Northern Irish singer Conleth Kane on coming out, overcoming bullying and why his appearances on The X Factor and BGT has put him off TV talent shows.

They say the best things comes to those who wait and northern Irish singer songwriter Conleth Kane knows that only too well. For over ten years he has worked hard to make his mark by appearing on reality shows, treading the boards in the West End and gigging all over the place, while all the while penning songs that are deeply personal and catchy as hell.  

While the events of 2020 have been devastating for many, Conleth has battled through and made this year something of a breakthrough year for himself. In May, the tunesmith released his brilliant Liberty EP that featured the rousing number Proud, a powerful track that was backed by an exhilarating video shot in London’s Soho. The track went a storm and has since been viewed across various platforms a whopping 85, 000 times. 

This weekend, Conleth has dropped the video to Yellow Brick Road, another track from Liberty, that has had us chirping away during these tough Covid times. 

To mark its release, GuysLikeU caught up with the insanely talented and ambitious singer songwriter to chat about life growing up gay in Northern Ireland, the after effects bullying has had on him and why he has been put off TV talent shows for good. 

Conleth, tell us about where you grew up -…

I grew up in a small town called Lurgan in Northern Ireland.  I was very much a mummy’s boy growing up.  My mum is my best friend.  I have two sisters, Edel and Dearbhla and a brother Michael. We all flew from our nest and no-one stayed at home.  Edel lives in Melbourne, Dearbhla lives in Sydney, Michael lives in San Francisco and I’m in London.  Mum and Dad only have the dog left in Ireland!

When did you start to realise you were gay? 

From a very young age. I would say around seven years old.  I was very different to the other boys in my class.  I was into Judy Garland at the age of eight!  

Wow that’s early! Was gay something you found hard to get your head around? 

Not really.  I was always quite content with who I was but I didn’t welcome the social rejection I faced as a result of being gay. Listen, I wore Spice Girl T-shirts to school on non-uniform days to an all catholic boys’ school in the 90’s. I had balls.  

You can say that again, well done!

I knew with me just being me came a sacrifice – I was afraid to turn certain corners in case I bumped into the wrong person. I remember often breaking a sweat when I had to get on the bus to school.  This was a daily occurrence. I had to be taken out of one school and placed in another because the bullying became so bad.  

That’s terrible.

I remember telling my mum at the age of 13 I did not want to live anymore and she stepped in immediately and she sorted a school transfer.  It has no doubt left me with certain anxiety issues to this very day. Children and teenagers can be so cruel. I got beaten to a pulp some days. Despite being on the receiving end of horrendous verbal and physical abuse during that era of my life, I was always very proud to be different and never once apologised.

That’s very courageous of you. 

School was hard in general, not only was I the ‘queer’, I was trapped in an academic set-up. My mum did the right thing by getting me out of the first high school I attended as I was literally being driven to suicidal mentality at the age of 12.  When I moved schools things got a little a little better but there were definitely still problems that I faced on a daily basis.  I sat in Maths day-dreaming about going to stage school.  There was always an expectation of me. The pressure was a lot.  I was the kid in the family who went to a grammar school, even though I never envisaged a career that would be built upon my academia. I sat with the girls at lunch. I would hear the lads talk about me or laughing at me on a daily basis. I never felt comfortable at school and couldn’t wait to get the hell out of it.

Who was the first person you told and what was their reaction?

I told my friend Carrie. We were 15 and she was in my class at school.  She was a little shell-shocked but was very supportive.

Who was the person you were most worried to tell?

My Dad. I felt sick when I walked in to tell him.  But he responded by saying ‘You’re still the same son you were 5mins ago.’ I burst into tears. I’m very lucky that I have had a really warm, welcoming experience in regards to my family’s reaction.  I know people who no longer have relationships with their family due to coming out.

Some young people dealing with their sexuality tend to suffer from mental health issues. Did you?

Absolutely. I’m only really coming to terms with this in my 30s and recognise the full impact of this now. I have anxiety issues. I don’t sleep particularly well to this very day. I do everything in my power to help myself. I do yoga four times a week, I work out at the gym, I’m vegan – I consider myself to be fairly healthy from a physical point of view but there have been times when I’ve hit the self-destruct button and I’ve hit it hard. I’ve had bouts of therapy in the past but I find my music is my outlet for the majority of my issues.  It’s very cathartic for me.

