First Published September 2018
LORD OF THE TRANCE
That old cliche about a prophet seldom being feted in his home-place still has some miles in it, that’s for sure. And especially when applied to the arts and entertainment. In Ireland, thankfully, what that comes down to a lot of the time is just that people are still seen as being who they always were, even after they’ve achieved levels of success that might see them mobbed elsewhere. And in truth, that’s a good thing. And probably the way it should be. Now, I’m not talking about begrudgery, about trying to put, or keep, someone in ‘their place.’. I’m talking about just accepting and respecting people enough to let them still be themselves, in the place where they became themselves in the first place.
But what’s probably the most common reason for ‘prophets’ of any kind being underestimated where they’re best-known, is simply that people don’t immediately grasp just how great that prophet – or, as it is in this case, that musician – may be. When it comes to the world of trance music, Paul Skelton is literally giving people goosebumps. In fact, if everything goes according to plan, then next month he’ll be giving people Goosebumps – Volume 2, his second album. When Goosebumps – Volume 1 was released last year, it topped the dance charts here and climbed to the dizzy heights of number 2 on the U.K. Dance Albums chart, with only a Ministry of Sound compilation denying Paul his place at the summit. One year on, and Goosebumps – Volume 1 is still making its presence felt on the U.K. chart, just one place outside the Top Ten in late August.
When Paul and I met up for a chat about how his career was taking off, the first thing he revealed was that he was upping sticks (and keys!) and leaving Ireland to set up base in the U.K!
“Yeah, well I’ve been planning this move for a while now. The sort of music I do is massive over in the U.K., the kinda classical-dance scene. Some shows like that can sell-out in an hour, cos’ you have orchestras playing all the classics, so older people like it [laughs]. And even a lot of younger people love it, too. So I’m hitting that market at a really good time.”
Moving onto the subject of Goosebumps 2, would it be the same mix that had worked so well on his first collection, songs he loved plus some new originals of his own?
“Yeah, it’s gonna be half original material, half covers, so six of each. Some people like to hear the covers as well, ya know. There’s gonna be more ‘feel’ to this one, more instruments, even some drums [laughs]. And more synths as well. Piano can get a bit boring if you’re listening to it for too long!”
Those new originals of Pauls that will feature on the album, are they songs that didn’t make the final selection for his debut album, or tracks he’s been working on in the time since Goosebumps first stormed the trance world?
“In the last year I’ve been tryin’ to spend a lot of time writing songs. I don’t do it every day cos’ it’s hard to just go into a room and write songs! But, if you get some inspiration, you can go in and write five or six songs in a night. Basically, I have them all stored on my phone. Some of them I haven’t listened to in about a year. But I’m recording them tomorrow, so I may revisit them tonight! [laughs].”
I’d already used the term on a couple of occasions as we spoke when it dawned on me that even I wouldn’t be sure how to define ‘trance’ if that question was put to me! Just as well I had an expert in front of me to clear things up!
“Trance is a genre of dance music. It has a lot of uplifting builds in it, a lot of strings, synth noises, and usually ranges from 128 to 145 beats-per-minute. I like a lot of classical elements, a lot of those strings, pads, emotional sort of vibes, ya know. I reckon the best year of trance ever was 1999. Like, in Ibiza nowdays, there’s almost no trance, it’s all house or techno. But back in 1999, every nightclub in Ibiza was trance. Techno wouldn’t be as melodic as trance, whereas house is kinda repetitive. It doesn’t slow down or speed up. But trance can start off fast, then have a big massive breakdown, then a big build, then boom! That’s basically what trance is.”
Everything Paul has been doing for the last year, and maybe a little bit longer, started with his version of the tune Children by Robert Miles, which has amassed a views total that’s now in excess of THREE MILLION. I asked Paul how does that feel, when he gets a chance to think about it?
“Actually, a few weeks before that, and this is where it really started, I think, a fella had me booked for his wedding, right. And he wanted Adagio for Strings [to be played] while he was walking up the aisle, and it worked out beautifully. On the day of that wedding then, I was belting out a few tunes like that, and ‘Children’, and the crowd were going mad for it. So after that I went home, did a video of Adagio for Strings, and when I put it up [on Facebook], it got a great response. A week or two after that I did the Robert Miles tribute, ‘Children.’ Then I did the Goosebumps 1 album, with songs I’d been playing for a long time. The three-million views side of it, that’s all crazy. Just crazy. I think it’s been shared, something like 48,000 times, the last time I looked. Then a few weeks ago I did a new video, twenty-five trance classics, and that’s been viewed over a million times now, too. And it’s been shared by the likes of Ministry of Sound, one of the biggest dance labels in the world. So that’s huge exposure worldwide.”
Jumping back in time a little bit, why did Paul decide to record his first Goosebumps album?
“Well it’s music that I love, that’s one reason. But there’s a big demand for it, too. I was getting messages all the time from people telling me I should release an album. So I just decided right, I am going to do it! I picked twelve tracks – two of my own, and the rest covers – and that was it. At the time as well, I was doing a lot of Facebook ‘live’ shows, and getting over 40,000 views each week. There’d be like 5,000 people tuned in, all sending in requests, I couldn’t believe it. But the funny thing was that every second message was, ‘….Goosebumps…!’, as in that’s what people were getting, ya know. So that’s why I named the album Goosebumps. And on those Facebook ‘Live’ shows I had a link for the pre-release, so over 40,000 people were seeing that, which is why it did so well for me in the charts. It went to number 2 in the the U.K. Dance Chart, just behind Pete Tong.”
