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From Sir, with love -- his own music

IN CONCERT What: Paul O'Brien and guests Where: Metro Studio Theatre, 1411 Quadra St. When: Tomorrow, 8:30 p.m. (doors 8 p.m.) Tickets: $15, $7.50 (also available in advance; tel.


What: Paul O'Brien and guests

Where: Metro Studio Theatre, 1411 Quadra St.

When: Tomorrow, 8:30 p.m. (doors 8 p.m.)

Tickets: $15, $7.50 (also available in advance; tel. 250-480-0634)

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His old drummer plays with singer James Blunt; his former keyboardist tours with U.K. soul-star Duffy.

And now Victoria singer-songwriter Paul O'Brien is making his own bid for musical success with his new disc, Plastic.

O'Brien has quit his full-time job as a teacher and spent $25,000 to record a self-financed album of autobiographical folk-pop. Tomorrow, he and musical guests play a concert at the Metro Studio marking the release of Plastic.

"In some ways, it's crazy to be doing what I'm doing," O'Brien admitted.

The 42-year-old had no intention of pursuing music in 2004 when he immigrated with his family to Victoria from Birmingham, England.

For 13 years, he was a singer and guitarist in Britain. O'Brien and his band played regularly for a huge population of Irish expatriates living in the London area. Eventually, they tapped into a vein of lucrative corporate events and weddings, paying the group up to $4,500 a gig. His musicians were top-notch -- drummer Karl Brazil now plays with James Blunt; keyboardist Sean Barry has performed with Duffy and Natalie Imbruglia.

Despite fat paycheques, O'Brien, the son of Irish parents, wasn't particularly happy playing a mix of pop and Celtic favourites. He yearned to write and sing his own songs.

Frustrated, he changed careers. He put his education degree to use, taking a teaching job at Birmingham's Archbishop Ilsley Catholic Technology College. It went well -- in fact, O'Brien was eventually in line to become a head teacher. Wanderlust took over, however. He, his wife and their children moved to Victoria, arriving in the middle of a snowstorm.

He took a job as a special-needs teacher at St. Andrew's, a Catholic high school. One day, turning out of his driveway on the way to work, O'Brien happened to look in his rear-view mirror. There was a beautiful sunrise over the waterfront.

"I turned the car around," he said. "I had to go to the beach."

It was a turning point in more ways than one. O'Brien wrote a song about the experience, Sunrise, which appears on his new disc. He views the incident as an example of choosing to follow one's true direction instead of those imposed on us by life.

By 2006, O'Brien had quit his St. Andrew's teaching job to follow a career in music -- this time focusing on his original compositions. His family is supportive. In fact, his wife has gone from being a full-time to part-time nurse, to help O'Brien book dates.

O'Brien is excited about playing his new music on a 20-date solo tour of the U.K. in February. This will be followed by a tour of Germany in August, then another British tour next November.

While he still had musical contacts in England, they were mostly in the Celtic music scene, of little use for a folk-pop singer. He set up his tours by making cold calls to folk-music promoters, then sending along his new CD. British concert bookers had warned O'Brien such efforts would fail, but "I've proven I could get the gigs."

He'd like to tour Canada as well (he has booked British Columbia dates in March) but is daunted by the distances between most Canadian cities.

On Feb. 28, O'Brien will reunite with members of his old band -- including Brazil -- for a homecoming show in Birmingham. The last time they played together was just before he set out for Canada.

But this time the band will be playing O'Brien's music.

"So I'm going to go back and be the new me," he said. "It's kind of like a full circle."

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