How are things today. Are you good at looking after your own mental health and well being?

I battle issues to this very day.  I have found it easier to address the older I’ve got. I’ve always been an extreme person and when I’m feeling great, I feel GREAT!  In the past, when I hit a wall I look back and realise I didn’t have the tools to help me cope. I wish I handled certain situations differently but life is all about making mistakes and learning from them and I’m still learning.  Now when I get good news about something I breathe, smile and enjoy the moment quietly instead of exploding like a firework like I did in the past.  I’m hoping that if I don’t allow myself to go really high in life then it might help me from falling low during challenging times

When you were properly out did you throw yourself into the scene. Was it as you expected?

I came out around the age of 15 and I moved to Belfast at the age of 16! I was straight onto the gay scene! I felt so liberated! I felt like I belonged there and I gained a lot of newfound confidence on the Belfast gay scene.

Was finding love a priority?

Not really.  I’m too career focused and I find that all that just gets in the way. Of course, I hope some day that I will meet someone, but I’m perfectly fine being single until I achieve certain goals.  I have friends that have never been single or just jump from relationship to relationship but I seem to be the opposite.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not ruling out a partner, but I have things I want to try and achieve, I want the coast to be clear before welcoming someone in. When I do eventually meet someone I want to be able to give them my full attention because that is what a relationship deserves.

What is you look for in a guy?

Of course I have a ‘type’, but that isn’t the be all and end all.  I avoid any one in the creative industry. I would like to meet someone who does something completely different to me. I think that makes it more interesting.

Is a relationship about sex or is about commitment and companionship?

I think it’s about all three!

Do you believe in monogamy? Do you think gay men – humans actually –  are capable of sticking to one person at a time?

I believe everyone is different and entitled to their own opinion on it.  We are all built differently and I make no judgement on anyone when it comes to this.  I know gay couples and straight couples who are in open relationships and I also know lots of couples who are happily monogamous.

Have you had any destructive relationships?

Absolutely.  My last relationship screwed me over mentally.  I battled entering a relationship with him because I was so head over heels in love with him that I was terrified of getting hurt.  It was literally love at first sight. I entered it so hesitantly and then fully embraced it and experienced an emotional high like never before, then one day without warning it all came crashing down around me and I exited the relationship in such a mess feeling so betrayed. It probably has something to do with the fact that I’m pretty guarded nowadays and throw all my energy at my professional life.

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Yesterday I directed and filmed the first half of my my music video for ‘Proud’ from my upcoming EP. I saw @margo_marshall perform in 2018 and I was blown away. I knew that if I ever did a proper music video for this song I wanted to use Thom/Margo – a dream come true. To film the song’s video in studio 201 at @artsedlondon was incredible. This is the exact room I auditioned in and trained in. Talk about coming full circle. Thank you to @cassicompton & @caoimhegarveyx for featuring in the video – two of my best friends. I was very grateful for both your presence and your talents. Thank you to @philckrstic for capturing everything so beautifully too. I’ve put my heart and soul into this project. Being an artist can be so hard at times, but then it can be so incredibly rewarding. I can’t wait to put it out into the world and I am forever thankful to everyone who came together for me to make it work. 🎬🎥🏳️‍🌈💕

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Do you think we search people out who we think will make us better people? 

If someone makes me feel good about myself and I feel they help me become a better person, then that is definitely a green light.

You’re a handsome guy. Have you always been happy about the day you look? Have you felt a pressure to look a certain way? 

Handsome?  I think I’m an alright-looking guy. I think my personality and ambition has always been my selling point.Of course I have certain insecurities about aspects of my appearance, who doesn’t? The older I get the more content I feel about my ‘imperfections’ and I embrace them.  It’s funny because when I started losing my hair I was devastated, yet I find skin head men really sexy.  I also would like straighter teeth yet I love it when men don’t have perfect teeth. I work out lots because I feel it benefits my mental health, obviously it improves my physique but that’s not why I do it.

