Scientologist crooner attracts Northern Ireland's Filipino population to the Waterfront – it's as weird as it sounds
David Pomeranz’s career has taken some strange turns. In the early 1970s, as a youthful MCA-Decca signing, he was the opening act for the likes of Rod Stewart and Billy Joel. In the 80s, he specialised in penning music for movies and TV (Zapped!, Perfect Strangers, Head of the Class).
Along the way, his songs have been performed by everyone from Freddie Mercury to the Muppets, selling some 40 million copies worldwide. But the main reason the 60-year-old New Yorker is in the Waterfront Hall in Belfast tonight is because Northern Ireland has a large and vibrant Filipino community.
You see, in 1999, Pomeranz’s Born for You: His Best and More somehow became the Philippines’ best-selling album of all time by an international artist. He is a superstar in the Southeast Asian island chain. So, here he is, in Belfast, playing to 700 Filipino expats – and me.
Support act Gene Flores gets things started with a mix of ballads and cheesy dance, crooning over a backing tape, karaoke-style. The crowd love it, and for some reason a fan hands him an aubergine in appreciation. Perhaps it’s a Philippines thing that I don’t understand.
‘Mr Pomeranz is in the house,’ squeals Flores, who seems as excited about sharing a stage with the main man as the audience are about seeing him. It’s the headliner’s first time in Ireland, though he may as well be in Manila.
‘What a pleasure to meet you here,’ Pomeranz proclaims to ecstatic shrieks. The gig appears to be a major social event for those present, and most of them have their iPhones – or in several cases, iPads – trained on the slim singer throughout.
Pomeranz opens with ‘Got to Believe in Magic’, from Zapped!, and the response suggests that this tune is the Filipinos’ ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, their ‘Wonderwall’, their ‘Chasing Cars’. ‘I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine,’ Pomeranz coos, producing… a guitar. The crowd let out an almighty, ‘Awww.’ By this point, you imagine Pomeranz could start reading out the small print on the back of the tickets and the place would go wild.
Alternating between his awe-inspiring six-string and a grand piano, Pomeranz raids his back catalogue for easy-listening fare such as ‘Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again’, as covered by the Carpenters and Barry Manilow, and ‘I Still Believe in You’, a 1992 hit for Cliff Richard. Cutting-edge it isn’t, but they’re quality tunes and Pomeranz’s voice has real range.
‘On this Day’ and ‘King and Queen of Hearts’, Filipino wedding and prom staples respectively, see Pomeranz enter the audience to dance with one lucky lady, tears streaming down her face. The high emotion continues when Pomeranz brings his wife Kelly – an elegant Filipino lady – on stage for ‘Undying Admiration’, presenting her with a red rose and a kiss.
When not tugging at his followers’ heartstrings, Pomeranz dabbles in weird humour. On ‘Swingin’ in the Swamp’, he demands a singalong in the style of ‘swampy animals’, while later the vocalist – a fully paid-up member of the Church of Scientology – insists the sea of camera phones looks like eyes. ‘I had this feeling I was playing for aliens,’ he giggles.
The evening ends with a roll call of the show’s sponsors – including a Filipino real estate company and a Belfast freelance photographer – and a meet-and-greet session for VIP ticket-holders. ‘I’m a guy from New York City and God took me 9,000 miles to the Philippines,’ Pomeranz gushes. ‘I thank God every day.’ A nice sentiment, but doesn’t he mean Lord Xenu?