Irish Tours

Talented tenor trio poised for national tour

The Celtic Tenors, from left Matthew Gilsenan, from Meath, Daryl Simpson, from Omagh and James Nelson, from Sligo.

The Celtic Tenors, from left Matthew Gilsenan, from Meath, Daryl Simpson, from Omagh and James Nelson, from Sligo.

A little more than a year after their first extensive tour of Australia The Celtic Tenors are headed back down under.

The Celtic Tenors are one of Ireland’s most popular classical crossover acts. They have been performing together for almost two decades and have sold more than a million albums worldwide.

Australia is relatively new territory for the trio, although they have toured here with Celtic Woman. They are well established in the US and Canada.

“We’re a little bit late to the party [in Australia],” Matthew Gilsenan tells The Irish Echo. “We’ve been together as a group for 20 years but last year was the first time we did anything meaningful in Australia. We love it.

“There’s so many Irish, half the country lives in Australia at the moment. We can’t wait to get back.

Gilsenan acknowledges that the genre is crowded but points to the longevity of their success as validation of their appeal.

“There’s lots and lots of tenor groups out there and we’ve been around longer than any of them but we’ve kept the head down and kept it small. We didn’t have the resources to go as far as Australia early on.

“The fact that we managed to survive this long and still be productive is great. We’ve just finished our ninth studio album.”

The Celtic Tenors combine classical with pop and perform Irish classics but, as Gilsenan explains, the combination is unique.

“It’s not quite what it says on the tin. We’re called the Celtic Tenors but about 10 years in we said, ‘We should have called ourselves something else’. We don’t do too much of the tenoring. Yes, we do Nessun Dorma and we do the big belter operatic things but only a bit. We’re very proud of our great Irish songwriters, from Declan O’Rourke to Phil Coulter, to Kodaline and the Script. A good song is a good song and that’s what we come to sing.”

On this tour they will perform The Irish Songbook that will include Song For Ireland, Danny Boy, You Raise Me Up and more favourites.

This is also very much the flavour of their forthcoming album: “It’s kind of the album we should have made the very first time out with songs like I’ll Tell Me Ma, Carrickfergus, The Parting Glass and The Rocky Road to Dublin. Many of these songs we’ve kind of avoided because everyone has done them and if we were going to be giving them a go at all, we would want to get fairly good at what we’re doing.

“I think 20 years in we’re beginning to feel almost like it’s a coming of age and have enough maturity to make musical calls.”

The Celtic Tenoes have performed for everyone from Bill Clinton to Bono.

The Celtic Tenoes have performed for everyone from Bill Clinton to Bono.

Gilsenan, from Meath, and James Nelson, from Sligo, have been members of The Celtic Tenors since the start. The third member, Daryl Simpson, from Omagh, replaced Niall Morris in 2006.

The Meathman believes the fact that they are not locked into one setlist keeps it interesting for them as performers and entertaining for their audiences.

“Because we haven’t written our own music so much, we tend to cycle through songs that we think are great songs. And the ones that are truly great songs are the ones that feel like we’re doing them for the first time every night and we still enjoy them,” he says.

“It’s a huge plus for us as performers. If you’re performing something that you’re sick of doing it’s going to come across. We never do anything we don’t like. That’s what surprises: the content of the show, the craic that we have. It’s a non-scripted show. We’re kind of ordinary fellas.

“We’re not overly classical, we’re not overly Irishy, it’s just a good night of quality music. We don’t take ourselves seriously at all.”

Playing to expat audiences is always rewarding, Gilsenan says, and the degrees of separation with home are always few in number.

“An old man came to one of our shows a few years back,” he recalls.

“He said, ‘I noticed your name was Gilsenan. Did you ever hear of a man called Matt Gilsenan from Meath, the football player? That’s why I came, I recognised your name’. My grandfather was Matt Gilsenan. He was the captain of the Leinster football team in 1939 and they won the Railway Cup. He said, ‘I played with your grandfather in 1942’. And I said, ‘My God, that’s amazing’. He said, ‘Well, I left in 1945 and I never came home’.

“He wrote a little note to my grandfather who was the absolute definition of a hard man. But he was really, really gobsmacked when he got this. It’s quite emotional the stories that you come across, it’s unreal.”

What does Gilsenan consider the best compliment the group has been paid in 20 years?

“I remember we sang for Bill Clinton at an event in Dublin Castle. It was marking the fact that the Good Friday Agreement seemed to have stuck, so we were singing for Bill Clinton; Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach at the time, so he was there. Bono and Bob Geldof were there; President [Mary] Robinson and all these people.

“Three days later, we get a phone call from Bono’s office to ask if we would sing at a private birthday party for him so he obviously thought our version of Danny Boy was good enough. He asked us to sing five or six songs as a birthday gift for [the late Secretary General of the United Nations] Kofi Annan’s wife. He was a lovely man and his wife was even nicer.”

Part of the fun of performing is to reconnect with audiences and, Gilsenan says the trio treat their fans as friends.

“Young pop groups have fans; we tend to treat them more like friends. We don’t separate ourselves too much. At the end of a show, we’re there signing CDs, shaking hands and saying hi and you end up knowing so many of them.”

The Celtic Tenors return to Australia in May and June for a national tour. For more information, go to www.celtic-tenors.com

Dublin singer eager for Aussie return

Gavin James has built a following from Belfast to Brazil.

