Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Jack Pack singer Martin John: why I've started work as a teacher, meeting the woman of my dreams and how I'll really miss my late dad at my wedding next month

The Londonderry man who went from singing in bars and clubs to working all over the world as part of the famous swing band gives a revealing and deeply personal interview to Karen Ireland

Life has changed almost beyond recognition for singer Martin John McCafferty in the last couple of years. He is now travelling the world with foursome swing band Jack Pack and, as he says, "having fun and playing music with his best friends".

The 36-year-old has come along way from his years of working as a salesman during the day and gigging at weekends and nights.

Indeed, looking at him now, it's hard to believe that just four years ago this same man had endured so many knocks and disappointments that he decided to hang up his microphone, quit his job in sales and go back to school to re-train as a teacher.

Talking about that decision to walk away from showbusiness, he says: "At the time I thought I should get a 'real job'. The mounting costs of travelling all over Ireland, the late nights and holding down a day job didn't make economic sense so I decided to re-train and become a primary school teacher, enrolling in Plymouth University."

Martin John freely admits that he fitted well into student life, enjoying two raucous years of beer and rugby before getting the phone call which was to change his life.

"At the time I was at home in Derry having a cup of tea with my mum, Eithne, when I got an email from my now manager Anthony saying he looked after a band called Jack Pack and could I call him immediately.

"I knew a little about the band and heard that they had been on Britain's Got Talent, but I hadn't seen the show so I spent the next few minutes watching YouTube clips and thinking they were amazing, but what could their manager be looking me for?"

Martin John (right) soon found out that he had come under Anthony's radar and he wanted him to audition for a fourth spot that had come up in the band.

"After that everything happened really quickly," he says. "I had to audition with the band and then sing on my own in front of Simon Cowell who was looking after the band at the time."

He pauses, then jokes: "They were looking for someone who looked the part and gelled with the band, so no pressure then! I knew it was now or never for me as people don't get a second chance at my stage so I had to make a good impression."

The rest, he says, is history. After getting a thumbs-up from Simon Cowell, he then moved to London where the next week he signed a record deal along with the three other members.

"I deferred my final year of university as I wanted to keep my options open and I moved to London the following week," he says.

Since then, he admits life has been a whirlwind as he got used to travelling the world and working alongside his new bandmates.

Performances on top TV shows followed, he played for royalty and even had an album which reached number eight in the charts. "Growing up, I was always singing and always around music and it was my dream to have a top 10 album," he says. "When it finally happened it was the best feeling in the world."

While the last couple of years have seen Martin John's career take off, there have been low points as well. The fact he hadn't finished his education continued to gnaw away at him until he resolved to do something about it - and he also had to cope with losing his father.

"It had been niggling at me that I hadn't finished my degree," he reveals. "So, in 2016, with the support of the band, I decided to take up my place again and to try to balance working and being at university.

"I honestly think the travel and being on the road all those years ago and the constant juggling prepared me for what was to come.

"Of course, it was tough going, particularly when I was sitting on an aeroplane with the guys and I'd be working on my dissertation or if I was in a hotel room somewhere trying to read an academic book, but it was so worth it.

"We were in Dubai singing last October when I heard I had I'd been awarded first-class honours. I was over the moon and a bit shocked as I just expected to make it through and not to do so well. It made the hard work and all-nighters worth it."

Later that month Martin John graduated and this summer he has taken up a placement in a school close to where he now lives in London.

"I have been very lucky as the school are aware of my situation and they know there are times when I will have to leave and fulfil Jack Pack commitments," he says.

"They have been very understanding. In September, I have to take up a year-long post-qualification teaching post which you have to do as a newly qualified teacher and again I'm very lucky as the school are completely understanding. The boys are 100% behind me and supporting me too.

"It is something I really want to do. The music could all end tomorrow but at least I will have the teaching to fall back on."

With upcoming gigs booked in Italy, Dubai and across the globe, it is hard to imagine Jack Pack coming to an end any time soon.

Martin John admits his dual career is something of a novelty in the classroom: "The kids in school love that I am in a band and one day recently I played my music video to them which was like something out of a Bond film. They sat there mesmerised and kept looking from me to the screen, and the screen to me, in disbelief.

"I also bring my guitar into the classroom as often as possible and we have singalongs.

"They love it and their wee faces light up so much."

Though he is evidently enjoying teaching, his graduation was a bittersweet moment as his dad Michael had passed away during Christmas 2016.

"He was a fantastic influence on my life," he says. "He was big into music and was still playing gigs around Derry before he took ill even though he was in his 70s.

