Wednesday 13 December 2017

Tom Dunne - 'We sat by a field and watched as our tour bus went up in flames'


Tom Dunne
Tom Dunne

Tom Dunne did the unthinkable in the 1980s - he left a steady job as an engineer at Aer Lingus to pursue his music career.

He went from looking after the engines of 747s to touring America with Something Happens, starting a journey which has led him to become one of the most-loved presenters on Irish radio.

"I told my boss I'd signed a contract with Virgin Music and he just looked at me for ages," Dunne says.

"Eventually he said, 'why would Virgin Music need a mechanical engineer?' So I had to bring him up to speed and he was very taken by it.

"I don't think he'd ever experienced anyone from that background going off to do something as different as music," Dunne adds.

The band toured America 14 times in the 1980s and 90s and naturally Dunne has built up a catalogue of incredible stories which he is now turning into a book.

"I got left behind once at a venue in Davis, California," he says.

"It was me and Paul Brewer, who was the guitar technician, and we had gone for pizza while the lads went for a drink.

Something Happens
Something Happens

"He had odd requirements for his pizza so his order took ages and when we went outside the bus was gone.

"Our jackets were on the bus and we'd no money so we went to the local bar because we didn't know what else to do.

"People from the gig were there and a really nice girl offered to drive us around to various petrol stations in case they had stopped for fuel," he says.

"We couldn't find it so we went to a random hotel and the guy took one look at us and assumed we were both booking into a room with her and she looked at him and said, 'I'm not staying'.

"And Paul looked at him and said 'I'm not sleeping with him'.

"So I think we had to use her credit card to book two rooms.

"When I got through to the lads the next day, they had to hire a car and drive 100 miles back to get us," Dunne says, laughing.

One of the more dramatic moments on tour involved watching the band's huge, double decker bus go up in flames on the side of a road in Minnesota.

"We were touring with Warren Zevon and I was asleep in the little bunk and in my dream white smoke started coming into the room," he says.

"In Aer Lingus I had done evacuation training and then I started to cough so I sat up slightly and I saw smoke coming in.

"So I jumped out of my bunk and I went down and told the bus driver to pull over. It was this beautiful sunny day at 6am and we got out and we opened the side of the bus and it just went up in flames.


"So we're all just sitting on the side of this beautiful field, watching the bus go in flames.

"Everything valuable was in a U-Haul at the back so we only lost personal stuff.

"Trucks would stop and throw out their fire extinguishers to us but they didn't put a dent in the fire.

"Warren was even trying to find a way to get back on the bus to get his bag of grey t-shirts and we had to convince him not to.

"Touring is a really unusual way of life but it was a great way to see the world," he adds. "I've a million of those stories."

Dunne later moved to radio, working on Today FM before moving to Newstalk.

The presenter famously lost his morning slot when Pat Kenny moved to Newstalk in 2013 but says he prefers the freedom of his evening show.

"I could sense when I was doing it that the show really needed a strong news and current affairs edge to it and that wasn't my forte," he says.

"So I was happier for someone with more gravitas to take it over because you're interviewing Government ministers and it's easier to do that if you're done it many times before.

"Those politicians are hard to interview and they do need to be pressed and challenged and you need to know your stuff to do that.

"I'm not saying you can't do it but you're aware of the fact that someone could do it much better.

"And Pat was a huge boost for us - it made people sit up and see that Newstalk is a really top- notch station.

"It was great to make that statement," he adds.

Dunne is speaking as an ambassador for a pioneering treatment called Presbia that provides a reading glasses-free alternative for aging eyes, a service available from Optilase.

"I was misreading links on the show and wearing glasses just really annoyed me.

"The procedure was really quick and now I can read my iPad, texts, the newspaper apps on the phone with no problems," he adds.

The 55-year-old is happily married to his wife Audrey McDonald - who runs the Cookbook Café in Dun Laoghaire. They have two daughters, Eva and Skye, and Dunne says his touring days are now behind him.

"I'll never give it up and go back on tour with the band," he adds.


"The road is very destructive for relationships and family.

"I don't know how people in bands maintain any semblance of family life unless you're filthy rich and you can bring them with you.

"I'm too fond of my kids, I couldn't live without seeing them for three days let alone for a few months," he adds.

Friends are also important to Dunne. He was a good pal of the late Herald journalist George Byrne, who died suddenly earlier this year, and said he still misses him every day.

"I'm still very upset about it to be honest." he says.

"He was a very close friend, he was someone I was with all the time. I still want to just ring him up and see what he thinks of an album.

"He was just a very fast person to get to whether an album was good or not," Dunne adds.

"He was a huge part of my life, he came to America with us on some of the tours and he was in the band for an English tour once as well.

"He was always up for divilment, although he got himself into trouble more often than not."

"It was such a shock. I still miss him greatly."

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