Irish musician to play free show in gratitude

Sounds of Ire­land: Ray­mond Cole­man will per­form a free con­cert of acous­tic Ir­ish folk mu­sic at The Plough and the Stars in Old City on Nov. 21. BILL ACHUFF / FOR THE TIMES

If Port Rich­mond-based mu­si­cian Ray­mond Cole­man ever penned his auto­bi­o­graphy, he might want to call it The Barber of Tyr­one.

Cole­man, 28, grew up sur­roun­ded by farm­land in the rus­tic vil­lage of Ar­d­boe in Ire­land’s County Tyr­one, but he nev­er worked on a farm. In­stead, he cut men’s hair and, much like the char­ac­ter Figaro in Rossini’s clas­sic op­era The Barber of Seville, he did his fair share of singing, too.

And since im­mig­rat­ing to Amer­ica in 2009, Cole­man’s life has had no short­age of drama or com­edy. He’s also had plenty of Hol­ly­wood end­ings.

On Nov. 21, Cole­man will show his ap­pre­ci­ation for his latest bit of good for­tune by per­form­ing a free con­cert for friends and fans of acous­tic Ir­ish folk mu­sic at The Plough and the Stars in Old City.

Cole­man, a reg­u­lar per­former at The Plough and oth­er Ir­ish bars throughout the city and sub­urbs, feared he’d have to place his ca­reer and his life on hold back on Sept. 12 when someone broke in­to his van and stole his gui­tar and amp­li­fi­ers. Mu­sic isn’t just his hobby; it’s also his pro­fes­sion.

But folks quickly ral­lied be­hind him, along with his wife, Jaclyn; stepson, Tommy, 12; and daugh­ter, Branna, 1. With­in one day of the theft, friends had donated more than $2,500 through a Web fun­draiser that al­lowed Cole­man to re­place his miss­ing gear without skip­ping a gig.

“To be hon­est, I was all emo­tion­al when it was com­ing apart,” Cole­man said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view. “I was de­pressed. Then the next thing I knew, so many people were help­ing, people who didn’t even know me. It was un­be­liev­able. I’m just thank­ful.”

Though still an up-and-com­ing per­former in the loc­al mu­sic cir­cuit, Cole­man is a pol­ished pro with an acous­tic gui­tar in his hands and a mi­cro­phone for his ten­or voice. He first picked up the in­stru­ment at age 14 to take after his older broth­er, Mickey.

“My whole fam­ily’s in mu­sic,” he said. “My older broth­er, I sort of learned gui­tar from him and it took off from there. I’d do two-piece (shows) with him when I was start­ing.”

While still a teen­ager, Cole­man joined with a four-piece band. Then he tried his luck at singing for an Amer­ic­an Idol-style com­pet­i­tion at his school. He chose to cov­er Brit folk-rock­er Dav­id Gray and won the con­test, along with a cash prize and a trophy.

“I beat like 60 oth­ers, its was like the whole school was tak­ing part in this com­pet­i­tion,” he said. “It was packed. A lot of people came from oth­er schools to watch the show. We had a full set and lights and back­drop, all of that.”

After com­plet­ing his school­ing, Cole­man came to real­ize that he would have to leave tiny Ar­d­boe, pop­u­la­tion 2,200, if he was to cul­tiv­ate a broad­er audi­ence. He first vis­ited Amer­ica one sum­mer for a work­ing va­ca­tion.

“I was singing at home, but there was not much work, so I came here,” he said. “I prob­ably star­ted get­ting gigs after the first couple of weeks.”

His visa was good only for two months, however. He then had to re­turn home. In 2009, at age 23, he came here again. His ori­gin­al plan was to stay for three months, but he met Jaclyn in Down­town Philly after about three weeks.

When his three-month visa was about to ex­pire, he faced a ma­jor de­cision: would he re­turn home or move here per­man­ently with his new love. In the end, stay­ing was his only real op­tion. He first settled in Glen­side, then moved in­to the city. Branna was born last year. The couple are leg­ally mar­ried in the U.S., but plan to vis­it Ire­land for a form­al Cath­ol­ic wed­ding and re­cep­tion next year.

Things were go­ing great in his fam­ily and mu­sic­al lives. In ad­di­tion to his weekly gigs at The Plough (at 2nd and Chest­nut streets), he’s per­formed at Mag­gie’s Wa­ter­front Cafe and Paddy Whack’s in the North­east. He was also a fea­tured mu­si­cian in the in­aug­ur­al Phil­adelphia Fleadh in Pennypack Park last sum­mer.

Pal Frank Daly, the lead sing­er of the Philly-based Ir­ish band Jam­is­on, booked Cole­man for the Fleadh. Daly also came to Cole­man’s res­cue after someone broke in­to his van and stole his gear on Sept. 12.

“I was parked in front of my house and I woke up to a banging on the front door at 4:30 in the morn­ing,” Cole­man said. “It was the cops. They asked me, ‘Is that your van?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ They asked me if any­thing was stolen and I said, ‘Yeah, everything.’”

Cole­man was sched­uled to play the fol­low­ing night. He called Daly, who lent him some equip­ment for the show. Daly also set up a free page on the fun­drais­ing web­site Give­For­, where people from across the world can learn about causes and donate to them. The goal was to raise $2,500.

“With­in five hours, $2,500 was raised. People from all over star­ted donat­ing,” Cole­man said. “There were people from Los Angeles, from a found­a­tion. There were an­onym­ous people. There were some people giv­ing $250 dona­tions. I was very grate­ful.

“I got a check and ended up buy­ing some used stuff and I got back on my feet again.”

The Nov. 21 ap­pre­ci­ation con­cert will be spe­cial in many ways. Cole­man’s broth­er, Mickey, who now lives in New York, will come down to play a few songs and re­kindle their old part­ner­ship. Cole­man hopes sev­er­al oth­er per­formers in Philly’s tight-knit com­munity of Ir­ish mu­si­cians will stop by for the jam ses­sion.

“We have a group on Face­book. If I ask for someone to come help out, next thing you know you’ll get 10 people call­ing back,” Cole­man said. “We all know each oth­er. We’re all friendly. All the guys are de­cent fel­las.”

With his ca­reer back on track, Cole­man has be­gun stu­dio re­cord­ing and hopes to pro­duce a CD next year. In the mean­time, he hopes to keep build­ing his fol­low­ing among live audi­ences.

“I play the Ir­ish folk mu­sic and con­tem­por­ary stuff as well,” he said. “I cre­ate whatever people want to hear.” ••

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