Irish Tours

Female voices celebrate Irish spirit

Tara McNeill, Susan McFadden, Mairéad Carlin and Éabha McMahon are Celtic Woman

Tara McNeill, Susan McFadden, Mairéad Carlin and Éabha McMahon are Celtic Woman

CELTIC Woman’s Éabha McMahon says the quartet “can’t wait” to bring their Voices of Angels tour to Australia. Celtic Woman are known for combining Irish music and storytelling with modern elements that make for a huge spectacle that aims to keep Irish traditions and stories alive.

And the joy for McMahon and the other three members is in the stories they hear back from the audience. “It makes the show for me anyway and I think we all say that. “We go all around the world and we meet people with different stories and the beautiful thing about Celtic Woman is it keeps the people connected, it keeps the conversation going.

“People can come for a night and talk about Ireland. It’s a brilliant way to bring people together and keep the Irish traditions going.

“I find that’s what gives me the go to do a really brilliant show and to really tell the story because a lot of songs we do would be about emigration and heritage and they don’t need to live in Ireland to be Irish.

“Even the people that aren’t Irish, it gives them a sense of Irish music but we’re meeting people everywhere we go. That means a lot to us.” Founded in 2004, the group’s line up has changed over the years but their popularity has endured. They have now sold ten million records and last year they were nominated for the Best World Music Grammy Award.

The last time the group came to Australia, McMahon was a new addition after just joining in 2015. However, she would have been hugely supportive of the band since long before that.

 A native Irish speaker from Dublin, she remembers: “I was really young at the time and I remember saying to my mum, ‘they’re singing in Irish’ because nobody did that, nobody was bringing the Irish language onto the world stage at the time that I knew of. They were making it really accessible, the girls were singing it in a way that you could sing along and learn it.

“From then on, I remember thinking, ‘I really admire Celtic Woman’ and, ‘God, if only I could ever sing with them’. Then I went on to do other things, I didn’t even know if I was going to be a singer.”

The other things include gaining a Human Rights degree and working in Vietnam with the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, the organisation set up by the Dubliner to protect marginalised, vulnerable children.

“I wasn’t even singing and then something happened in my life where I went: ‘Look, I’m gonna take a year and I’m gonna give singing and writing a go’ and then Celtic Woman came into my life and it really did feel quite serendipitous.

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“I think it’s our duty really as young Irish people to keep the language going and it’s one of those things: If you don’t use it, you lose it. I always felt very strongly about that. “I grew up singing in sean nós and Celtic Woman now sing a sean nós piece and every night I do it, I get shivers in my arms and I feel so proud that nobody else in the world is doing that right now. “It is our duty as Irish people to give a nod to the Irish tradition, the Irish language in its most pure form.” Joining McMahon in the line-up are classical singer Mairéad Carlin, Susan McFadden - who has a musical theatre background and violinist - and harpist and soprano Tara McNeill.

“It’s quite an unusual line up in the sense that you would never normally put those four genres together but something happens when we come together. Every night, I’m like, ‘this is incredible’. it’s an epic kind of sound. “I’m so proud to be part of it and I’m really excited because it really is a brilliant show. There’s a real mix of everything, there’s something for everyone. It doesn’t matter what age you are, where you’re from, there’s something for everyone in the audience. There’s happy moments, sad moments, there’s the epic moments, then there’s the moments where we bring it right back to just voice and fiddle,” she added.

McMahon said she would love to add a Cranberries song to the set as a way of honouring the late Dolores O’Riordan, who died last month at the age of 46. “I would love to do one of her songs, she was such a legend. For me, Dolores was one of those singers who made me believe I could actually be a singer because in a world of pop where things are over saturated...Dolores broke all those barriers.

“I was always told I had quite a low voice for a girl and I couldn’t sing any pop songs but I could sing The Cranberries. She was one of my idols. I feel so sad that she’s gone now. She’s an Irish hero. Her memory will last. I would love to do some kind of tribute to her. It’s not in the show at the moment but who knows?”

Celtic Woman play Brisbane Convention Centre on February 7, ICC Sydney Theatre on February 9, Newcastle’s Civic Theatre on February 11, Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena on February 12, Adelaide’s AEC Theatre on February 13 and Perth’s Riverside Theatre on February 16. For information, go to www.celticwoman.com

Long, long way from Clair to here

Gilbert O'Sullivan was born in Waterford and emigrated to England with his family at the age of seven.

Gilbert O'Sullivan was born in Waterford and emigrated to England with his family at the age of seven.

ONE of the biggest-selling artists of the 1970s, Gilbert O’Sullivan is celebrating half a century in music and marking it with his first national Australian tour. Although he has toured here previously before, it has just been single shows and a stripped back performance.

“I’m very much looking forward to it because it gives me the opportunity to bring the full band.” Well-known for hits like Alone Again (Naturally), Clair and Get Down, the Waterford-born performer was even the biggest selling solo performer on the planet for a time.

When asked what it is like to reflect on half a century in the business, he said he tries not to live in the past. “I’m not that nostalgic in many ways. The first record came out in 1967 so I’m still at it. I still love the art of songwriting. It’s the songwriting that just keeps me onboard and I just love it so I haven’t lost any interest in that.

