BIG TOM MCBRIDE has been described as a legend of country music in Ireland – his music has captured the hearts and minds of the Irish people not only in Ireland but beyond as well. His voice and vocal range were instantly recognisable spawning comparisons with the great American country singer Johnny Cash. Tom described himself as a “singer of sad songs” and was described by President Michael D. Higgins as “one of the most charismatic and influential artists in Irish country music”.
Big Tom was born on 18th September 1936 in the townland of the Moy just outside Castleblayney in County Monaghan. He grew up working on the family farm and in a house that loved music, encouraged by his father and mother who were great singers themselves. Tom, like so many others, fell victim to emigration and travelled to England to find work turning his hand to many different jobs in both London and Jersey. During his time in London, Tom bought his first guitar for £12 and started off playing in local pubs and houses.
Tragedy struck and Tom returned to Ireland following the death of his youngest brother, Willie John, to be with his parents and help work the farm. After coming home Tom and six other local lads got together to form the Mainliners and started off playing at venues in and around Co. Monaghan. Also around that time, Tom met and married his wife Rose (King) who was to be by his side for over the next fifty years or more. Big Tom and the Mainliners got their break by appearing on the “The Showband Show” in 1966 performing “Gentle Mother” which became a hit. In January 1967, it was voted “Most requested record of the week” on RTE’s “Saturday Spin” programme. The band went on to record many more hit songs in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s such as Old Log Cabin for Sale and Broken Marriage Vows.
Tom ‘travelled on’ from the Mainliners in 1975 and formed a new band called the Travellers – Big Tom and the Travellers had hit songs in the early eighties, including the iconic Four Country Roads. In 1989 the Mainliners reformed and the hit songs continued such as The same way you came in and Lonesome at you your table. In 2016, Big Tom was honoured by being the first person to be inducted into the Irish Country Music Hall of Fame.
In later years, despite his failing health, Tom continued to perform appearing on RTE’s the “Late Late Show” in 2016 as well as performing a duet with Margo A Love that’s lasted through the years on the same show in 2017. Tom also performed in the “Opry Dhoire” show in 2017 sharing songs and memories in an evening to remember. Tom also continued performing at venues nationally as well as recording his songs with five new tracks recorded in 2017 as well as the duet with Margo.
On April 17th 2018, Tom passed away just eleven short weeks after his beloved wife Rose. The loss was felt by family, friends and fans alike and Big Tom has left behind a lasting legacy to Irish country music that connects people with this humble gentle giant of the show band world. The words of An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar express the respect and love for the King of Country music, “Not many people are known by their first name, but that was Big Tom”.