was a target. My interests were singing and performing. If you were the kind who was different, you were picked on.”
With three Top 10 albums to their credit, the Overtones are a covers act with a difference. Rather than propping up the bill at your local pub, their suited-and-booted, harmony-splashed readings of such classic torchsongs as ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love?’ are extremely popular. Critics are, of course, sniffy (it’s their job). The public, however, has fallen hard for the quintet’s breezy, feel-good interpretations. As de facto lead singer, Matley receives the bulk of the attention — a responsibility he shoulders with relish.
“Our music is positive,” he says, “The way the world is at the moment people could do with something uplifting. Especially in Ireland, where everyone has been hit so hard by the recession.”
Their latest release, Saturday Night at the Movies, is a collection of tunes associated with Hollywood (with several original compositions interspersed). They apply their ‘magic’ touch to ‘Pretty Woman’, ‘It Had To Be You’, and other staples. The cinema concept came out largely by accident, explains Matley. “We had written down a list of songs we’d like to cover. It dawned on us they were all associated with big movies. So we thought, wouldn’t it be great to base a whole album around those films?”
Matley attended Deerpark secondary school near Turner’s Cross. In fifth year he decided he’d had enough and took a flight to London. Following several years on the UK capital’s open-mic circuit, in 2006 he formed the band that would eventually become the Overtones. “I left school and chased my dreams to London. I auditioned for a performing arts school called Laine Theatre. It was a real Billy Elliot story – I was a bit of a diamond in the rough. They saw I had the right attitude and a lot of passion and essentially offered me a scholarship.”
In 2008 the Overtones, then a quartet and going by a different name, auditioned for X Factor and made the final 50. There was a sense of life going full circle when, several years later, they were invited back as performing guests on spinoff show The Xtra Factor. “We were cut just before the judges’ houses section of X Factor. That was Joe McElderry’s year. It wasn’t meant to be for us. In a way I think we were the lucky ones. For a lot of X Factor winners it really doesn’t work out.”
Things haven’t always gone smoothly for the Overtones, either. There was a notorious incident on RTÉ’s Saturday Night Show two years ago when the band became stuck behind a malfunctioning curtain, requiring Brendan O’Connor to dash to the rescue. “Obviously we knew it was live telly. There we were, behind the curtain. It was clearly struggling to go up. I thought, ‘Should I intervene?’. But, of course, there’s no way you can lift a curtain and sing. We saw the funny side. They are actually going to use the clip on UK television, on the blooper show Alright On The Night. So the story has a happy ending in a way.”
* Saturday Night at the Movies is out now. The Overtones play Cork Opera House February 17; Olympia, Dublin Feb 18.