Gavin James has built a following from Belfast to Brazil.

“Can’t wait,” Gavin James replies when he’s asked if he is looking forward to his Australian tour in March.

It will only be the second time he has played these shores.

“Should be great craic. It’s a really quick trip but I’d love to go over there next time and spend about a week and hang out a little bit. Still should be great craic though.”

It was in 2016 that the Dubliner played his first Australian shows.

“It was great. The Australian crowds are class. They were singing all the words, a lovely crowd to sing to. I’m excited to see what it’s like this time now that it’s on a bigger scale. We’re bringing the band over as well, so it should be good.”

In addition to his supporting band, James will also bring his new album, Only Ticket Home, which was released late last year and went straight to number two in the Irish charts.

The album features the the triumphant love song Glow, which is accompanied by a feelgood video where the singer walks through the cobbled streets of Temple Bar singing and being joined by all the hen parties, buskers, visitors and mime artists of Dublin’s famous tourist trap.

“We did it in Temple Bar because I played there for years before I got a deal. When I left school, I went straight into Temple Bar and did gigs, 15 gigs a week, but it helped me learn how to sing, write songs and play so I thought I would do a video in Temple Bar and get everybody involved.

“We were lucky with the weather. I remember somebody was saying, ‘We should go to Portugal or something’. I was like, ‘We have to do it in Ireland’.”

From Temple Bar, the then 21-year-old would go onto sign a record deal. His debut album Bitter Pill was released in 2016 and reached number five in Ireland.

James once said that every gig he does is like a party that he is never quite sure anyone is going to show up for. Even now, does he still get that feeling?

“Definitely. It always comes back. I put my first show on in Brazil last year. I was like, ‘Is anyone actually going to come to this show in Brazil? I’m just some lad from Dublin that has one song on the radio over here’.

“I didn’t expect anybody to show up because you never know. The Irish crowds have always been amazing and very welcoming but then you go to a new market, you never know.

“You’re always unsure no matter how much you get played on the radio or how much streaming there is, it all depends on whether it connects with people or not. I think it’s always just a shot in the dark no matter where you play really and if it goes well, book the next tour immediately.”

Just so you know, people did show up to his Brazilian shows and he is booked to go back to play a venue as big as Dublin’s Olympia in Sao Paulo:

“It’s mad that it’s so far away and the music still reaches; it’s deadly.”

Gavin James returns to Australia in March for a whistle-stop tour.

Gavin James returns to Australia in March for a whistle-stop tour.

The Brazilian connection came about after his music featured on Brazilian soap opera Pega Pega and, when he visited the country, he did a cameo performance.

So, how was his South American soap opera debut? “It was gas. The director wanted me to speak in Portuguese but my accent was terrible. There was a girl and her boyfriend, I think they were making up or something. I ended up doing a couple of takes saying it in Portuguese and eventually they took me saying, ‘Howaya, Luisa. This song is for you’. It wasn’t even, ‘Hey, Luisa’. It was, ‘Howaya, Luisa’. It was very funny.”

His music has also featured on the popular Aussie soap Home And Away but he says he’s not sure about seeking a role in Summer Bay.

“I’ll head down to the set and see what happens. They’re always playing the tunes. I always get a text off my ma every time saying, ‘you’re on Home And Away again’.”

The now 27-year-old is also huge in Holland, Singapore and the Phillipines to name just a few faraway places his music has reached.

One memorable recent gig for James involved playing a set at Conor McGregor’s sister’s wedding. How did he come to perform at the family gathering of another very famous Dubliner?

“She was a big fan so his publicist gave me a shout and asked if I was around and the wedding was half an hour from my gaff so I went down, played Nervous, played a couple of tunes at the wedding. I didn’t even meet him. I just ran in, did the wedding and then had to make it back to the airport to get back to London.”

Gavin James plays The Foundry in Brisbane on Thursday 21 March; The Prince Bandroom in Melbourne on Friday 22 March; Manning Bar in Sydney on Saturday 23 March and Badlands in Perth on Sunday 24 March.

Get set for tsunami of Irish music

Luka Bloom returns to Australia after a four-year absence.

Luka Bloom returns to Australia after a four-year absence.

Fans of Irish music might need to brace for a ticket-buying frenzy as a virtual invasion of artists prepare to travel Down Under over coming months

The East Coast Blues and Roots Festival in Byron Bay over Easter has a distinct Irish accent next year with Hozier and Imelda May both headlining.

Hozier is now a genuine superstar who has built up a massive following around the world since his breakthrough hit Take Me To Church in 2013.

Damien Rice makes a welcome return to Australia.

Damien Rice makes a welcome return to Australia.

Dubliner Imelda May looks very different to when she first toured Australia in 2011. Now, having abandoned her rockabilly look and sound, she has established herself as a brilliant soul and jazz singer.

Also on the bill at Byron Bay are Canadian based Irish singer Irish Mythen, honorary Irishman David Gray and Irish-American Celtic funk band Flogging Molly.

Ahead of that, in February, the uber-talented Damien Rice returns for his first Aussie tour in a decade.

Playing intimate venues like the City Recital Hall in Sydney Rice is slated to “take audiences on a familiar yet unique musical journey – presenting much-loved classics, with the tease of new music on the horizon”.