Given that he’s had such huge – and genuine – success already, I suggested that it must feel at least a little bit strange that such success is not recognised more here in Ireland…
“Yeah, trance is not as well known around here [Ireland] at all. And that’s part of the reason why I’m making the move. It’s massive in the U.K. And a lot of my fans are based in the U.K., so there’s a lot of practical reasons for it.”
Something you’ll see happening regularly on Paul’s ‘live’ Facebook performances are people – from everywhere and anywhere you can imagine – asking Paul if, or when, he’ll be coming to perform in their town, which must be a very special feeling for Paul.
“It feels great! It’s only in the last year that people have started paying to see me. Throughout the years it’s just been pub-shows, where you get your fee at the end of the night. Now, you’re paid before the gig even happens, because people are actually paying to come see you. And it makes you really appreciate that.”
Something else you’ll quickly notice on Paul’s Facebook page is how interactive he is with his fans.
“I am, except for that Robert Miles one, because there’s like 40,000 comments [laughs], I haven’t had time to write to write back to them all yet! [laughs]. Even last week in Newcastle [at a show], there were over one-hundred tickets sold for that, and before the show I was greeting them all coming in, chatting to them, and they all wanted pictures and everything. It was a great experience. It spurs you on for the next thing you do.”
So, all modesty aside, and speaking in terms of simple facts, it’s pretty true to say that Paul is fast becoming a bit of a famous ‘name’ in the trance world?
“Well, in the world of trance, yeah, definitely. I’m movin’ up in that world. I’ve done a few big shows, like Gatecrasher, that’s one of the biggest trance brands in the world. They sell-out every show they do. You’re talkin’ about three, four thousand people. And what they’re doin’ now is Gatecrasher classical, which is basically like a one-hundred piece orchestra playing old trance tunes. People who are probably too old now t go to clubs – in their forties or fifties, or whatever – they all come and love it.”
Not long before we met, Paul had shared a graphic on his Facebook page which gave the breakdown of where his followers are based around the world. That graphic included countries like the U.K., but perhaps somewhat less obviously, Australia, Indonesia, India, and even Mexico!
“Trance is huge down in Mexico, believe it or not. And in Argentina and Brazil. But I think it’s 31,000 of my followers that are U.K. based. Well you can see where all of your fans are from, so you can plan shows around that. Like with Newcastle last weekend, I think I have 1,000 followers around there, and there you go, we ended up with over 100 people at the show on my first time there. So I’ve done Newcastle, Birmingham Glasgow, Liverpool, London. I’m back in Liverpool later this year, and down in Wales, too. I’m even doin’ trance weddings now as well. People are booking me to play trance at the meal. It’s something different!”
One of the most pivotal moments in Paul’s rocketing career trajectory in the last twelve months came when he signed with Next Gen Artists.
“I think it’s very important to have an agent these days. If you go to do a gig it needs to be under contract, just to be sure you get paid, no matter what. So that there’s no having to go chasing after money at the end of a gig! Nothing worse. And most musicians have been there. My agent, Micky Crilly, he owns Next Gen Artists, and they’ve got a lot of big D.Js worldwide. I think there’s eight of us signed at the moment. And these are the lads who are playing the biggest trance festivals in the world. They’re the heavyweights. So how I hooked up with them was I was playing in Milton Keyes last year, and at that time I had no agent. I was doing it all myself. So a few people had been onto me saying they were coming to the show. These two guys in particular were trying to sign me. Then Micky got in touch to say he’d be there, too. I got talkin’ to both parties anyway, and decided to go with Micky Crilly’s offer in the end and what a great decision its proven to be”.
If you’ve tuned into Paul’s Facebook ‘live’ performances of late (August/September 2018), you’ll have seen him playing both a grand piano AND a keyboard at the same time. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll have been wondering one thing…how?!
“Yeah, it’s difficult, alright. See, I had been doin’ a lot of shows with just the white grand piano. But some people might get bored with just hearing the piano all the time. So I said I’d make it a bit different by adding strings and pads, and as a result, a lot more people are tuning in.”
Is Paul breaking out the grand piano and keyboard move to impress at his actual shows?
“Well for my ‘live’ shows I have a different piano altogether. I have a red Nord piano. I bought it there two years ago, for like thirty euro! I took the whole inside out of it, and painted it red. It comes apart in like ten different pieces now, and the red keyboard fits into it. So that’s what I actually use now for the gigs. So I have that piano, and then synths on top. That piano, the red Nord, is actually already in the U.K, in my new house, ready to be taken around. People can’t believe that it fits in the car. Sometimes I don’t tell them that it comes in them different pieces, I tell them it’s all about the angle you put it in! [laughs].”
So what does 2019 look like having in store for Paul?
“Well the gig enquiries are flyin’ in. so next year is goin’ to be super busy, I know that much anyway. And I’m planning a BIG show in Tullamore – a hometown gig for me – in Hugh Lynch’s on December 29th. I’m bringing over a few lads from the U.K. for it. And a few lads from Tullamore are going to play support, too.”
Looking back on what’s been a year or so with so many real contenders for the honour of being the standout moment, what has been Paul’s favourite memory of them all?
“There’s times I’d be sitting in the house watching TV, and I’d decie I’d go and do a ‘live’ show [on Facebook]. All I have to do is walk into the piano, set up my camera, and go ‘live.’ And that ends up being shown all around the world, in so many different countries, with comments coming in every second. I always kind of plan to do about an hour, but sometimes I end playing for three hours, and it only feels like half an hour. And that’s because I enjoy it so much. That’s a brilliant feeling. ”