A busy year comes to an end for Preston singer-songwriter Mike Dignam, and more of the same is expected in 2014, the rising star tells Jude Dornan
From supporting chart busting boyband Lawson in venues of up to 3,000 screaming fans to summoning gig goers via Twitter to hear him play in parks across the UK, it’s been a busy year for Longton musician Mike Dignam.
But Mike, who Prestonians will remember from his appearances at our Christmas Lights switch-ons and opening up for stars like Peter Andre and Maverick Sabre at 2009’s Rock in the Park, has never been content to just sit at home.
His go getting attitude earlier this year won him the coveted support slot on tour with popsters Lawson who, with five Top Ten singles under their belts, were playing to thousands of fans a night in the kind of venues Mike always dreamed of.
He recalls: “Manchester Academy One, we played two nights there.
“I’ve been to see some of my favourite artists there and I couldn’t believe I was playing there. That feeling, walking out, there were so many people, the atmosphere was insane.
“And because the fans were following the tour, by the time I was coming to the last five or six dates, 20 per cent of the room already knew who I was. So that was really surreal!”
The former New Longton schoolboy always wanted a career in music. Aged 18, he got the first sign it was possible when he won the national Youth Music competition and, as a prize, performed in front of industry heavyweights at the opening event of Music Week 2008.
Boosted by his win, he realised that, if he wanted success, he needed to go out and find it. After independently writing, recording and releasing his debut album, World of Our Own, he moved to London to study music and push his career.
Rather than sit still, he forged his own fanbase, first through MySpace, then other internet outlets.
He reached out to other artists he liked who were becoming internet sensations, including singer Gabrielle Aplin, who hit Number One with her Christmas cover of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love.
Mike even invited her to perform with him at our Christmas Lights switch on. He messaged another internet sensation, singer songwriter Joe Brooks on MySpace to ask to support him and, when Brooks made him his UK tour warm up, Mike says that was when he really began to learn to be a performer.
He says: “I got such a different feeling walking out on stage to a venue full of music fans rather than walking on to full of friends and family that you’ve kinda dragged to your gig.
“When you are playing Birmingham and you don’t know anyone in the room but they are just there to listen to your music, that’s a whole new thing.”
Since then, he has toured with Elliot Minor, Nick Harper, Roachford and Kate McGill and was invited to perform at Scotland’s Rockness festival with Paolo Nutini, The Wombats, Katy B and Lucy Rose.
He forged connections with record companies and has written with top songwriting teams including the Steelworks team, and the X Factor’s Janet Devlin and he also co-wrote Where Were You, the debut single for Britain’s Got Talent finalists, The Mend.
And he also wrote with top songwriting trio, The Invisible Men, who pen tunes for Jessie J, Ellie Goulding,
These days, with three more EPs under his belt, Mike hasn’t stopped. He’s travelled Europe doing street performances and pop up gigs, and written and recorded relentlessly.
Earlier this year, Mike put out his second album, The Great Escape – and, with perfect timing, landed his highest profile tour, with Lawson.
On the first night, he was flattered to learn that the band themselves had chosen him from numerous eager prospects.
He says: “They said they had about 20 acts that the band and their agent, they all sat round and had a listen to and then, out of them, they picked me!
“Once I’d got on the tour, I didn’t speak to any of them until the first day and then I met them all. The lead singer Andy, said, ‘We listened to your stuff and really loved it – and we said that we had to have you on the tour.’ It was good to hear that!”
Playing to so many fans each night, Mike made the most of his exposure. He says: “It was mental. I just couldn’t believe it - 3,000 people a night.
“I would go out at the end of the show and meet all the fans – even though they weren’t fans of mine. But I was the support artist and I’d been on that stage and they want to meet us all!”
He also gave away 30,000 copies of his latest EP – a move which paid off as he carried on his relentless performing, playing a series of HMW instores across the UK, then a DIY tour of the nation’s parks.
He says: “It was literally as simple as I’d put a poster up online saying what city I was going to be in and the park and the time and then they would all follow my Twitter feed and I’d tell them where I was.
“I’d just walk on and it was fans coming out of nowhere, literally out of the trees and bushes and running on to the field where I was. And I’d do the gig and then I’d meet everyone.
“It was one of my favourite tours because it was so free and no stress.
“Manchester was insane, it was like 3 00-400 people. But there was a good few hundred people every city we went to. There’s a video of it on YouTube, a video of the whole tour.”
When he closed the summer with his own album tour, for The Great Escape, it was clear handing out his CDs was working.
He laughs: “They were all singing the songs! It was like I’d been on radio!
“The first proper proper time was Manchester on my Great Escape tour. That was 450 people just singing every single song and that was just crazy. It was quite mind blowing.”
After a restful Christmas back in Leyland with his girlfriend, Mike, who now lives in Southport, will be back to the grindstone in the New Year, setting up a studio in Preston, doing a lot more writing and continuing to work hard to establish himself.
After many years of managing himself, he found a manager last year and feels that this year may be crucial for him.
He says: “I think in the summer, we’ll be doing a load of festivals. I think this year is going to be a really exciting time. It’s make or break really.”