In March, Gavin James returns after a very successful tour in 2016.

The Port Fairy Folk Festival and Blue Mountains Folk Festival also boast some awesome Irish talent with Luka Bloom returning to Australia for his first tour in five years. Also performing at those festivals in the remarkable Wallis Bird. Born left-handed, she lost the four fingers and thumb of her left hand in a lawnmower accident and had four sewn back on. She got used to playing a right-handed guitar upside-down, which explains her unconventional style.

Hozier plays the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival.

Hozier plays the East Coast Blues and Roots Festival.

Also hitting the festival circuit will be Daoiri Farrell. The former electrician, who decided to become a musician after seeing Christy Moore perform, has been described by some of the biggest names in Irish folk music as one of most important singers to come out of Ireland in recent years.

Sharon Shannon also returns to Australia in February for a shows in Perth, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. Also in Australia that month will be crooner Daniel O’Donnell.

Dublin’s Kodaline also return to Oz for the first time since their sold-out 2014 tour. The indie pop quartet have gigs lined up in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth after a St Patrick’s Day show in Melbourne.

Fans of Irish pop can look forward to a reformed Boyzone touring in March and April. Before that, Irish girl group B*Witched will arrive for shows from the end of January.

Celtic Tenors also arrive in May for a national tour.

Electro-folk duo on first Australian tour

Saint Sister have won praise in Ireland for their ‘atmosfolk’ sound.

Saint Sister have won praise in Ireland for their ‘atmosfolk’ sound.

The Irish Times says, “their haunting performance is impeccable”, while Hot Press laud their “tremendous vocal depth and vulnerability”. 

They once sang with world conquering Hozier at Trinity College and now, Irish electro-folk duo Saint Sister are headed to Australia for their first tour which will include Sydney Irish Festival and Mullum Music Festival. 

Described as a mix of early harp traditional, folk and electronic pop or simply ‘atmosfolk’, Saint Sister is made up of Gemma Doherty and Morgan MacIntyre, who first came together in 2014. Their first trip down under comes immediately after the October release of their debut album, Shape of Silence, produced by Alex Ryan (Hozier’s bassist). 

“I’ve always wanted to come and see Australia and we definitely weren’t expecting to be able to go this soon,” Doherty tells The Irish Echo.

MacIntyre adds: “It’s a dream come true to be able to get to go to Australia at this stage. We’re really looking forward to it.”

The band will join big names like Damien Dempsey, Mary Black and Lunasa for the Sydney Irish Festival that takes place over the weekend of 10-11 November and also includes a hurling match between Kilkenny and Galway. 

Gemma says: “It’s very exciting. I came from a very traditional Irish background so it’s where a lot of our influences come from, maybe they don’t come directly out on the surface but that’s kind of the world I grew up in so it’s really lovely to be able to cross over into that more traditional Irish folk world sometimes. I’m really excited about that line-up.”

MacIntyre believes expat audiences will relate to Saint Sister’s sound with its innate sense of longing.

“I think Irish music in general has a lot of nostalgia and longing and yearning,” she says. 

“Every kind of Irish music somehow has that innate sense of longing. I think it’s just the make up of us as a country and because we have such a big diaspora, that longing is exacerbated and exaggerated in those forms (music, literature).  

“Music is such a big connector as well. I think we’re lucky as Irish musicians that when we’re travelling around the world , we have this ready made group of people that understand us and it’s probably not the same for other people whose nationalities doesn’t have as big a diaspora. 

“I think that makes it very easy to relate to and it makes it easy for touring musicians from Ireland because you can go away and know you’ll be understood and that your sense of identity and longing and all that stuff that comes with being an Irish person will translate.”

Doherty adds: “It’s incredible to be going to the other side of the world and having a huge bunch of people who have already come from where you’ve come from. Hopefully there’s a connection there already.”

From Derry and Belfast respectively, Doherty and MacIntyre moved to Dublin in 2010 to study at Trinity College where they met. They sang in the Trinity Orchestra together with Hozier before deciding to join together for their own project. Their sound can be described as dreamy, a feeling that is created by their atmospheric sound and beautiful harmonies.  

Their album title, Shape Of Silence, comes, MacIntyre says, from their interest in “the idea of space and what can be said and what can be felt in the gaps, whether it is gaps in the lyrics or the music.  And what can be said when you’re not saying anything. 

“Silence is quite a deadly thing and quite a powerful thing. We thought it was interesting to think about it as something you can touch and hold and that had weight and was very heavy, so that’s where Shape of Silence came from. It seemed to suit the kind of world we were going for.” 

The album has slowly come together over the last three years as the offers to gig kept coming in, disrupting what could have been writing or recording time. However, this suited them as they still were able to put out material such as their Madrid EP or Tin Man single, both tracks that feature on the album. 

Saint Sister play Sydney Irish Festival on Saturday November 10, Northcote Social Club, Melbourne on Sunday November 11, The Lansdowne in Sydney on Tuesday November 13 and Mullum Music Festival on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 November. For more information, go to www.saintsisterband.com

Irish soul singer keen to reconnect with Aussie fans

Damien Dempsey has a huge following in Australia.

Damien Dempsey has a huge following in Australia.

One of Ireland’s most distinctive voices and passionate performers returns to Australia this November.

