Teenage kicks: Co Down 14-year-old Conor Marcus has sights on a musical future
Co Down teenager Conor Marcus wowed the judges on The Voice Kids and is the youngest ever songwriter to win a place on the Scratch My Progress talent programme in Belfast. Jenny Lee chats to him about the inspiration behind his latest single and his hopes for the future
A 14-year-old Co Down boy is continuing to make strides towards a career in the music industry with the his latest single Looking Down On Me.
Conor Marcus's song is inspired by the death by suicide of his best friend Ethan's dad and demonstrates a maturity beyond his years.
In June Conor sampled a taste of fame when he made it to the semi-final of The Voice Kids on ITV and later that summer became the youngest ever participant in the Scratch My Progress Talent Development Programme at the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast.
Conor, from Loughinisland, began learning piano at the age of four. By nine he had written his first song and then went on to teach himself how to play the guitar to accompany his songs.
"It was the cringiest song ever," he recalls of his first effort. "It was about the summer time and how good it was to be off school – the kind of things young kids would be into."
'Gringy' or not, though, that debut piece proved sufficient for him to catch the bug.
"After I wrote that song I completely fell in love with songwriting," he admits.
Conor went on to win the Forestside/Cool FM Young Singer/Songwriter of the year competition in 2017 and has since played many festivals and events, supporting acts including Derry band Lavengro and Belfast singer-songwriter Anthony Toner.
But it was a school friend at Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle who handed him the application form for The Voice Kids and encouraged him to enter the television competition. From thousands of applicants he was selected to appear in the televised blind auditions to perform in front of judges Will.I.Am, Jessie J, Pixie Lott and Danny Jones.
Conor was the first contestant to perform their own original song, singing That Girl I Met, a song he wrote after a girl he took a liking to at a summer camp when he was 12 kissed another boy right in front of him and broke his heart.
McFly singer Danny Jones 'turned around' for him and went on to mentor him through the battle and semifinal stages.
"Danny is incredible. He's so down to earth and was really helpful. I still talk to him every now and again on the phone," says Conor who hasn't let the experience of fame and screaming fans go to his head.
"The Voice Kids was an insane opportunity to perform in front of millions of viewers, but it's what Mum and me call 'the slice'. It's what you do after that slice that is important."
And how Conor reacted was to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Gemma Bradley and Kitt Philippa in earning himself a prestigious place on the Scratch My Progress career development accelerator programme, designed to help new musicians break through in the music industry.
Now in its eighth year, the programme offers mentoring advice, signposting and support from industry professionals, as well as workshops, studio time, showcasing gigs and vocal coaching.
"It was only after I sent away the application and demo of my music that I found out it was an over-16s programme. To our surprise they sent us an email saying, even though you are not 16 you have been shortlisted for an interview," Conor recalls.
"Before me, the youngest person selected on the programme was 19. It's such a credible programme and I've learned so much already about working in the music industry, and been given some great advice, particularly around being confident in performing my own songs in public."
With the help of the programme, this month Conor released his latest single, Looking Down On Me.
"The song is about my best friend Ethan whose dad died by suicide. When I'm writing songs I put myself in the perspective of other real people. In this case it was Ethan, who I've been there for through his grief."
Conor is a fan of all genres of music, from Elvis to Ed Sheeran, but is particularly inspired by musicians from Northern Ireland including Ryan McMullan and Foy Vance.
Conor is in year 11 and has just started his GCSEs which, of course, include music. So what are his plans after school?
"I'm just going to see where life takes me. Music is what I want to do with my life and I want to try my best to keep doing that."
This festive period Conor will be performing on various dates in Lisburn Square and supporting Brian Kennedy at Ballygally Castle Hotel on December 19.
:: Looking Down On Me is now available on all major platforms. You can follow Conor's progress at Conormarcusmusic.com