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2003-12-30 Celtic tigers who show no signs of slowing

from the SligoWeekender

 

New doors are still opening for the Celtic Tenors as their rise to the top continues. Robert Cullen looks at the Celtic Tenor phenomenon and looks forward to their return to the Sligo Park Hotel on January 3.

 

Unless you've been living in a bunker in Iraq over the past two years, chances are you've heard about or heard the Celtic Tenors. The trio, which includes Sligo's own James Nelson, have been the revelation of Ireland's classical-crossover genre.

 

And their success has not just been limited to these shores. In mainland Europe and in the USA they have attracted huge interest. Germany is currently their most successful destination. That country has fallen in love with James Nelson, Niall Morris and Matthew Gilsenan, awarding them popstar status.

 

Of course such dizzy heights are a long way from where it all began. Back in 1995, James, Niall and a tenor called Paul Hennessy made their debut on RTE's "Theatre Nights" live from Goffs in County Kildare. The immediate appeal of their ground-breaking crossover style lead to a nationwide tour as well as many
more TV appearances.

 

Matthew joined the group in 1998 and shortly afterwards musical impresario Pat Egan became their manager. Pat could recognise the growing popularity and potential of this group and shared his vision with EMI, who granted them a world-wide three album deal on one condition, that they change their name to Celtic Tenors.

 

Since then life has moved at break-neck speed for James, Niall and Matthew. Firstly they went in to the studio to record their debut album. The tenors wanted to get away from the blustery and bombastic image of the wide-mouthed Irish tenor and concentrate instead on a more subtle, stylish and technical approach.

 

It paid off on their self-titled debut album which bridged the gap between classic pieces such as "Summer of my dreams" and traditional songs "The Quiet Land of Erin", "Will Ye Go, Lassie Go". It will be remembered however for two epic songs. The first is possibly the finest ever recorded version of "Danny Boy", done with no accompaniment and which intricately woven harmonies. The second is the Phil Coulter penned future classic "Remember me/Reuérdme" which would resurface on their latest album.

 

Released in October 2000, the debut album paved the way for a nationwide tour in May of 2001, including the tenors' first Sligo date in the Aula Maxima at Sligo Institute of Technology. It was a night to remember for the audience, who were treated to a musical performance the likes of which they had never seen before. Fortunately, it would be the last time that the Celtic Tenors did not sell out a venue in the North West.

 

With a growing reputation overseas the trio were allowed a greater say on what was included in their second album, out in March 2002. The number of tracks increased for a start, from 12 to 16. So did the variation, with more classical pieces, still plenty of traditional songs and for the first time a sprinkling of pop songs from the likes of Roy Orbison, Freddy Mercury and Paul McCartney. There were also songs from musicals, most notably "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" and "Anthem". The inclusion of a German song was a nod to their growing status in that country and during 2002 the band were the focus of a number of special feature programmes made for German TV.

 

The concerts continued, but the tenors never had the time to tour nationwide, such was the demands placed on the by US, UK and German promoters. In 2003 they made time, touring in May and returning to Sligo that May. With support from Matthew's sister, soprano Deirdre Gilsenan, the Sligo Park Hotel was sold out for this incredible night of music.

 

The tenors finished off 2003 with their third album, entitled "The Irish Album". Working with trad legends The Dubliners, James, Niall and Matthew created an album of the finest Irish songs, some plucked from their first album including "Remember me/Recuérdame".