Since the release of his debut They Don’t Teach This Shit in School in 2000, Damien Dempsey has earned the admiration of performers as diverse as Sinead O’Connor, Morrissey and Bruce Springsteen.

His style has been called ‘urban folk’ but he prefers to call it ‘Irish soul’ and the Dubliner is never inhibited about weighing into political debates and championing community causes.

He returns to Australia in November to headline the Sydney Irish Festival which will also feature Mary Black, Lunasa and Saint Sister (see page 6).

“I never performed with Mary but I would know her kids well,” Damien tells The Irish Echo. “You never know, we might do something at the end of the night if she’s into it. With Lunasa and that, get a bit of a singsong going. I always stick in a few of the old Irish songs because they have such great memories, the songs of our ancestors. They’re just like old ghosts and you just have to breathe new life into them and they come alive.

“I want to get everyone in those showgrounds to feel on cloud nine, make them feel as high as they can. A natural high. Get them all singing. Singing is a great way to get people high. To get them all singing in unison, it releases endorphins. It’s great.”

Dempsey is no stranger to playing to huge Irish crowds abroad and has played to St Patrick’s Day crowds in Australia before.

“Years ago, [playing to large crowds] might have frightened me but I’m kind of ready now for big venues. It took me a while, the nerves used to kill me but I’m ready now. I’m kind of ready for anything now, I think.”

Damien Dempsey lends his support to many community causes. In 2014, he and Glen Hansard performed at a protest against water charges. Picture: Niall Carson

Damien Dempsey lends his support to many community causes. In 2014, he and Glen Hansard performed at a protest against water charges. Picture: Niall Carson

He recalls a memorable night in Sydney in 2013 when he played the Opera House on St Patrick’s Day.

“The Sydney Opera House have never seen a crowd like it. They were up on the seats with the tops off, arm in arm, singing the songs and they drank the bar dry in about 40 minutes. They had to close the bar because they drank every bit of alcohol, everything was gone so the Opera House (officials and staff) were just going around with their mouths open, just ‘what the hell?’

“They had never seen an audience like it but they were no trouble, just everybody in great form and singing the songs. I’ve done a couple of Paddy’s days there (Australia) and it’s always very emotional.”

The Dubliner’s music resonates very strongly in emigrant communities and he empathises with those who may have been forced to leave home.

“A lot of them have had to leave Ireland and maybe leave old parents behind that they’re worried about, but they’ve no choice. My parents are in their seventies and they wouldn’t be in great health, the thought of having to live abroad and not be around for them, I would find it very hard. I feel for the guys who have to be away.”

Having lived in New York and London as well as elsewhere in Dublin in spells, Damien now lives in his native Donaghmede: “I was always being told by people during the Celtic Tiger: ‘Buy a house now, get on the property ladder now. It will never go down’. I kind of felt there was a recession coming so I waited and then when the market was rock bottom, I had some savings and got a house in Donaghmede.”

Two recent Irish TV appearances have thrown him into the public spotlight even more than usual. He appeared on the Tommy Tiernan show where he spoke about battles with depression and his ancestry was explored on an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?.

“I had ancestors in the Irish Citizen Army that fought with James Connolly and it went in depth into stories of other people who fought during the famine and were imprisoned with Daniel O’Connell.

“Then there was protestant blood on one of the sides which was a shock for a lot of people. Not to me, I don’t go in for all that really.

“Then my family went to America working in cotton mills over there in horrendous conditions. Some of them disappeared and some of them came back. I was in the school in Letterfrack getting the story of what happened to the children. I was in prisons in Dublin where Fenians were sent and City Hall where my great aunt took the building in 1916. Fairly interesting.”

His Australian tour coincides with the release of his ninth album, Union.

“It includes collaborations that I’ve done with people like Maverick Sabre who is a great singer. Imelda May is on it, Seamus Begley, Finbar Furey and John Grant. I think they’re all fairly powerful (songs),” he says.

Dan Sultan, the Irish-Australian indigenous singer, also joins him on the song, It’s Important.

“Dan wanted to come to Ireland, to Mullingar to see where his people came from. They asked me would I bring him on tour with me around Ireland. I hung out with him down there and he taught me a lot about Aboriginal culture. He’s a great old friend. I’m looking forward to seeing him when I get to Melbourne.”

Limerick band Hermitage Green eager for Australian return

Hermitage Green return to Australia in November.

Hermitage Green return to Australia in November.

Limerick folk/pop outfit Hermitage Green have developed a strong affection for Australia, which is why they are returning down under for the second time in 12 months. 

Guitarist Darragh Griffin said the reception they received last year was motivation enough for a quick return.

“When we were there last November, we kind of said, ‘We need to do this regularly; this can’t be a once every three years kind of thing’,” Griffin said.   

“What we’ve tended to find as well is you have to do a bit more work to win the crowds over but that can be kind of an enjoyable challenge.” 

Darragh shares vocal and guitar duties with the Murphy brothers Dan and Barry, the latter of which had a successful career with Munster rugby before taking up music as a serious pursuit.  

The band have been coming to Australia since 2013.

“Our first time going to Australia was a surreal stand-out experience for us. We played a couple of weeks in Perth and had built up a bit of a reputation and people got to know us and enjoyed us and then we did the east coast. 

