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June 2019
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2003-08-24 Trading Places - Niall Morris, Celtic Tenor

from the Irish Sunday Independent


Moving Years

Born: Dublin
Family Home: Dundrum
Mid 1990s: King's College, Halls of Residence, London Upper Street, Islington, London
1999: Clyde Road, Dublin 4
2001: Bought first home in Smithsfield, Dublin


Things just fall into place for Celtic Tenors, Niall Morris. Without seeming to have a plan, somehow the right next step has always magically appeared. From buying his first appartement in Smithfield 18 months ago, to winning a chance audition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and changing the direction of his musical career to train as a singer, to making an album with the Dubliners, he has taken the opportunities as presented and made the most of them. You could say, in the grand old opera of things, that Morris has been blessed with serendipity.


Born in Dublin's Dundrum in a typical suburban three-bed semi, he recalls the family home as being "the perfect place for kids to grow up". not that he found himself obsessed with kicking a ball around the local green since his love of music began when he was six or seven. "I remember wanting to play the piano and as we didn't have a piano, my mother said that if I stuck with it for a year, practising in a neighbour's house, that then she would get me one."


And so he became a diligent student and his mother stuck to her half of the bargain. "It was a defining moment. I still remember the 70 pound piano arriving to the house in a horse box." At first, it was given pride of place downstairs but soon the budding pianist had it moved to his bedroom, where he would spend hours composing and playing his own pieces. Through music, he found he could enter another world, perhaps one in which he felt more in control, as when his father died Niall fond that by immersing himself in music, he had a means of coping.


The young prodigy showed early signs of future promise by winning the RTE Young Composers Award aged 16 or 17. Then at 19 he got a scholarship to go to King's College, London University, to study composititon and musicology.


The Halls of Residence was his first home away from home - "It was like boarding school". The following year he and three other guys moved into an appartement on Upper Street in what was then only starting to become bohemian Islington. "It was held together by collotape, but it was a fantastic appartement on two floors with a roof garden" he says. The roof garden was in fact a flat roof, bit it was here that Morris developed his love of gardening. "I planted some sunflower seeds in April and I just remember the amazement that the little seed had grown to six-foot-tall plants by July/August."Forget microchips and advances in technology. "Nature is beautiful, all the genetic information in such a small seed."


With the Almeida Theatre just around the corner and one of his flatmates working in the box office he found himself spending a great many nights at the theatre. On one of those nights he remembers sitting next to Nicole Kidman and seeing Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Bionche and Kevin Spacey perform.


After leaving King's College Morris won the highest entrance scholarship at a chance audition for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. And, having struggled for a while previous to that, life in London became a great deal easier. But why move from the piano, his great love, to singing? "The voice is the principal way of communicating music." he explains. "it has a fundamental power to touch people, to stir up emotions."


On leaving London in 1999, he returned to Dublin where he rented an appartement in Clyde Road, Dublin 4 but then again "it was the most rundown, rambliest house on Clyde Road." Eighteen months ago he took the bravest step any homeowner ever takes and bought his first home, an appartement in Collins Square, Smithfield. He saw the ad in the newspaper and decided to stroll down to the showing. There he found that the appartements were selling like hot cakes. "The estate agent was just ticking appartements off the list, so I joined the rest and bought immediately. It is a fantastic inner city location. Living close to the city centre is important to me.


The ability to walk everywhere, the Celtic Tenors' office is close by and the ease of attending city-centre meetings." Given that he probably only spends five to ten days a month in Ireland, what was the big attraction of woning his own home? "It was a sound financial investment but more importantly, when you own something yourself, you take the time over it. And touring involves constantly being with people, constant pressure and that is very draining. So when I get home I can just close the doors, be reclusive and recharge. IT was the best thing I ever did."


Right now he's preparing for an Irish Tour with the Celtic Tenors. This will be followed by tours of the UK and Germany. They have just released their third album, The Irish Album, featuring three songs by the Dubliners - "it was a mad accident".


The Tenors manager Pat Egan was having a party at his house in Rathfarnham and the Dubliners were on their 40th anniversary tour. Egan phoned the tenos and said "come on over lads, we're having a bit of knees-up". "So the Dubliners being the Dubliners" says Morris, "They started playing and the Tenors joined in at the piano and eveyone got playing and it turned out into a session lasting until three in the morning." The next day Egan got them all into the studio and with Eammonn Campbell from the Dubliners producing they recorded this album. The end result is a unique fusion of the classic sound of The Celtic Tenors with the smokey bar room fervour of The Dubliners.


His favourite home away from home is also, perhaps the most unlikely. "We were on a tour bus for three weeks in Gremany. It was cramped, we were sleeping in a bunk like on a train. But I found ear plugs and once you get used to the rolling motion really rocks you to sleep." Despite the hardship, there's a sense of camaradie and everyone working together on the road and it's that which seems to hit all the right notes for this Celtic Tenor.