"I still miss him every day and have to remind myself that he is gone. It has been difficult adjusting to life without him.

"The grief will just hit me in waves. We were recently working with an illustrator who had done a tribute to his dad for Father's Day and I had to leave the room. I couldn't watch it as I was overcome with emotion," adds Martin John, who last year penned a song for his late father.

He adds that he especially misses him at the minute as he has another big date pending on the calendar - his wedding next month.

"I'm getting married on August 15 in Suffolk and all my family are coming over from Derry. It is difficult organising things such as the top table without him but I did tell him the night before he passed away that I planned to pop the question and ask Vicki to marry me."

The lucky lady is Vicki Jackson (34), a creative director who runs her own events company and produces and choreographs shows.

"We met in December 2015 at an event she had booked Jack Pack for," says Martin John. "We got chatting during our soundcheck and I thought she was a lovely, interesting person but we were both seeing other people at the time so that was as far as it went.

"We then made contact over Facebook in February and realised we were both single, but it took until April before we actually got to go out on a date due to both our schedules.

"The first time we met up I knew right away there was something different about this. We just clicked; we had a lot of the same interests and values.

"Family is extremely important to her which means a lot to me. She is an absolutely beautiful person inside and out and I can't wait to make her my wife."

He proposed last year beside the famous Dubai fountain. "I had a lot of help from our booker out there who told me the best place to go, which restaurant to take her to and the spot to get down on one knee. I had asked her parents' permission and got her sister to help me design the ring.

"I had done my homework and was prepared, but I was very nervous.

"Because of what we both do there is a lot of pressure on the big day. People will be expecting great entertainment.

"The guys at Jack Pack have agreed to sing a few songs including our first dance which will be to Forever, a song which was written for the band and which Vicki and I both love.

"Then we are having a band which we saw play at a friend's wedding and both thought was great and then later in the evening there will be a DJ. There will be about 110 guests, we are keeping it relatively small and intimate and most of those will be family and friends from Derry.

"I can't wait to see them as my new schedule, balancing teaching and touring, means I don't get home as often as I would like. I miss home and my family but luckily my mum has a tablet now so she can FaceTime me and keep in touch. She says she has a hard time keeping up with me and will call and say 'What part of the world are you in now?'

"But she is very proud of me and knows I have worked hard to achieve all that I have. I know dad was proud of me too."

Martin John tends to wear his heart on his sleeve and admits that he is prone to feeling homesick, but says: "We are very lucky in that Vicki's family live close by and if I'm feeling homesick I will call in and have a cup of tea with her mum and dad. They welcome me with open arms and treat me as part of the family already so that cheers me up."

Despite his relaxed, cheery persona, he says that his life experiences have taught him not to take anything for granted. "Every time we arrive at a new place I will say to the lads 'Take it in guys and enjoy every second as who knows how long this will last?'"

The line-up of the Jack Pack changed earlier this year with singer Alfie Palmer leaving the band to tour manage Paloma Faith.

Martin John says: "He wants to go behind the sscenes into tour management which we all understood. Into his big shoes has stepped Joe Woodford, who was a finalist in The Voice.

"He is only 23 so he brings the average age of the band down considerably and brings youth and vibrancy to the Pack. We love having him sing with us."

The other two members of the line-up are Andrew Bourn and Sean Ryder Wolf, and one of the band's biggest gigs this year - one which was on his bucket list - will be at London's Royal Albert Hall in October. Amazingly, despite his packed schedule, Martin John has also found time for some other interests including acting - and writing a children's book.

"I'm never idle that's for sure," he smiles.

"I've just done a commercial for a bedding company where I had to scale a mountain. I've also just done some filming for the Discovery Channel where I played a gangster."

However, despite the whirlwind lifestyle, he says he likes nothing better than coming home at the end of the day to his beautiful fiancee and curling up on the sofa with a glass of wine.

"She even has me watching Love Island with her but at least I get to spend time with her," he says. "Vicki is normally very busy with her work and she is very understanding of the job I do but recently the band was in Italy and there were a lot of miss you texts going backwards and forwards.

"We are so excited about the future. After the wedding we plan to work really hard and move up the property ladder with a bigger home."

He adds: "We would really love to start a family as soon as possible and plan to start trying straight away. We both love children and hopefully we will be blessed with a family of our own soon. Not many people get paid to live the dream. I travel the world with my best mates, get to do a job I love and I'm about to spend the rest of my life with the most amazing woman. Life is very good."

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