“We were coming back (to Perth) for one gig at the end of it and for that last gig, there was literally this enormous queue of people up the road where they couldn’t get any more people into the pub so we ended up actually going out and playing to the fewer [number of] people who were waiting, because we knew they weren’t going to get in.

“When you see that kind of hype being built up in the space of two weeks, that’s all it was, and I suppose that news had spread from coast to coast literally between the community and it was absolutely amazing. It’s something we weren’t expecting to happen on that sort of scale at all.”

The Limerick band’s Australian preoccupation is not just about audiences. They’re travelling with a didgeridoo as the instrument features in the song The Lion’s Share.

“I can tell you it’s not the easiest thing to travel with,” Griffin joked.

The Limerick five-piece played at a special memorial concert for The Cranberries Dolores O'Riordan earlier this year.

The Limerick five-piece played at a special memorial concert for The Cranberries Dolores O'Riordan earlier this year.

How did an Australian crowd react to seeing an Irish band with the quintessentially Australian instrument? 

“It definitely raises the eyebrows. I think you can recognise if someone is doing something from an angle of a gimmicky thing but it’s essentially the foundation the rest of the song is built on top of. You couldn’t have a bunch of Australians coming over to Ireland and jumping around with a fiddle on stage. That wouldn’t be appreciated [just as] it wouldn’t be appreciated in Australia to be disrespectful to the didgeridoo.

“As soon as people recognise that it’s an integral part of The Lion’s Share, I think they appreciate what are trying to do with it; we’re trying to incorporate it into our own sound.” 

The band’s last tour got off to a disastrous start when some band members couldn’t get into the country in time, meaning that their Prince Bandroom gig, the first of their tour, had to be cancelled. They won’t repeat the same mistake again.

“We’re going to Melbourne a week and a half early this time to make sure. A monumental mess-up was what it was and a little bit of naivety on our part. 

“We were just really devastated that people had been coming from far and wide and then suddenly the gig was cancelled. We were just really, really gutted. We do not cancel gigs, it’s got to be something absolutely monumental to cancel a gig because we know the effort people make to go to gigs because we make it ourselves. It’s devastating when it’s called off. We 100 per cent will not be making that mistake again. Hermitage Green will be there on stage as planned.” 

All of Ireland was shocked by the sudden death of Dolores O’Riordan in January and nowhere more so than in her native Limerick. Hermitage Green paid tribute to one of Limerick’s most famous daughters at a special gig in King John’s Castle when they played the famous Cranberries’ songs Dreams and Zombie.

“It was phenomenal, I’m getting [the] shivers thinking about it. 

“There were 2,000 people screaming these lyrics back at us and we ended Zombie and the crowd just kept singing it and it wasn’t really planned out like that. They kept singing the end of Zombie and we had that 15 seconds where we all just stood at the front of the stage and looked over 2,000 people, over the wall of King John’s Castle and onto the city and the Shannon and it was just really, really emotional. It was an incredible moment. It’s a hard one to top. We’re going a few years and that’s a stand-out moment. I’m emotional talking about it. It was incredible.  

“Noel Hogan [Cranberries guitarist] was at the gig, so knowing he was in the audience watching this, on top of everything else, really kind of brought it all home. It was absolutely amazing.”

Hermitage Green kick off their tour in Perth on November 10 before gigs in Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle, Sydney and Thirroul. 

Australia to get another quick round of Coronas

The Coronas are heading back to Australia for a whistle-stop tour.

The Coronas are heading back to Australia for a whistle-stop tour.

Just a year after releasing their Irish number one album Trust the Wire and their last Aussie tour, Dublin rockers The Coronas return to Australia for three shows in November. 

Since establishing themselves in 2003, The Coronas have built up a loyal fanbase in Ireland and cemented themselves as one of our best live acts. 

Fresh from playing to 14,000 fans at Dublin’s 3Arena, lead singer Danny O’Reilly told The Irish Echo how excited the band are to be heading back down under. 

“The reaction we have been getting there is just amazing so we’re really excited about going back,” O’Reilly, the son of singing legend Mary Black, said. 

“We had a cool gig in Sydney in March, just to launch the gigs, and we love going there. We’re really excited and hopefully by the end of November, it will be nice and sunny as well so we’ll get a bit of sun on our skin.

“Often times we don’t get to enjoy the cities too much but hopefully we’ll get a few days either side just to enjoy the place. It was cool to be back in Sydney for a few days. We have a couple of friends living there now. 

“Hopefully when we go back in November, we might have a few days to enjoy it and chill out and catch up with people again.”

It was just last year that the band released their fifth studio album but in June they followed it with new material in the form of the EP, The Reprise, a collection of loose-end songs that did not fit on previous albums.

“We’ve been playing a few songs off it. It’s been going well. It’s always nice to have something new out there.

“I think the EP’s a little bit different for us, it’s a little bit of a departure from what we’ve done in the past. I mean it’s still Coronas, it’s still three and a half minute songs of my whiny voice on top of some pop songs but I think musically it’s slightly different for us. 

“It’s been getting an amazing reaction, much better than we even thought. We thought we were gonna release it under the radar just to have a release for our really eager fans who want to hear some new music but I think it’s helped us garner some new attention and some new fans so it’s really encouraging.

“We had more freedom because we produced it ourselves. It’s the first piece of work that we self- produced. It was very free and easy and like, ‘Okay, there’s no pressure on it to be a big successful album, we don’t need a load of hits, this is just something for us’. And I think taking that pressure off made it more enjoyable.

