As recently as 2014 Paul Hull was pursuing a solo career as a country music artist.
He’d recorded singles in Nashville, was signed to a management company and had left his home in Lurgan and moved to the west coast of Ireland as lift off beckoned.
Today Paul is part of one of Northern Ireland’s top wedding bands and the fact his solo dream didn’t become a reality doesn’t appear to have dampened his enthusiasm for making music.
Paul said: “You can be the best musician in the world, but you mightn’t be an entertainer. That’s a big part of being in a wedding band.
“You have to have a vast array of tunes. You have to be able to adapt the set, you look around the room and see what vibe people are into. You have to be very engaged with the audience, read the people.
“A lot of the time it’s old and young people so you need a wide range of songs for a wide range of people.
“It’s very satisfying for me as a singer to sing all these different types of songs.
“I’m challenging myself to sing songs that put me out of my comfort zone.
“If you want to be good, if you want to get better, you have to step out of your comfort zone.”
The wedding band that Paul sings with – Infinity – picked up the award for best band in Co Armagh/Tyrone at last weekend’s Northern Ireland Wedding Awards.
“I’m on a wee bit of a high after winning. You go to these things and don’t expect to win. We’re just about the music and doing a good job, but it was good to be recognised.”
Paul, who plays guitar and sings is joined in Infinity by Rory Madden on piano and Stefan Kelly on drums.
He said: “We’re very diverse musicians. You have to be. We’re a new breed of wedding band. We’re trying to change it up a bit.
“I’d moved away for many years and then when I came back about five years ago I was still pushing the solo thing.
“Myself and Rory had both worked professionally, but we saw an opening and said, ‘let’s start a wedding band together’. We’ve never looked back.
“What we’ve been doing for the past four years is building Infinity up.
“We play at a professional level. There’s no corners cut, we rehearse, we learn new material, we really intricately put songs together, work out first dances.”
Asked if being in a wedding band pays well, Paul said: “I can’t disclose that but we do okay. We put a lot of money back into advertising, into making music videos.”
Paul lives in Aghalee where he has his own music studio: “I’m getting into the production of music – for the band, for myself and helping other singers. I’ve got a lot of experience as a singer so hopefully I can help others. I’ve loved being a listener as well as a singer.”
As a producer Paul has put together a number of music videos for Infinity which the band use to showcase their abilities to potential customers, that is, brides and grooms to be.
Not unlike the mainstream music industry wedding bands are trying to stand out from the crowd and land regular headline slots.
Paul said: “The wedding industry is massive. There’s a lot of competition. We have to step it up. We’re always pushing to be better.
“We make music videos so people can see what we do. One of the first songs we recorded was a cover of Ed Sheeran’s Perfect. People wanted to book us for their wedding because of that promotional video.
“It put us on the map a little bit. Ed Sheeran isn’t all bad.
“Perfect has been the most popular songs for a first dance in the last couple of years.”
Discussing first dances, Paul said: “We have a massive repertoire of slow songs, hopefully the bride and groom pick something that we do really well. If not there’s the challenge of preparing a stripped back version of their favourite songs that’s suitable for a first dance.
“That’s the thing about first dances. Sometimes you’re learning a song you’ll only sing once.
“I remember being asked to do a rave song for a first dance. It was Set You Free by N-Trance. I thought, ‘phew, how am I going to do a rave song for a first dance?’ In the end you just have to look at the chord structure, slow it down. We did it with just piano and vocals, it was really pretty. I’ll probably never sing it again so I guess you had to be at that particular wedding.”
He continued: “We’re looking all the time at what’s doing well, what’s popular, what are people reacting to, what kind of groove are people dancing to.
“You can’t beat the old songs like Walk Of Life, Stevie Wonder, classic rock, Bruce Springsteen, ZZ Top. Young and old know that.
“In this part of the world you have country music, both American and Irish, and folk music that goes down well.
“We leave Rock The Boat to the DJ.”
Paul said he was just as comfortable being a wedding singer as he was as a solo artist: “I get to put on a nice suit and stand on a big stage in front of three or four hundred people.
“It is great to be on stage and see all those people dancing, having the time of their lives in front of you.
“You’re making it happen, that’s my job. That’s what we have to do, that’s what we strive to do well.
“For me, what’s the alternative, to try and be a great artist and never make it? I’d rather be in the music business, be working as a musician, to me that’s the most important.
“There’s regular work as a wedding band. We can be looking at 80 to 100 weddings a year.
“As a musician I’ve done all sorts of gigs, sometimes you could be in a room of 10 people and those people could just be loving everything you’re doing. Other times it can be tough. I don’t mind because I love playing music.
“Just because you’re playing a wedding doesn’t guarantee people will be up dancing. You become a good improviser, you need to if people aren’t dancing.”
Paul said to be in a wedding band you had to rethink your priorities: “As a wedding singer you have to be adaptable. I can’t be saying. ‘this is what I like, I don’t care what you like’. It’s not about me, it’s about me trying to do the job well. The same for the other guys in the band.”
He added: “It’s never completely comfortable. There’s always a bit of pressure. Then you’ve got the camera stuck in your face as well. You’re part of the wedding. There’s no room for mistakes.”
Paul said that almost all his weekends were spent on the road with the band.
He said: “Thursday to Sunday you’re out on the road and during the busier months of the year you could be doing a wedding on a Monday night, Tuesday night.
“We do the odd full day wedding. I’ll sing an acoustic set in the afternoon then a big set at night. Those are harder and harde to do. If you’re doing three of those in a row you’re getting no sleep and your show’s going to be affected by that.
“Most of the time we’ll do a two or two and half hour live show and there’s an hour disco from Rory afterwards. We find that we’re there for the whole night. That’s our usual package.
“You play to 1am. You’re getting home at four in the morning a lot of the time depending where you’re playing. We do a lot of gigs in Donegal and Monaghan, Dundalk, Drogheda, down the Athlone, the Midlands area. It’s a few extra hours on the road, but we’ll not rule anywhere out.
“It’s a life we’re well used to. What else would you be doing?”
Reflecting on the change in his musical career Paul said: “As a solo artist who had management and was bringing out singles I just didn’t get lucky, it can come down to who you know and not how good you are.
“I feel like I’m a better singer now, being in a wedding band, working so much and pushing myself so much to be good at what I do has made me better.
“I feel more confident in myself now, people probably respect me a bit differently as a wedding singer. I’m working all the time. I’m very dedicated to what I do. I don’t drink, don’t smoke.
“What’s the alternative? Go and try to be the next Lewis Capaldi. Yes, you can try but the chances are you’ll be doing a gig every other week and have no money.”
He said: “You need to leave your ego in the house, for me it’s just about going out and playing good music. It’s all about that crowd, making their day, making that bride and that groom and their family happy.
“We’ve all been to those weddings were the band have been awful, it’s been a real drag. We striving to not be that band. It’s a wedding. People should be having the night of their lives.”
Asked if he attending any weddings other than those he sings at, he said: “I’ve been at a few family weddings but I’ll be with the band. Infinity will play their wedding, that’s my gift to them.”
He added: “I’ve never married. I’m married to the music. If I ever did I’d have to play my own wedding. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. At the minute I wouldn’t even have the time to get married.”