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June 2019
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2004-12-15 Tenors in leather jackets

Algemeen Dagblad
By Nico Heemelaar


The Celtic Tenors, who are touring the Netherlands as of today, are creating furore worldwide with a mixture of Irish folksongs, classic repertoire and songs by Queen.


They represent the modern Ireland.


One area in which The Celtic Tenors have the advantage over their more famous colleagues José Carreras, Pláicido Domingo en Luciano Pavarotti: sex appeal. They wear leather jackets and Armani shirts, and are good-looking. Celtic tenor James Nelson, 39 years old and a bachelor, dropped 32 kilos and promptly received four marriage proposals. Female fans follow the threesome everywhere they perform. And they don't stick to visiting the concerts. In the Holiday Inn in Cologne, two rooms have been reserved by fans who follow their idols around.


" I receive notes from women who believe I've sung especially for them during a concert." Nelson says in the lobby of the same hotel. "When I sing, I look into the audience. I do this automatically, without focusing specifically on one person. When I look in the same direction for slightly too long, you get reactions like this. I come from the world of opera. There, you are dressed up, and you sing is directed at your fellow actors rather than at the audience. This different way of performing took some getting used to in the beginning. I still don't know which direction to look in while singing certain songs. After all, you're certainly not supposed to look at the ceiling."


Matthew Gilsenan, at 33 years of age the youngest of the group, is the only one who's married, and he even has a one and a half-year-old son. No marriage proposals for him, but he did have a stalker to deal with a little while ago. Gilsenan: "I received an e-mail from a woman, highly educated and working for KPMG. She paid me a compliment, and out of courtesy I wrote her a small word of thanks. Subsequently, she sent mails with pictures that couldn't be considered average family snapshots. She kept inviting me to her house. After I wrote to her that my fiancée and I would be happy to accept that invitation, the mails stopped coming."


How desirable the third tenor is, remains unknown during the visit to Cologne. Niall Morris lies ill that day. And since James Nelson isn't in good voice either, tonight's concert has to be cancelled. "In the five years that we have been together, this is the second time we've had to cancel a concert." Nelson says "It has happened before that one of us isn't in good voice, but we can overcome that by singing certain parts louder or softer. But with two hoarse voices, it's end of story."


The Celtic Tenors exists in its today form since 1999, the year in which they gave a series of 137 sold out concerts in Clontarf Castle, just outside Dublin. Even before that, Morris and Nelson already worked together. Both have a classical background. Gilsenan is a self-taught man from the country, who was brought up with Irish folk music. One single audition at EMI - at ten o'clock in the morning! - was enough to obtain a worldwide contract for three CD's. The threesome has since travelled to all corners of the globe. Especially in Ireland, the United States and Germany they are huge. A cancelled concert in Cologne is a disappointment for at least a thousand fans.


The Celtic Tenors perform a mixture of classical repertoire, Irish folk and popular pieces from Freddie Mercury to Roy Orbison. Their three CDs all made it to the top ten of the classical charts in the United States, Germany and Great Britain.

Of all the concerts, their performance for former president Clinton has stuck with them most. "He actually had to wipe away a tear when we sang the evergreen Danny Boy." James Nelson says, "That man is very musical, he knew the melody well and sang along. We adapt our repertoire to the country we perform in. The English prefer classical, but for the Americans it has to be cheerful. We have four interchangeable shows, from a-capella to great orchestra."


Confusingly enough, there is also a threesome named the Irish Tenors. The difference between the groups is, among others, body volume. According to the program of the Celtic Tenors the competition brings - whether or not after Nelson's diet - 28 stone (177 kilos) more to the stage. The genre of the Irish Tenors, which makes them more popular in the United States than they are in Europe, is different: a lot more conservative than that of their Chippendale-colleagues.


Gilsenan: "There are Irish songs, and Irish songs. In America the classic Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral is still extremely popular, but the song is full of clichés. The modern Ireland stands for groups like U2 and The Corrs, and we feel more affinity for that. We are proud of the good things about Ireland, and we try to propagate that. But when we've been on the road for a while, I do long for my little farm in the Irish countryside, for that lies most dear to my heart."