“Sometimes when you get too caught up in trying to write singles you can get off track a little bit. With this, we didn’t worry at all about getting radio play; this was more of a self-indulgent … undertaking. It was nice to be able to do that and scratch that itch and let ourselves just go with it.”

The lead single on The Reprise is The Note, striking for both the singalong and triumphant tune and the heartbroken lyrics it is married to. 

O’Reilly has often spoken about how he writes about his own life in his music. This song could very well be from the period after his high-profile break-up with television presenter, Laura Whitmore. 

“It’s about the struggle after a break-up and sometimes that maybe things aren’t great and they might not get better and having those depressing feelings so it’s definitely darker lyrically,” he said. “People are loving it and that’s really great to see. It’ s nice we found a home for it because it’s a song we’re really proud of.”

The band have started putting together material for their next album and O’Reilly reveals this comes as a relief after the last album’s difficult preparation.

“I’m really excited about the new stuff, more so than years gone by. With the last album Trust the Wire we’re really proud of it. I definitely think it’s one of our strongest albums but I think it was the closest I’ve ever been to having writer’s block. 

“I was definitely struggling creatively for a while so I just thought: ‘We’re getting older, trying to continuously improve creatively, it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to just get harder as you get older’. 

“That’s sort of what I had resigned myself to but then we went down to Dingle and had these two weeks where there were just songs falling out of us and I was like, ‘Oh my God. These are great’.”

O’Reilly will not be the only family member in Australia in November as his mother Mary Black will perform at the Sydney Irish Festival.  

Asked if there could be some overlap of their time here, O’Reilly replied: “It will be great. To be completely honest, I had no idea we were going to be in Australia at the same time, so thank you for that. It would be so cool. 

“If I can do it, I would definitely consider going over a week early maybe to Australia, seeing her show and just chilling out for a week. I hope that might work out, make a family holiday out of it.” 

The Coronas play Prince Bandroom, Melbourne on 22 November, Metro Theatre, Sydney on 23 November and Capitol, Perth on 24 November. For more information, go to www.troubadour-music.com

As Luke would have it, Kelly legend lives on

Chris Kavanagh pays homage to Luke Kelly.

Chris Kavanagh pays homage to Luke Kelly.

The definitive Luke Kelly tribute act is on its way to Australia. 

Created and performed by Dubliner Chris Kavanagh, the show celebrates the talent and legacy of the iconic flame-haired singer and musician. 

When Kavanagh started his tribute show in 2001, he could not have expected it would lead to him playing iconic venues like Vicar Street and the Olympia or touring with John Sheahan and the Dubliners and playing gigs as far away as Australia. But his show is also endorsed by Kelly’s family. 

“It’s one surprise after another,” Chris told The Irish Echo. “I felt like I won the musical lottery when John [Sheahan] asked me to go on tour with the Dubliners. We played for two weeks in Germany. Luke, in Germany, is a major icon, the German people absolutely adore him. 

“He’s an icon. America has their Elvis, Ireland has Luke. 

“The songs he chose, too. Some of them are very touching and deep and it takes a certain type of singer to put those songs across and Luke had that in spades. He had a way of connecting people through songs.”

Having the support of Kelly’s family is important to Kavanagh.

“Luke’s family still come and see us all the time and Luke’s two brothers come up and sing with us. 

“They’re a lovely family and the talent is in the blood because they all sing. They love what we’re doing and they’re lovely people. I found out going away with the Dubliners, people have this idea that they’re wild men and I’m sure they were at one stage but they were pure gents when I was away with them, there was no mad behaviour.”

Kelly died in 1984 at the age of 43. Known for his distinctive singing style and sometimes political messages, he continues to inspire generations of Irish singers. 

“Growing up every Sunday, my grandmother had the Dubliners on the record player when the dinner was on and it’s amazing how that music gets into your blood and stays there. I played all different kinds of music through the years but I think you go back to what you know best, I was singing those kind of songs when I was about three. I have returned home with the kind of music that I chose to sing and record,” Kavanagh said. Bringing Kelly’s music to a crowd far away from their home in Ireland provokes an overwhelming response, according to Kavanagh.

“I suppose it’s like a visit home for the Irish in Australia. 

“I remember the last time we were there, we were playing in the Enmore Theatre and it sold out but even the young people up the front, certain songs were stirring emotions; they were crying their eyes out. 

“I suppose when we play here at home, we take a lot for granted. It’s only when you go abroad and play that you see a completely different reaction, people really get into it and I suppose it is because they are away from home.

“It’s a great night out, especially that kind of music. Luke Kelly and the Dubliners, I suppose it’s music that even young people were brought up listening to when their parents were playing the tapes or CDs or records in the early days.” 

Luke Kelly died in 1984 at the age of 43. 

Luke Kelly died in 1984 at the age of 43. 

Besides the endorsement of Sheahan, the only remaining member of the definitive five member line-up of the Dubliners, and the support of the Kelly family, Chris has received many
accolades for keeping Kelly’s music alive. 

Broadcaster Eamon Dunphy said the show was “a beautiful blast from our beautiful past”. Kavanagh added: “I got one [a song] there recently off Shane Healy [songwriter of Johnny
Logan’s Eurovision winner What’s Another Year]. 

