How It’s New York: They’re playing the Beacon Theatre, a grand old place on the West Side.
How It’s Irish: All of the five boys (guys!) are Irish, and this tour, the Heritage tour, really plays up the Irish music more than any other cd they’ve done so far.
Here’s my feature on Celtic Thunder, minus Damian McGinty, but with a new youngster in Daniel Furlong. This article was first published in this week’s Irish Examiner.
A Guy Band, Not A Boy Band
By Gwen Orel
They’re not a Boy Band. They are all male, and all kind of pretty.
There are lots of female faces in the audience in the band’s DVDs.
But Celtic Thunder is more than a boy band, says 33-year old Ryan Kelly, one of the singers in the hugely popular (2009 Billboard Top World Album Artist) singing group.
Ryan talked to us last week as the band was touring in Canada.
They are playing at New York’s Beacon Theatre on Friday the 24th as part of their “Heritage” tour, which accompanies the CD/DVD released in February (you can watch some Heritage highlights here).
The group, created by Sharon Browne, with Irish composer Phil Coulter, consists of six easy-on-the-eyes people of the male persuasion (not boys!).
The group has zoomed in popularity since their first PBS special in 2008; they’ve also performed for President Obama, and opened New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade twice.
Their fans call themselves Thunderheads, and the band’s YouTube channel, “ThunderTube,” has received over 20 million upload views.
I’m guessing it’s received even more since young Damian McGinty joined the reality-audition show The Glee Project this past summer (Mom says “he is pretty”).
Damian had to leave the band so he can appear on Glee after he co-won the contest (watch this space for an interview with him, too!) but younger girl fans need not fret: thirteen-year old Daniel Furlong, from Taghmon in County Wexford, has come on board (“oh my, you are cute,” says Mom. He looks cherubic).
The boy soprano, who has been singing since the age of seven, won the All Ireland Song Contest as a solo singer in 2009.
Daniel told us, “I can’t believe I’m in Celtic Thunder and getting to go every place in Canada and America. The band buses are the coolest thing in the world, I love them. Being on stage is the best, it’s taking a while to get used to working with in-ear monitors but I just love all of it, brilliant!”
I can’t help wondering, now that a new “kid” has come in to replace the old “kid,” was Damian “aging out?”
No, no, says Ryan, laughing. “He was a massive part of Celtic Thunder, and would have continued here if hadn’t been for the massive opportunity.” So it was not like Logan’s Run. Whew.
“The new guys that have come in are coming in on their own merit; they are going to sing their own songs,” Ryan explains. And they hope to see Damian in LA. Still, Celtic Thunder is not a boy band. “You can’t be in a boy band and be 33!” Ryan says.
He has a point. The six singers range in age from Daniel’s 13, to Scottish George Donaldson’s 42. Keith Harkin, a blond from County Derry, is 25. Emmet Cahill, from Mullingar in County Westmeath, is 20. Neil Byrne, a professional musician who first joined the band on back-up vocals and guitar, is 32. And Ryan, from The Moy in Co. Tyrone, is 33.
Paul Byrom, one of the band’s original members, left in 2010 to launch a solo career
Ryan had announced in May that he was stepping down, but in August Sharon Browne announced that he would rejoin the tour.
Donaldson, Byrom and Kelly have all released solo albums; Byrne has an EP (they’re not on the Celtic Thunder site, but do appear on Amazon!).
So the band may have been created but their drive to create music is organic. OK, that’s a little different from a boy band.
From the beginning the group mixed pop classics from Elvis Presley and Paul Anka with traditional songs like “Come By the Hills” and Coulter’s originals, particularly the lovely “Steal Away,” and the band’s “anthem,” “Ireland’s Call.”
Like Celtic Woman (also created by Sharon Browne, with Riverdance’s David Downes, and interviewed here in February, 2010), Celtic Thunder’s stage shows always include dramatic lighting, choreography and evocative sets that often call to mind ancient Ireland. It’s as much musical theatre as traditional music.
Their latest offering, Heritage, harks back to the band’s Irish roots. Songs include “Buachaill on Eirne;” “Galway Girl” (it’s by American Steve Earle but beloved by every Irish bar band); “Black Is the Color;” and “Whiskey in the Jar,” among others, including a charming duet on “Just a Song at Twilight” (also known as “Love’s Old Sweet Song,” the nineteenth century song by J.L. Molloy and G. Clifton Bingham even appears, in suggestion, in James Joyce’s Ulysses).
The band’s new album Storm comes out September 20, and will according to its press (we haven’t heard it yet) tell the story of the gypsies on their ancestral land vs. the settlers.
So it makes sense that it will have some songs about gypsies, including “Stand and Deliver” and “The Highwayman.”
After a short break of touring in November, the band goes back on the road with the Christmas tour.
Kelly looks forward to the 2 weeks of downtime to recharge batteries, but with so much partying at home, “you know what they are like,” he finds the tour is actually the real holiday.
And he loves seeing the world, particularly America and Canada. “I always loved American culture anyway – I’m a big sports fan, especially baseketball. America gets a bad rap sometimes, until you come here and experience how vast it is. People will say, ‘I can’t believe a lot of Americans don’t have a passport,’ then you see how big it is, you could holiday for the rest of your life and not have to leave the country!”
There are different cultures in the North, East, South, West, he observes. But the reception for Celtic Thunder is always high. “When we play the first few chords of ‘Ireland’s call,’ our anthem, written by Phil Coulter, the audience goes crazy. It’s like being in a rock concert!”
Heritage is the band’s most successful album to date. Sharon conceives the projects, but the band members have a lot of input, Ryan explains.
He chose to sing “Black Is the Color,” which he has been singing for a long time. The Scottish folk song is his favorite. “In our show it’s been rocked up; there’s a lead guitar riff going right through it. It has a bit more production, if people are used to hearing it done traditionally.”
Ryan trained as an accountant at Queens University, Belfast, but always sang and acted. “It’s hard to beat getting a standing ovation every night when you finish your work; I didn’t get that as an accountant,” he says.
His bio names him the “rogue” or “Dark Destroyer” for the Celtic Thunder show. When I ask him what that means, he laughs. “I don’t have much idea.”
Characters were part of the show’s conception but as it has gone on they have become looser and looser.
For example, he sang “Heartbreaker,” about how girls would go for the bad guy. “I don’t know if that’s true, I couldn’t possibly comment!” he rushes to assure me. But
“I’m not as sinister as my bio might suggest.”
He, along with the rest of the band, cheered Damian on this summer – hardly sinister.
Though like Paul, Damian’s no longer in the band, “We lived out of each other’s pockets for four years. Them guys will always be my friends,” says Ryan.
Although the band tried to take the criticism of Damian with a pinch of salt, it seemed unfair when there were criticisms that suggested his bad habits came from Celtic Thunder.
Onstage, “you have to be bigger; you’re performing to the person at the back of the theatre, maybe 50-60 rows back.”
The audience, who range from “8-108,” need to be able to see their favorite singers. “If you look out into our crowd, you see all colors and social backgrounds. It’s for the whole family. Everybody has a different favorite singer or song.”
The not-boy band shows “the different stages in a man’s life,” Ryan says. “From the young guy, like Damian, now Daniel, all the way up to George who sings about family and having children.”
But, with six male singers, “there are quite a few ladies in the audience. There’s no getting away from that. We hope the husbands and boyfriends come along” (dragged along, I suggest), “but there are quite a few women. We don’t complain about that.”
We’ll call it a Guy Band.
And there’s not a thing wrong with that.
Copyright 2011 New York Irish Arts