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Tequila gives an extra kick to new Celtic Tenors album

Story by John Donohoe

Wednesday, 9th September, 2009 4:43pm

If the Celtic Tenors sound like they are having a good time on their new album, 'Hard Times', it's because they were. All the tracks on the new album were recorded at the Waystation Studio in Los Angeles.

"We were recording a Bob Dylan song that I hadn't come across before," Matthew Gilsenan, Meath's member of the singing trio, recalls. "Our producer, Steve Lindsey, thought it would be a good one to do. It's a good, happy song, so we said 'yeah, let's try it'."

But it wasn't going well in the studio. "Steve thought it wasn't working. He told us to take a break and headed out. He came back an hour later with a bottle of tequila. After we polished that off, he said, 'now, we'll try that again'."

The result is the highly lively third track on The Celtic Tenors' new album, complete with a 'whoop' or two included in the introduction!

Ten years into their existence, the Celtic Tenors, which features two of the original three members, with a newer arrival, have changed direction with their new recording, a collection of roots-based harmony-driven songs by writers such as Stephen Foster and Dylan.

"In the past, we had done a mixture of pop, classical and Irish on our records," Gilsenan, from Moynalty, says. "Steve thought that maybe that was a mistake, and we should concentrate on one idea for an album. After all, an album, to use the old term record, should be a record of where you are at any given time."

So, with the Tenors touring America, covering 300 dates in the States there last year, the obvious choice for an album was one with the American theme. "The idea was to do a concept album of American songs, with a US, Celtic and Irish influence," he explains.

While the other Tenors albums were made with big orchestras and backing music, this one has drums and percussion, bass guitar, guitar, fiddle and piano played by Daryl Simpson, the new addition to the line-up, who hails from Omagh.

It's 10 years since the Celtic Tenors first emerged on the Irish scene, having originally being styled as The Three Irish Tenors for 137 performances with Rebecca Storm in Clontarf Castle. Changing to the Celtic Tenors to distinguish from other tenor groups, they signed up to EMI for a three-record deal. The original line-up was Matthew Gilsenan, James Nelson and Niall Morris.

They became an instant success, booked out two years in advance. This continued for seven years, but travel and work eventually began to take its toll, and Niall Morris went his own way to pursue other projects, such as this year's opera festival in Loughcrew. Venues began to get bigger, but then, a few years back, they parted company with their manager.

"This was a tough time, we've had a tough few years," Matthew Gilsenan says. "The departure of Niall and our manager had financial implications." He took over managing the show himself, before veteran manager Tim Bernett came on board. There were high points, too, singing for President Clinton at Dublin Castle, and being invited by Bono to sing birthday greetings for UN General Secretary Kofi Annan's wife, Nane, at Farmleigh.

'Hard Times' is one of their most daring projects to date, Gilsenan believes. "We were at an airport in America wondering do we go home or do we go and do this album. We decided 'to hell with it, let's do it'."

The presence of Bernett and "great producer" Lindsey was a major factor in their decision. "All this led to our neglect of Ireland," he explains. "So we are coming back to a more local level again, with an Irish tour."

Management suggested to them that Irish venues wouldn't be big enough for them, and they wouldn't make enough money on them. "It's not about that in Ireland," Gilsenan says. "We just want to put on a good show for our Irish audiences. I suppose 'Hard Times' may not be ideal in a recession, but the 'come again no more' line offers a hopeful outlook. wI suppose when you are classically trained, people expect a certain performance from you, but we're going for something different here - we even encourage audience participation!" he adds.

The Tenors are in the States at the moment, where they had three dates in Dallas over the weekend, and start their Irish tour at the end of this month. They have not long returned from the Irish festivals in the US, including one in Dublin, Ohio, which attracted 100,000.

Later in the year, Matthew Gilsenan is joining up with Kells area native Myles Dungan of RTE for a show in the Solstice Arts Centre, Navan, recalling the Irish who fought for America, from the Spanish Wars to World War II, in words and song.

The Celtic Tenors will perform in Solstice, Navan, on Friday 2nd October, where they'll be joined for a number of songs by the Carlanstown NS choir, which Matthew and Celestine Gilsenan's son, Sean, attends. Tickets are priced at €25, and the show is at 8pm.

Bellinter House Hotel is offering a package deal that includes accommodation, breakfast, a pre-theatre dinner and tickets for two people for The Celtic Tenors concert in Navan that night.

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