“We had him [Healy] do a spot at a gig and he grabbed the microphone … and he says: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is the best ballad singer in the country’. That was huge praise for me coming from him.”

Kavanagh said he does not try to impersonate Luke but his voice does have a similar ragged style. Many have also commented on the resemblance. 

He will be joined by his wife Hilary on bass and vocals and Joe Finn on uileann pipes.

“People shout out what they’re looking for and I love when they do because we don’t really use a set list as such, we just play the songs that we think should be next. A lot of people ask for Grace by Jim McCann or Seven Drunken Nights sung by Ronnie Drew. We’re always able to throw them in there if they’re called for.

“It does (make it a great night), especially if you haven’t played a song before. I love the challlenge, we’ve gotten away with murder up until now. Always up for a challenge. The audience love a bit of banter and craic and it brings them in.”

The Legend of Luke Kelly show kicks off a national tour at Anita’s Theatre in Thirroul on July 12. For complete dates and ticketing details, visit troubadour-music.com

Legendary Donegal trad outfit set for Oz return

Altan – (from left) Mark Kelly, Ciarán Curran, Martin Tourish and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. Absent from the photograph is guitarist Daíthí Sproule.

Altan – (from left) Mark Kelly, Ciarán Curran, Martin Tourish and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh. Absent from the photograph is guitarist Daíthí Sproule.

ONE of Ireland’s most prominent traditional bands, Altan have brought the music of Donegal around the world and are about to return to Australia on their 30th anniversary tour.

The first trad band to secure major label representation when they joined Virgin in the 1990s, Altan have paved the way for many bands who followed and have played with greats like Dolly Parton, Enya, The Chieftains, Bonnie Raitt and Alison Krauss. Altan will be at the National Celtic Festival in Portarlington, Victoria next month, playing tracks from The Gap of Dreams, their most recent and 12th studio album.

“We’ve been talking about going to Australia for a while and now that it’s all coming together, we’re delighted and it will be great to be part of the festival,” lead vocalist and fiddle player Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh told The Irish Echo from Ireland.

Last year marked three decades for the band, which was formed in 1987.

“I think all of us were kind of shocked. It just kind of flew by and now we’re 30 years on the road and enjoying the music still.”

There has been heartbreak along the way as Mairéad lost her husband as well as the band’s flute and tin whistle player Frankie Kennedy to cancer in 1994.

“I think of him all the time. We frequently mention him in funny stories on the road. We are always laughing at the memories, it’s always fun times that we think about and times when everything comes together musically. And where there’s a huge response to the band, we always think of him as well. He’s mentioned a lot.”

The album’s title comes from its other worldly inspiration as the songs explore mythical elements like mermaids and banshees.

“Well it’s an idea that all the older musicians used to talk about: Getting the tune from the other world, let it be the fairies or it came on the wind or something like that. The door is always open between this world and the other world. That’s exactly what the old fiddlers used to say, that there wasn’t a big difference between this world and the other world when the music came from the other world,” she said.

“We decided to use that phrase. All these kind of other worldly ideas came to our head, we decided to go with that.” The album also features the next generation of Irish music with Mairéad’s daughter Nia, who is only 14, making a contribution. Bandmate Mark Kelly’s son Sam also plays on it making this album a family affair.

“My daughter and Mark’s son Sam came in and they were the only guests we had really on the album and they were delighted, hopefully they’ll play more,” she said.

Altan play the National Celtic Festival in Portarlington 8-10 June. Altan will be joined at The National Celtic Festival by Scottish stars The Paul McKenna Band and Irish-Australian troubadours Hat Fitz and Cara. Altan play Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne on 12 June, The Old Museum in Brisbane on 13 June, Lizzottes in Newcastle on 14 June, Factory Theatre in Sydney on 15 June, Fly By Night in Perth on 16 June. For more information and tickets, go to www.troubadour-music.com

Tenor trio return for national tour

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FORMER US President Bill Clinton described their rendition as “the finest version of ‘Danny Boy’ I have ever heard.” The Irish Examiner says they “combine the high standards of operatic singing with a delightfully informal sense of fun”.

Now, after 18 years of performing together and 12 studio albums, The Celtic Tenors are coming to Australia with their biggest tour to date. Although they have done shows with Celtic Woman here before and performed the occasional one-off gig, the classical-based singing trio are bringing their sound to Australian audiences, having concentrated mainly on America/ Canada until now.

“It’s very new territory for us,” Sligo’s James Nelson tells The Irish Echo. “The few things we have done in Australia have gone very well. I think that’s why we’re coming back. We’re confident that Australia will be in our touring schedule because we’ve nearly toured every other continent.”

The Celtic Tenors provide a unique stage show, combining classical music with more traditional Irish, pop and all with their distinctive charisma and banter. “Even though we’re essentially a classical/crossover act, we don’t like to be labelled in that way because what we do in the show is so different. We do Nessun Dorma but the next minute we’re doing Whiskey in the Jar, Danny Boy or even The Boxer. The mix is so eclectic, there really is something for everybody. I think that is why we’re together so long.

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“Sometimes the name works against us. People think, ‘Bloody Irish; only sing Irish songs’. Even with our albums, it’s hard to know where to put them in a record store because they could be in the classical, crossover, or world, or Irish or easy listening. You kind of have to ask at reception where they are.” The Celtic Tenors have been in existence since 2000.

