Tom Burlinson is most famous for his lead role in The Man from Snowy River; but it’s his voice that takes centre stage now, as he interprets and performs songs from the Great American Songbook. Louise Beaumont spoke to Tom about his upcoming tour and love of Swing music.
Tom, give us an overview of your career and where you started.
I started out in theatre, but most people (en masse) would know me from the late 1970s, when I starred in a TV show, The Restless Years.
I got my first big break when I was cast in the lead role in The Man from Snowy River in 1981. I was wanting to get into an Australian film; there were good Australian films being made at the time, and I was fortunate enough to be cast in the title role of that film, which went on to be a great success and is probably the single piece of work for which I am still best known.
Soon I found that acting jobs were few and far between, and I decided to write and perform in a show that is of one my greatest enjoyments in life – that is the music of Frank Sinatra. And I found that I could sing very much like Frank Sinatra – and that led to me singing the voice of Sinatra as a young man in the Warner Bros mini series, that was made by Sinatra’s daughter Tina in 1991.
After that, I wrote and starred in my own show about Sinatra, which was called Frank a Life in Song – which we performed in theatres and casinos for years, from 1998 to just last year. So it ran for almost 12 years! That included touring to Toronto in Canada and also Las Vegas.
The musical side of things has always been an enjoyment for me, but it’s really been developed into a career in the last few years or so. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy acting, but singing has been successful.
I have been encouraged to expand the idea, somewhat, of the show about Sinatra into something that incorporates more of Sinatra contemporaries, such as Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jnr, Bobby Darin – and songs made famous by these men.
> Tell us about this tour …
We are travelling round on tour now – with eight musicians.
The arrangements for the songs are based on the originals, so if people know the original versions, no matter who they were done by, they will be somewhat familiar with my renditions.
I give a brief history of vocal Swing and information about those men whom I mentioned before in between the songs. Similar to what I did with Frank a Life in Song, where I would give small stories between the songs … whether it be about the song writer, arranger or what was happening in Frank’s life at the time.
I try to keep it light and entertaining. It’s not meant to be a lecture, but it gives a good background for the audience. So that’s what happens between the songs.
The show is called Now We’re Swinging, which as you can see by the name, is the type of music we focus on.
We have bookings for the show for most of this year. We’ll be touring most capital cities and also further into the regional areas in QLD and NSW.
> You have said that for you, Sinatra was the “greatest of them all”. What is it that you love most about his music?
The thing about Sinatra was that he was a wonderful interpreter of the songs of the great American song book, and there is also a wonderful musicality about the man. He also gave the impression that he had or was experiencing what he was singing about – so he was a master story teller as he sung the song.
All of the men I have mentioned are great on their own, but I do feel that Sinatra was the greatest of them all. For me, I have loved his music for a long time, since I was a very young boy when I first heard him. I loved it then, and I love it now, as I know so much more about the man and can appreciate it a lot more.
The great thing about this show is that I also celebrate the success of some of the more modern singers like Michael Bublé of course – who made this kind of music known to a younger audience.
We also do some Harry Connick and some that Robbie Williams did in his Swing when you’re Winning album as well. So for younger audiences, if they know that music, then they will be familiar with what I do too.
> You have picked many great songs for this tour, but which one is your favourite?
Well, I think there is something very special about a Sinatra favourite. It was written by Cole Porter (who is one of the greatest song writers of the 20th century). There was a fabulous original arrangement, and fabulous words, music and interpretation by Sinatra, and that song is I’ve got you Under my Skin.
> Thank you Tom.
Catch Tom in Now We’re Swinging at C.ex Coffs on March 25. For tickets, ph 6652 3888.