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June 2019
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2007-03-21 The Celtic Tenors are living a dream

For the North County Times


A musician's elation upon securing a recording contract stems from the culmination of a lifetime of work. To have a group's first recording find listeners is an added blessing, and to reach 2 million of them, as the Celtic Tenors did with their 2002 debut, is pure bliss.

"It was surreal but wonderful" said the Celtic Tenors' James Nelson. In early 2000 three classically trained Irish tenors walked into the EMI headquarters on famed Baker Street in London.


"We're in a really low-ceiling boardroom; it wasn't ideal at all for singing. As soon as we finished, they said, 'We're going to offer you a three-album deal, but what do you want?' We almost fainted. It's the stuff dreams are made of to be offered a contract with a worldwide company like that."

Nelson, Matthew Gilsenan and Daryl Simpson formed in 1999 as the Three Irish Tenors. After their EMI audition, their moniker became the Celtic Tenors to distance them from the tenor pack. Illuminating the Charles Nunn Performing Arts Center stage in Ramona on Friday is a musical incarnation still stretching its artistic wings. Blending classical, traditional Irish and popular music has allowed Nelson's group to further separate itself from the crowded tenor market by cultivating a wider audience through its repertoire.

"We have ties to operatic music, yes, but unlike some others who play strictly Irish music or just a classical program, what we offer an audience is a bit of everything," Nelson said.

The Celtic Tenors' rendition of "I'm All Out of Love," originally a No. 1 hit for Air Supply (who recorded the track with them in Dublin), has found these tenors climbing the pop charts.

"We do it in our own way with a mock operatic feel. It makes it really exciting to perform," Nelson said.

Any given month might find them performing in up to four countries while still jetting home for visits. As such, maintaining creative freshness ensures that those juices keep flowing.

"It really does and we're always discovering and adding new repertoire," Nelson said.

It is in that vein that the lads paired with the West Virginia Orchestra and the Cincinnati Pops for varied programs in four concerts earlier this month.

"We just love that," said Nelson, who hails from Sligo, on the north coast of Ireland. "The home of poet William Butler Yeats."

As he has seen from Irish expatriates who have spread across the world, their cultural soundtrack is universal.

"There is a bit of Ireland in every city in the world, really. There's certainly an Irish pub everywhere you look."

Joining them on tour is Celtic Woman soprano Deirdre Shannon, who served as lead singer of "Lord of the Dance" and is also Gilsenan's sister. One of their collaborations is their version of the Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," which Nelson hinted is on the docket for Friday.

"That is such a moment and she's such a delightful girl," he said.

A busy schedule leaves little time for anything else. But, as the tenor said, this is a dream.

"Something my late mother pointed out to me years ago is the origins of the word "amateur" ---- "amator," to love what you do," Nelson remembered. "I think a lot more musicians need a bit of amator. I adore music, I love to sing and I love to entertain. I like to see enthusiastic audiences. I suppose this love became a career."