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2007-04-16 Irish lads take boy band to new level

By Kristin Froneman
Vernon Morning Star

 

The days of Boyz II Men have gone the way of the fanny pack and Jennifer Aniston's Rachel hairstyle.

Boy bands have evolved since `N Sync and The Backstreet Boys spewed out their bubble gum dance pop in the `90s. In their place is the "man band," a group of sophisticated blokes, with chiselled good looks, who churn out a cross-pollination of pop and opera.

Two such groups will be in the Okanagan this week.

While American Idol judge Simon Scowl, ahem, Cowell's discovery Il Divo will be at Kelowna's Prospera Place Saturday, Vernon will be treated to the classical-crossover sounds of Ireland's Celtic Tenors, Thursday at the Performing Arts Centre.

Both appeal to a wide, albeit mostly female, audience, but The Celtic Tenors, who have been around since the late-'90s and were first known as The Three Irish Tenors, can include Bill Clinton, Bono and former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan as fans.

Original member Matthew Gilsenan says there is a reason classically- trained singers are turning to the world of pop  it sells more records. However, The Celtic Tenors are not a bunch of opera singers trying to be pop stars, he adds.

"I think Il Divo give what we do a bad name," said Gilsenan with his lilting Irish accent while enjoying a break from the flat prairie highway at an Earl's restaurant in Regina.

"We don't want to jump on the bandwagon and be associated with manufactured groups... We are trying to edge in and not be physically restrained by our own borders or be allowed to sell out."

And in true Irish fashion, The Celtic Tenors have a laissez-faire attitude about their performances. They have thrown out their tuxes and formality by dressing in more casual clothes, which suits their nature.

"We like to put on a high energy romp, and we don't take ourselves too seriously. We're not into labelling. We have to take the music seriously, but we don't have to take ourselves too seriously," said Gilsenan.

"We regard ourselves as selfish singers. We sing what we like. We're trying not to do anything deliberate. Record stores have trouble trying to categorize our music. They put it under classical, easy listening, Irish folk... When it comes to our live show, we shouldn't be called the Celtic Tenors, we should be called Bananarama.... except they were awful, weren't they?"

Gilsenan's Celtic comrades, James Nelson and Daryl Simpson, all share Ireland's propensity of churning out respected artists in music, dance and literature.

Gilsenan was born north of Dublin in the town of Kells, famed for the Book of Kells, an ornately illustrated manuscript, produced by Celtic monks around AD 800. His sister Deirdre Shannon is also a singer, and toured with Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance for four years. She also joins the tenors on their albums and on tour.

"I've heard from my friends in other countries who have grown up in the business how they struggled because music is not regarded as a serious career. With our successes on the worldwide stage... the schooling we receive and the nature of our people, we are given permission to be creative," said Gilsenan who was, in fact, an engineer for five years before he entered music as a full-time career. "Singing is part of our social fabric."

Nelson is a native of Sligo, birthplace of famed wordsmith W.B. Yeats and coincidently, the popular boy band Westlife, who were signed by Simon Scow... Cowell, while Simpson, the newest member of the group, comes from Omagh in Northern Ireland.

"It's an interesting group as we come from the whole island of Ireland," said Gilsenan, adding that his country has entered a new era as Ireland's peace accord was signed just two weeks ago.

And although The Celtic Tenors are all classically- trained singers who have performed with top opera companies and symphonies, including Vancouver's earlier this year, they are happy to turn off their operatic voices when need be.

They do this on the traditional Irish tunes they perform (their version of Danny Boy reportedly had former U.S. president Clinton in tears when he saw them perform at Dublin Castle.) The tenors even do a version of Air Supply's `80s hit, All out of Love, which they recorded for their Remember Me album. (Air Supply even added the tenors' version as a bonus track on their 30-year retrospective CD/DVD, The Singer and the Song.)

"We use our operatic voices to sing opera, but we're cool about toning it down to sing other kinds of music. There's nothing worse than Placido (Domingo) or Luciano) Pavarotti singing pop in their operatic voice," said Gilsenan.