While James and Matthew Gilsenan have been involved from the very start until now, Daryl Simpson from Omagh replaced Niall Morris in 2006. This tour will see them perform The Irish Songbook that will include Song For Ireland, Danny Boy, You Raise Me Up and more favourites.

“As a group, our passion is the music and as long as the music is forefront, that is what will keep us together. If we stop enjoying the music and stop enjoying what we do, we’ll give it up. You see orchestras and when the conductor is giving notes, they take out their newspapers and you want to go up and shake them and say, ‘do you not realise how lucky you are to make music or a living?’ I pinch myself all the time.

“We were in Abbey Road for our second album in the same studio as The Beatles and I was just pinching myself, I couldn’t believe that this was what we were doing for a living. This is how I sing for my supper.

“In Sydney as well when we were getting our pictures taken with the Sydney skyline in the background, I was just thinking, ‘How fortunate am I?’ I think that’s the biggest achievement for me as a group, that we are loving the music still. If it becomes a job, I will pack it in. There’s no point in doing it as a job. You have to be in love. I hope that doesn’t make you throw up.”

Another of James’s passions is philanthropy. For years he has been part of a project in Kenya that gives AIDS orphans a second chance at life: “Now we’re seeing kids we worked with years ago graduating as teachers, accountants, chefs and engineers which is the most surreal thing.

James is not the only one with such an extremely worthwhile personal project as bandmate Daryl was recognised in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list with a British Empire Medal for services to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and services to music.

Daryl, from Omagh, started a peace choir of Protestants and Catholics that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. James says: “BEM. I thought he had dyslexia and it was an MBE but it’s a BEM. We’re very proud of him.”

See our what's on section for dates or visit their website.

Dublin’s Eskies expecting a warm reception

The Eskies have arrived in Australia for their first tour.

The Eskies have arrived in Australia for their first tour.

The Eskies have been described variously as “a street corner sort of brass band”, “Django Reinhart huffing petrol” and “a flawlessly choreographed bar brawl in musical form”, while their sound can only be summed up as folk noir/gypsy jazz/sea shanty. 

Although dark in some of its subject matter, it is certainly not to be taken too seriously although their live shows make for a uniquely raucous and swaggering spectacles.

Now the Eskies have arrived down under for the first time with a tour that takes them to Port Fairy Folk Festival, Melbourne and Sydney. 

“We’re very excited,” guitarist and vocalist Sean O’Reilly told The Irish Echo before their arrival in Australia earlier this week.  “It’s finally happening. I believe they have something called sun there, so that’ll be nice to see.

“I don’t think any of us have been before, but of course we know plenty of people who’ve chosen to go and live in Australia. We’ve been getting loads of messages from friends we haven’t seen in years. Our trombone player, Chris, lives there now so it’ll be great to play with him again.”

The Port Fairy Folk Festival has a considerable Irish flavour this year with Pauline Scanlon, John Spillane, Andy Irvine and John McSherry joining up with Shane Howard’s Exile show.

O’Reilly said the band were “really very excited” to be on the bill.

“We’ve had friends from Ireland play there before and they have only the best things to say about Port Fairy. Who doesn’t love a good festival?”

The Eskies are a raucous folk quintet. Picture: Darren Farrell

The Eskies are a raucous folk quintet. Picture: Darren Farrell

How would O’Reilly describe the band’s unique sound to anyone unfamiliar? 

“Well we’ve had an awful time thus far trying to describe our music to people. It’s full of energy and fun in a kinda dark way. It’s swing and folk and rock and gypsy that has been bastardised.

“I hope they [Australian audiences] love it. We’ve no reason to believe they won’t. As long as people go with us on the journey, they’ll enjoy it.”

O’Reilly conceded that he was not aware of the Australian colloquial meaning of esky but said it might be a bonus in for their Aussie tour.

“If people are genuinely going to ask us if we named ourselves after a cooler box, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Unfortunately that’s not the case. An eskie in Ireland is a small stick that has been hollowed out and filled with honey. It’s used for baiting wolves into a fight.” 

Their latest album, Don’t Spare the Horses, comes on the back of their critically and publicly acclaimed debut, After the Sherry Went Round. 

The latest record’s name derived, in part, from the recording process.

“It was just one of those things where we had thrown around a few names and that was the one that we all thought was right. It makes total sense for us though. If something is worth doing it’s worth overdoing and we would never spare the horses along the way. 

“We’ve only recorded two albums. One came very quickly and the other had time to be completed. Both methods have their merits. Let’s let the way we record the third album be the answer,” he said.

The Eskies have been called the “Dubliners for the internet generation” by The Irish World newspaper. It’s a description the band loves.  “For Irish people, the Dubliners are the epitome of a great Irish band, and the epitome of the great Irish spirit. It’s about more than the songs or the stories, which are so important. It’s about the connection and the spirit they could channel.”

The Dubliners were known to get up to all sorts of mischief on tour. How do the Eskies go on the road?

“I hate touring with these people,” O’Reilly jokes. “This is a public outcry for help. I’ve been trying to escape for years but they keep locking me up in the back of the van. I don’t know what the other fellas will do, but I’m going to lose them in Australia and then carry out my real dream of being a registered gas installer.”

Visit www.theeskies.com for dates or check What’s On, page 23

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