World-beating Irish ensemble Celtic Woman brings Voices of Angels tour home
Ahead of their homecoming gig in Dublin, Jenny Lee chats about fiddles, fashion, friendship and musical fusion with the two northern members of the globally successful Irish musical ensemble Celtic Woman
AFTER a year in Celtic Woman, Antrim musician Tara McNeill is still living the dream and excited about playing her first gig in Ireland as a member of the group.
One of Ireland's most successful musical exports, the all-female Irish musical ensemble was created in 2004 by Sharon Browne and David Downes, a former musical director of the Irish stage show Riverdance, to perform a repertoire that ranged from traditional Celtic tunes to contemporary songs.
While the group's line-up has changed over the years, their unique sound and their popularity remain the same. The group have sold more than 10 million records, four million tour tickets in 23 countries across six continents, and have continuously topped the American billboard charts.
Being a member of Celtic Woman had been a long-held ambition for Tara and after more than a year in the group, she feels the reality has exceeded her expectations.
"Dreams do come true. It's been an absolute whirlwind, but I've loved every moment of it," says the 28-year-old. "I'd admired the group for years and watched them on YouTube and if people asked me what my dream job was what would it be and I always said I would be a member of Celtic Woman.
"The year before I joined they were recording their Destiny DVD special in Dublin and I played harp in the band. Luckily for me, Mairéad Nesbitt decided to take some time away and they were looking for a new violinist and I got a call to audition."
Tara doesn't deny she felt pressure in replacing founding member Mairéad Nesbitt.
"The singers have changed over the years, but there has only ever been Mairéad on violin. I did feel the pressure, but I've not had to copy her. I've been able to go in and just be myself and perform the way I want to perform. As I also play the harp that set me apart."
For Tara, the musical direction of their most recent album and tour, Voices of Angels, complemented her background in classical violin and traditional Irish music, particularly on a pair of instrumental pieces on the album.
There are also some reels and jigs she plays on the Irish fiddle, but her favourite song and moment of the show is playing For the Love of a Princess from the movie Braveheart.
"It's such a gorgeous piece where I get to really show off my classical training," she says.
The current Celtic Woman line-up includes Dubliners Susan McFadden and Éabha McMahon and fellow northerner Mairéad Carlin, from Derry.
"The four of us are so different as musicians. Susan has a musical theatre background, Éabha is an authentic Irish traditional singer and Mairéad is a classical singer, as well as folk. The show really showcases all of us and has something for everyone," Tara says.
Celtic Woman always perform a show rather than a concert and the Dublin event, which will be recorded for television broadcast in America by the PBS network, will include a fresh stage design, breathtaking choreography, and brand new costumes.
The live concert will feature many songs from their Voice of Angels albums, as well as a large ensemble of equally talented musicians and dancers whose exceptional skill and high energy bring a fresh fusion to centuries of musical and cultural tradition.
During each show the girls have three or four costume changes and Tara is looking forward to getting into Simon O'Mahony's latest designs.
"They are simply stunning. He knows what works for us, but we can also say what we like and he can make it accordingly. We are very lucky. Mine is slightly shorter to enable me to skip around the stage – but I still get the sparkle," she laughs.
For Derry singer Mairéad Carlin, the group's Grammy Nomination for Voices of Angles last year was her highlight since joining the group and it's the tour in which she literally found her voice.
"It's actually taken me the four years to realise the artist that I am. I'm opera trained, although I didn't want to pursue that as a career I always want to show elements of it. In this tour I've been able to do just that.
"Voices of Angles is the most classical album we have ever done. It was a dream to record with a 120-piece orchestra," says Mairéad, whose favourite track is a version of Bach's Ave Maria.
"It's quite an emotional song where I can open up more and sing in more of a classical way," she says.
She believes that one of the main reasons for Celtic Woman's lasting success is the camaraderie between the singers, who spend as many as 35 weeks a year on the road touring.
"People are chosen very carefully to join the group because we spend a very concentrated time together. Celtic Woman have a 'no diva' policy, so anyone that who comes into the show is just a genuinely nice person. Éabha McMahon was my bridesmaid and now she's getting married and I'm her bridesmaid. I would be absolutely lost without her."
And for those who haven't heard their music, how does Mairéad describe Celtic Woman?
"Celtic Woman is a mixture of classical crossover and traditional Irish. I guess the only way I could describe it is a fusion of world music. It's a genre of it's own; there is nothing you can liken it to.
"The people that come to our shows range from three to 90. Across the board people just enjoy our music. That's simply down to the fact as Irish people we love a great story and Irish songs tell good stories. No matter where you go in the world people get emotional at Danny Boy and those kind of songs because they touch they heart."
:: Celtic Woman bring home their Voice of Angels tour to Dublin's 3Arena on September 2. Book online at ticketmaster.ie