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Bored. #selfisolation #quarantine

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Do you think gay men are obsessed with the body beautiful?

Some are, but it’s their body and they can do whatever they want with it.  As long as they are doing it in a healthy way that’s all that matters.

A lot of gay men use instagram as a means to boost their self esteem – do you have a healthy relationship with social media?  

It’s better now than what it was. I was obsessed with social media in the past and it wasn’t good for me.  Obviously it’s a great tool for promoting my work as an independent artist but it definitely has it’s dark side.  I feel with Brexit and Covid, social media became quite the toxic playground and I witnessed a lot of ugliness on there so I took a step back.

You’ve been a musician for years – lots of people want to record music but what made you do actually do it?

I believe my work is good.  It gets a great reaction and I wouldn’t be pursuing this route if I didn’t believe in what I was putting out there.  I’ve put the work in too.  I did three years at London’s top stage school, had a career in Musicals and TV before branching out into song-writing. I know my craft.  Being on stage was always very comfortable for me, but performing my own material on stage has been the best experience so far.

You’ve tried the reality show route? Was that an easy experience to deal with?

I came fourth on Ireland’s Fame the Musical in 2010 for RTE Television.  It was like X Factor but for musical theatre performers. I had to perform live every weekend to two million people.  It was all a bit pointless as it was only shown on TV in the Republic of Ireland and I was only there for the duration of the filming so it’s not like I could have used the profile I gained.  My agent at the time thought it was a good idea I did the series but looking back I’m not so sure it was – although I made two really good friends out of it!

You also tried shows like The X Factor and BGT too, didn’t you?

On Britain’s Got Talent I sang my own song The Grass Is Greener and I got a standing ovation from the entire theatre and from David Walliams and I got three yeses from the judges.  I received a call from a producer a week later saying it wouldn’t be going any further and I wasn’t featured at all on the show.

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My debut studio pop record ‘LIBERTY’ will be released on 8.8.20. Preorder NOW on all major online platforms! Link in my Instagram bio. 💿💕 Thank you to Andrew Dougherty at @sonicvisuals who produced my dream EP. Thank you to my incredible musicians @shredkrueger (guitar) @alexwilliamsmd91 (piano) @criostoir_mcconville_bass (bass), Briege Lavery (tin whistle) and Brendan Monaghan (Bodhran drum) – you really brought my music to another level. Thank you to my visual creative team – Ross at @silverthorne_photography, @jockmooney (graphic design) and @lrcfashionstylist (styling) for helping me create a stunning album cover. Thank you to those in my family, friendship circle and beyond who contributed to the financing of ‘Liberty’. I could not of done it without you and I hope you love it as much as I do. Lots of love. Conleth xx #singer #singersongwriter #songwriter #ep #debutep #record #pop #popmusic #music #musiclovers #art #conlethkane #musicproducer #musiccover #musicartist #popartist #musicindustry #musiclover #graphicdesign #graphicdesigner #photography #style #fashionstyle #fashion #lgbt #lgbtq #lgbtartist #gay #pink #announcement

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What? How come?

In 2018 I got called to do X Factor. They wanted me to bring the London Gay Men’s Chorus to perform with me at Wembley after seeing that I performed with them at Pride in London.  I walked out on stage with them at Wembley and got a standing ovation from the entire arena and from the four judges.

Wow, that’s amazing.

It was. You would have thought I had won the show.  I got four  yeses from the judges and I was about to leave the stage Simon Cowell said he would only put me through if the LGMC came through with me.  I felt my blood boil as the LGMC agreed with producers before they came along that they wanted no part in the show, no feedback good/bad and that it was all about me. Suddenly I’m on stage with 300 gay men and one really angry choir conductor and an audience of 6000 people booing Simon.  I made it clear over the microphone how uncomfortable I was.  We walked off stage and it got quite messy in the wings and that was that.  Talk about going from high to low in a matter of minutes. Funnily enough I wasn’t featured again on TV. I have two Susan Boyle style auditions on the editing room floor of ITV.  Never again.

How long did it take to get a foothold in the industry – did you have to take diversions along the way?

A while.  My previous acting career feels like a dream.  There is a stigma with theatre performers crossing over into music.  I feel I’m so far out of it now that I’m fully established as a credible songwriter.