“Technology is fantastic, I have a purpose-built recording studio with all the digital pro tools and everything in it but to write songs, nothing has changed from when I was 15 years of age. Sitting down at a piano, tinkling out little tunes. So the process for me hasn’t changed,” he said. “The wonderful thing is after all those years, it’s still the same so I’m still that 21-year-old sitting in a room for five days a week, eight hours a day trying to come up with a tune and eventually sitting down with an empty notebook and trying to write lyrics.

“It puts the last 50 years into perspective for me. I don’t feel like it’s a long, long time. I feel like it’s kind of same thing for me as it was back then.” Of course, a lot has changed in the music industry since O’Sullivan, now 71, first charted. Twenty years ago, he was embroiled in a landmark legal case against rapper Biz Markie. The hip-hop star sampled Alone Again (Naturally), a song about suicide and bereavement, for a comic scenario.

The rapper refused to withdraw the track despite having no permission from O’Sullivan, who won 100 per cent of the royalties in a case that set a copyright precedent.

1970s popstar gilbert O'Sullivan returns to Australia in March.

1970s popstar gilbert O'Sullivan returns to Australia in March.

Alone Again (Naturally) topped both UK and US charts in 1972, earning its writer three Grammy nominations. Rather than dining out on popular tracks like this, Gilbert has always continued to write and record, aiming to be fresh and current.

“I don’t know how many records I’ve made, but what I enjoy most is writing the songs, enough songs to make an album and then working with a producer or an engineer and finishing the record. That’s something I can control and deal with, outside of that it’s up to the public, it’s record companies.

“It’s a) are they going to release it? and b) are they going to like it? That’s fine, that’s the business. I’m very happy in the position that I’m in now, able to record the songs that I write and get them released of course.”

After spending the early part of his life in Waterford, Gilbert’s family moved to England so his father could find work, settling in Swindon. He has never lost his Irishness although he was only seven when the family moved. “My roots are Irish of course, my musical background is pretty much growing up in England, in Swindon and Wiltshire, that’s the background to all my songwriting.

“You never lose your roots. I have lots of relatives and family in Ireland. I always went back. I used to take a boat from Fishguard to Rosslare. So I had good memories of growing up and of course the first concert we ever did was in Dublin in The Stadium, a very famous venue, so the concerts are always very special. I’m very proud of my roots, very proud of my Irish background.”

Gilbert O’Sullivan tours Australia from March 10 to 27

Flame still Burns for Belfast rockers

Stiff Little Fingers return to Australia the month.

Stiff Little Fingers return to Australia the month.

DON’T fear the mosh pit if you’re going to one of Stiff Little Fingers’ 40th anniversary gigs around Australia later this month.

The Belfast punks’ music hasn’t mellowed much over the years – but their fans obviously have. “Our audiences tend to be very supportive, not just of us, but of each other,” said frontman Jake Burns on the phone from his home in Chicago. “We get mosh pits at most shows and when you see people fall over, generally they stop straight away and help them up and check if they’re okay. Then they go right back to it again.” The set list will, of course, include SLF anthems like Alternative Ulster, Suspect Device, Barbed Wire Love and Wasted Life - songs written at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles.

“The ones we refer to as ‘we’ve got to play or they’ll lynch us’ ”, said Burns. “I’ll try to keep my onstage rambling to a minimum so we can cram as many songs in as possible.” So much has changed since SLF played its first gig at Paddy Lamb’s bar in East Belfast back in 1977.

In those days, tight security measures shut down the city centre after 7pm, and there was very little live entertainment as bands were too afraid to play there. The young punks were bored and disillusioned. “We thought the only way to have music played live was to do it ourselves.” Burns reflected. No one ever dreamed they’d still be doing it 40 years later – least of all their parents.

Burns remembers how unhappy his dad was when he ditched his clerical job to go off touring with SLF in his late teens. “As far as he was concerned I was giving up a steady job to go gallivanting with my pals, which was pretty true.” “In one of those strange quirks of fate that (the firm) later went bust and shut down…yet I’m still doing this.“ Now living in Chicago, he marvels at the changes to his hometown since the peace process. Belfast city centre re teems with bars and restaurants.

“It was very much like a ghost town for the longest time…. Now people go there for hen nights and bachelor nights and stuff,” he said. “It is very much a party destination.”

Speaking of parties, Burns will celebrate his 60th birthday during the Australian tour. At an age when some people are thinking of retirement, he loves his job more than ever.

And creative inspiration hasn’t dried up either. Living in America under President Donald Trump has made sure of that. “I lived through the whole Thatcher years in Britain and I thought that was the epitome of greed as a personal creed,” he says. “I didn’t think that people could get more greedy or self-absorbed or less caring about their fellow man. Yet here we are in the era of Trump and if anything it is a million times worse… “If I was a quieter sort of person it would break my heart.

Being the person I am it makes me bloody angry.”

Stiff Little Fingers will kick off their Australian tour at the Rosemount Hotel in Perth on Feb 19. They will also perform in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. For details, visit www. metropolistouring.com