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June 2019
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Out of the CD booklet

read the texts out of the CD booklet


Producer's Note

I was delighted to be asked to produce this debut recording for the Celtic Tenors. In addition to each singer having a distinctive colour of his own, their unique blend afforded me great opportunies to arrange some of my favourite songs, old and new. The result is, I hope, a fresh and contemporary collection of Celtic anthems, haunting airs and classic songs of love and loss.
Frank Gallagher


Matthew Gilsenan

The air and the Gaelic text of "TheQuiet Land of Erin" originated in the north of Ireland, where they were taken down in the early 19th century from one Séan MacAmbrois. Mac Ambrois consequently had to leave his native County Antrim, possibly for Scotland, possibly for America.


To me this illustrates a constant lamentable problem in Ireland, namely rural depopulation. In the last two centuries it was in the guise of mass emigration; these days it's the draw of the high wages and supposed easier life associated with the "Celtic Tiger economy". It has taken vast swathes of children from farms their forefathers worked so hard for, so that the farms fall empty while the cities become overcrowded and more anonymous. I belive that many of our urban social problems are connected to this kind of withdrawl from nature and retreat from country life.


Though written nearly two centuries after "The Quiet Land of Erin", Dougie MacLean's "Caledonia" (the ancient name for Scotland) has a very similar sentiment; again I am taken back to my childhood and the sadness associated with leaving home and growing up. This song has been adopted by many Scots as a national anthem - not surprisingly, for it has a unique quality of growing on the listener, its warm, infectious chorus rolling along, the picture it paints of Caledonia and its undying attraction utterly irresistible.


Niall Morris

I only live a stone's throw from Lansdown Road in Dublin, the home of Irish rugby, and I have often heard the terraces alive with "Ireland's Call", which Phil Coulter wrote for the Irish Team. Phil is a prolific writer of hits and this song makes it clear why: it has a timeless quality - like all great themes it sounds as if it has always been around.


Immigration rather than emigration is a part of my ancestry, for my great grandmother was French. She came to live in Ireland with her family when she was a little girl and later married a flame-haired Irishman named McCarthey. The McCarhtys had a great musical tradition - they even put the Blarney Stone in Blarney Castle! - and one of the songs they would sing to put the children to sleep was "Bheir mi o". In our version it is sung in Donegal Irish and transforms itself from a lullaby to a ritual incantation. (The children would be wide awake in the end!)


I was very fortunate to have been chosen by the immensely gifted Thomas Adés to create the tenor roles in this first opera, Powder her face, which was released by EMI Classics. Little did I imagine that only a few years later the Celtic Tenors would be making their debut on the very same lable.


James Nelson

Since our early-morning showcase in a low ceilinged boardroom in Baker Street, this millennium year has been almost like a dream. We are so grateful to Richard Lyttelton, Theo Lap, Gill Allis, Richard Abram and all at EMI (and of course our cool Manager Pat and his assistant Elaine) for putting their trust in us and our work, and thus taking our careers to a whole new level. Though we have individually performed worldwide in opera, concert and recital, it remains a privilege to return to the wealth of music of our native land for a venture such as this.


Frightened of becoming yet another of those opera singers singing "bel-canto pop", I was eventually persuaded to add "Summer of My Dreams" to my repertoir. I was probably the least likely of the three of us to adapt to the genre but I have loved every minute of the challange.


Given the theme of a father watching his son go off to war, we feel there is somthing rather poignant about three guys singing "Danny Boy" a capella. This is perhaps the most famous of all Irish songs, and every time we perform it live a hushed reverence descends on the audience. We are also very excited that one of our own many arrangements has made it on to our debut album.


When is an Irish Tenor not an Irish Tenor? When he's a Celtic Tenors, that's when. And if the worlds conjure up an image of a somewhat portly elderly gentleman who somewhere between the dessert and the cigars, can be prevailed upon to clutch his lapels and burst into song, think again: these three young singers are about as far removed from that old world scenario as it's possible to get. Open-necked shirts, bubbly personalities and contemporary repertoire: these guys are taking the concept of "the tenor" into cool new territory, and in the process, they aim to create a cool new tenor sound.