What do you write about most? 

Writing is my therapy.  There is not one love song on my new EP which I’m really proud of.  Have a listen and you’ll see… 

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2 months ago I was so excited as I was gearing up for the release of my debut EP. To see all my gigs and concerts surrounding the release date get cancelled and pulled was really quite hard, not only from a financial point of view but for the promotion of the record as I worked my socks off to make it the best I could. I must admit, I felt massively deflated and to suddenly be locked up in London during a global pandemic hit my mental health rather hard. I was very lost like I’m sure lots of other people were. When I was approached to re-work my song ‘Proud’ for International Nurses Day I was a little hesitant as the original means so much to me and I didn’t know if I should be touching it. I wanted to do the song justice and I also wanted to do the NHS justice too. My friend @jfletch1 would not miss a show of mine and is a huge supporter of everything I do. As he was the one to approach me and he is the one on the frontline at the moment I absolutely wanted to get involved. This project spurred my creativity once again and I smiled properly for the first time in weeks. Not only was I grateful to be doing what I loved again, but I was also acknowledging the amazing NHS staff whilst doing it and raising some money for charity too. Thank you John for yet again bringing some light into my life. Thank you everyone for making it possible. Thanks to @shredkrueger on guitar, @chewittmusic for producing and @mcedwards for the beautiful artwork. We are going through a moment in history and ‘Proud (of our NHS) is something I’ll look back and be very PROUD of. Thanks to everyone who has supported it over the past few days. Stay safe and well. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone I love dearly very soon. Conleth x 🙏🏼💙🌈 #proud #proudofournhs #nhs #thankyou #rainbow #charity

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As an artist are you looking for financial or critical success? 

Both! I want to be in a position where I can be comfortable, fund my craft and create music to a standard where I can be confident that it’s a state to put out in order to gain critical success.  It’s hard being an independent artist, but I don’t have a line of men in suits peering over my shoulder interrupting my creativity.

is it hard to make money from music in this day and age?

It is, especially when your entire summer of live gigs get cancelled due to Covid.  2020 has been a shitshow.

We loved your Proud video that you released back in May. How did the song go down with folks?

The reaction to the EP and video was overwhelming.  Obviously, I am limited to how much promotion I can give it because I’m unable to promote it in a live capacity but the online reaction on social media and in the media has been pretty amazing. I’ve had major publications speak about the record/video which is pretty incredible for an independent artist who released work during a pandemic. I’m very grateful.  Proud’ is an anthem for self-acceptance.  Directing the music video was a wonderful experience too and I was very honoured to have had the incredible Margo Marshall from Sink the Pink appearing in it too!

As you say this year has been awful. How did you deal with lockdown and the restrictions we have  on us?

It was my worst nightmare. I hated lockdown and I feel the Draconian laws that are going on around the world are so unnecessary.  My sister lives in Melbourne and they have curfews and drones peering over their houses.  It’s madness!  I put my heart and soul into creating this record and to watch my summer of bookings dismantle was heart-breaking – not only from a financial point of view but from a PR angle too. I also fell into a very small bracket of not being eligible for government support.  I think the one-size fits all reaction/approach to Covid was disastrous and we are witnessing a culture catastrophe happening under the Tories watch. The Arts Industry needs more consideration and help during this awful time. 

Are you worried about the future? 

I’m concerned, not so much worried. I’ve got to a point in my life where I realise that worrying will only make me more bald than I already am! This situation is out of my control.  I can only hope and pray that it gets better, for everyone’s sake.  We have the highest death toll in Europe and have taken the worst economic hit in Europe also.  Something has gone very, very wrong.  It would appear that have weak leadership. 

Are you thinking of ways of adapt to the situation?

What I else can I do.  I am not hiding under my bed in hope of a miraculous vaccine to appear.  I know fit and healthy people who are still afraid to get on the tube! The media are responsible for scaring the life out of people and I think it’s really wrong.  We have to learn to live with this and not be scared.  It’s fine to be careful, but I refuse to live in fear.

What would you say to your 12 year old self about the future.

I would tell myself that the future is brighter than it seems.

Conleth’s  Liberty EP is available now.