Country Boy with a Celtic Heart

Emma Heatherington meets Malachi Cush

Malachi Cush has landed in the world of fame. As a very young boy, he entertained many in his home village of Donaghmore with his wealthy knowledge of folk music and a singing ability that was steeped in maturity.

Years later, the former wedding singer is the pride and joy of the village, with his velvet voice having notched up 140,000 album sales to date whilst enjoying remarkable success throughout Ireland as a folk singer, songwriter and radio presenter.

Musical milestones have been plentiful for the 25 year old and with such a talented family background (his cousin is the Queen of Irish country music Philomena Begley) to imagine him as a gas-fitter, gigging only at weekends, is out of the question.

Malachi’s early days were marked by County and Provincial Scor titles and he combined his singing with the formation of his first band, formed whilst a student at St Patrick’s Academy. Like most teenage musicians, the aptly named Between the Ditches was born from an urge to make music with a group of friends. Cush remembers it fondly as a fine way to cut his teeth.

‘I had great times performing with my school friends and those primitive years helped to form the direction I have now taken in my musical career. In fact many of the boys continue to play in their own bands both at home and in the UK. We're still great friends.'

Despite his earlier scrapings and his more recent successes, Cush is still remembered fondly for his appearance on BBC’s reality TV talent show Fame Academy almost four years ago.

‘The Fame Academy experience was a great learning curve for me as a performer. My father applied to the show on my behalf (behind my back!) and I was delighted to be invited to the Belfast round of auditions.

'However, it wasn’t a walk in the park at all and after three days of intensive competition I was sent to England for another week of gruelling auditions. I was over the moon to be chosen for the programme and am pleased to say I learned a lot from it.’

When asked which of the Fame Academy team had the most positive effect on him, Cush doesn’t hesitate to answer.

‘The song writing sessions with Pam Sheyne are the richest memories from my weeks in Fame Academy. Her approach to song writing was amazing and the direction and advice she gave me then is still very relevant today. The magnitude of the live performances each Friday night will always stay with me too - the entire studio set up and the atmosphere with the live audience was electrifying.’

And the worst?

‘Those early morning dance sessions with Kevin Adams were horrendous,’ he laughs. ‘Poor Kevin had his work cut out for him. I was never meant to be a dancer.’

The dance steps he may never have needed, but songwriting has stayed very close to his heart and Malachi has recently sold a number of his self-penned numbers to some of Ireland’s best-known performers.

His Fame Academy days resulted in an album deal with Universal Records and he is now writing album two of a three record deal with Emerald Records. It was with one of his own songs ‘Just Say You Love Me’ that Malachi experienced the greatest hysteria in his career to date – it reached number one in Thailand and stayed there for five weeks, leading to a sell out tour of the Far East.

National television followed, including BBC2's Celebrity Weakest Link, ITV's Loose Women, and appearances on TV3.

With a heartwarming personality it is not surprising that his talents haven't been confined to music. BBC Radio Ulster snapped him up to take the hot seat on some of its biggest daytime radio programmes, leaving him holding the fort for household names such as Hugo Duncan, George Jones and Gerry Anderson.

Cush's youthful drama days at Donaghmore’s Bardic Theatre led to radio plays on BBC Radio 4 and in December 2005 he proudly returned to his rural roots, taking the lead role of ‘Charles Charming’ in Bardic’s Christmas production, S'no Height and the Seven Dwarfs.

‘The pantomime term with Bardic was challenging, exhausting but great fun. We performed a total of 26 shows to almost 8,000 people at Dungannon Leisure Centre and it was fantastic to be able to work so close to home in the run up to Christmas.’

Home is where the heart is with Cush and although some claim a scholar is never recognised in his home town, it cannot be said in his case. In 2005 he was awarded ‘Best New Irish Radio Personality’ by Big Buzz magazine and ‘Best Irish Newcomer’ at the Irish World Awards. A few years ago he was instilled in Dungannon’s Hall of Fame by the Borough Council.

So what is next for the country boy with the Celtic heart?

‘I hope to release my second album with Emerald in September. It will feature a lot more original folk material with a bit of country thrown into the mix. I am still touring to promote Celtic Heartbeat and most of all, I am enjoying every minute of it.'