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June 2019
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2002-03-28 James who? Let me tell you about myself

James Who? Apart from the handful of loyal Celtic Tenor fans, and friends of old, I am sure there are many of you out there who are wondering who this person is who is appearing in their local paper. So let me introduce myself.


I was born in Garden Hill Nursing home in the last century, youngest son of Drummond and Frieda Nelson of Cartron. My mother Frieda, a graduate of Queen's University Belfast, moved down to Sligo from her home in Bangor, County Down in the 1940s and taught English and French at Sligo Grammar and High School, and later at Sligo Regional(now the IT).


My father Drummond ran the family business in Castle Street and Market Street, which had been in the family since 1828, and dealt in mainly jewellery, jewellery repairs, hardware and fishing tackle. This is now Greene's Shoe shop.


I attended Sligo Model School (more of this in a later column), then to Sligo Grammar School (at the age of 10!) and later as a boarder to Wesley College in Dublin. I was a cub-scout at St. Johns (under the guidance of John McCrea and Mrs. Elizabeth Wood-Martin), a scout with Arnie Griffin, a very diligent piano pupil of the late (inspirational) Mrs.Ger Cole, and I entered the local Feiseanna, even winning a few prizes.


My original plan after leaving school was to go into the family business, but music began to really take over. I didn't want to be a bitter old man, staring into my pint, thinking "What if I had done this......?". So I went to UCD to study Music and French. Despite spending most of my time in Dramsoc (the UCD Dramatic Society) where I performed in more than 30 plays during my time there, I still managed to graduate in 1985 with BA.and B.Mus (Hons) degrees, the youngest ever music graduate from UCD!


On leaving UCD, I joined the RTE Chamber Choir, and studied singing with Dr. Veronica Dunne (briefly) and with Edith Forrest. I was also a church organist and choirmaster in Whitechurch in Rathfarnham, and a part-time music teacher, teaching piano, Leaving Cert Musicianship and choir. Having won several awards in the Dublin Feis, I went to a summer school in England where I met my present teacher, David Harper, who suggested I move to London. This I did, and after a brief spell teaching at the Italia Conti School of Theatre Arts ( my pupils included Martine McCutcheon), as well as working in a music shop, I was approached by an opera agent and began to travel all over singing in opera, oratorio and concerts.


My singing took me right throughout the UK and Ireland, and to Spain, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, Israel, Singapore and the U.S.A. I have performed from an oratorio repertoire of more than 60 works, two highlights being performances of "Enfance du Christ" in Rome and Florence with the Italian diva Katia Ricciarelli, and Frank Martin's "Golgotha" in Bern and Zurich Cathedrals. My opera work includes Alfredo (La Traviata) in Italy, Lensky (œEugene Onegin) in Russia, Tichon (Katya Kabanova) in Portugal, Snout (Midsummer Night's Dream) with Singapore Lyric Opera, Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) at Hever Castle in Kent, Don Basilio (Marriage of Figaro) for Scottish Opera under the baton of Raymond Leppard, and almost 50 other roles.


In 1995, just after Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti had a very original idea to do a gig together, I became a founder member of "The Three Irish Tenors". We toured around doing one-off gigs while at the same time pursuing our own solo careers. After a summer residency at Clontarf Castle with Rebecca Storm we were taken on to the books of Pat Egan who suggested that what we needed was a record deal.


Our almost immediate audition for EMI in London landed us a three-album deal, on the proviso that we change our name to "The Celtic Tenors". Even though we were the first 3 Tenor' group to hit the Irish music scene, we said "Oh go on then!", and here I am, just having released our second album - The Celtic Tenors - So Strong -. Who knows what tomorrow may hold?


Read Nelson's first column where he recalls learning music in Sligo in the 1970s.