Matthew Gilsenen, Niall Morris and James Nelson all have impeccable classical pedigrees. James has performed the Narrator in La Efance du Christ with Katia Riccarelli in Rome and sung Tichon in Katya Kabanova in Portugal; Niall has created a clutch of contemporary roles, including Davey in Jonathan Dove's Siren Song and of course the tenor roles in Thomas Adés Powder Her Face; Matthew, a finalist in RTE's Singer of the Future competition in 1998, has notched up an impressive list of oratorio appearances in just two years as a professional singer. But when they came up with the idea of joining forces as a crossover trio, they realised that they didn't just want to sound like opera singers letting their hair down. Somebody asked us, "Why can't tenors just sing normally?" says Matthew. "So we decided to experiment with breaking the tenor mould, using different vocal colours and textures, from those usually found in classical tenor repertoire. "We are not afraid to sound slightly sean-nos (a reference to the Irish tradition of unaccompanied improvised narrative singing), if that's what we feel the song needs."


Which is not to say that they don't give a nod - and perhaps a wickedly affectionate wink - in the direction of the great singers of the past. But when it comes to even the best known repertoire, they certainly do it their way. Their understand a capella arrangement of the traditional air 'Danny Boy' strips away the sugary layers of sentimental which have stuck to the song over the years, revealing it as a simple but moving plea from a father to a son who is setting off to war. By a slight tweaking of harmonies and the addition of a warm, cello like line of visiting basses they transformt the Victorian favourite 'In the gloaming' into a hushed hymn like evocation of nature. 'The Quiet Land of Erin' brings its own, impeccable pedigree - with origions in ghe glens of Antrim, its Gaelic text was translated by the actress Joan O'Hara and the song made famous by the recording of her sister Mary, the singer harpist - but it too gets a respectful revamp, Celtic Tenor style.


In fact, as James points out, their distinctive use of three-part-harmony sets the Celtic Tenors apart from other tenor trios, who tend, when singing together, to sing in unison. "We don't compete on the high notes - we take turns at them", he says. "We felt very strongly that we wanted to harmonise, to make use of a richer and more varied sound palette. The a capella aspect is very important to us."


For the Hebridean song Bheir mi o which they perform in Donegal Irish, the closest form of Irish to the original Scots Gaelic - an accordion drone is used to help build the sound from a single vocal line to a no-holds-barred, full-frontal finish whose powerful drums and raw, outdoor sound give the feel of a tribal incantation. And for an antidote to all those misty celtic tunes filled with star-struck lovers and damsels in distress, check out the playful marriage of courses which sees the old Scottish footstomper Marie's Wedding blend temporarily into the Irish tune Spanish Lady.


Thre are, of course, many ways to define 'Celtic', and if Irleand and Scotland are well represented on this album - the former by one of the most famous of Moore's Irish Melodies, The Last Rose of Summer, the latter by the evergreen, effervescent Will ye go, lassie go and Caledonia so too are songs with a Celtic flavour from further afield. Fare thee well, love was a mega-hit in Canada for the Rankin Family from Nova Scotia, while the composer of the nostalgic Summer of my Dreams, David Mallett, was born in New England.


Finally, just to show that the Celtic tradition isn't stuck in a groove, there are two songs by Phil Coulter: the rousing rugby anthem Ireland's Call, and a brand-new composition written specially for the Celtic Tenors, Remember Me / Recuérdame. The latter's sinous melody and poignant words recall the Lament for the Wild Geese, on which it is based, and though it has a Spanish Civil War setting, the feel is unmistakably contemporary. Glancing back while moving forward - it might be the motto of the Celtic Tenors. "We want to push the concept of 'the tenor' as far as we can", says Niall.


Watch this space, folks!
Arminta Wallace, 2000