Celebrating our music

Co Tyrone singer Eamonn McCrystal, who has enjoyed huge success in the US, returns to Belfast next month to host a concert celebrating the music of his homeland.

Jenny Lee chats to the 27-year-old about the show and plans to broadcast it across America

SINCE moving to America in his early 20s after his talent was discovered by Randy Travis and his then wife Elizabeth, Eamonn McCrystal has gone on to enjoy much success, having performed several times on the Grand Ole Opry and drawn comparisons with Josh Groban.

He is also an established radio personality in the States and as well as recording the soundtrack for the forthcoming movie Big Stone Gap starring Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick Wilson, he has ventured into the world of acting filming in two forthcoming Christmas movies.

But the Cookstown-born tenor's roots are very important to him and next month he returns home to host and co-produce a celebration of Northern Ireland music. This made-for-TV concert, featuring artists such as Brian Kennedy, Rachel Tucker, Keith & Kristyn Getty, will focus on hit songs written here as well as showcasing the north's landscapes. It will be filmed by BBC Northern Ireland for broadcast on US public television.

What's new Stateside with Eamonn McCrystal? 2014 has been exceptionally busy. We've now finished season one of my talk show In Person and I also have a new album launching on September 2 in the US with Capitol Records. The best is yet to come with this huge project in Belfast on September 6.

How did Celebrating Music from Northern Ireland come about?

I was watching the news here in the US and was embarrassed by the rioting scenes on the streets of Belfast, listening to American journalists "analyse the situation of Northern Ireland". I instantly got upset thinking 'Is this the best we can do?' It was time that we start to showcase the best of Northern Ireland around the world with a musical celebration.

How did you decide upon the music and musicians to showcase?

When I started to look at the impressive catalogue of music written by Jimmy Kennedy, Van Morrison, Snow Patrol and the many traditional pieces originating from our little corner of the world it was overwhelming.

To craft this into a show I enlisted the help of my good friend and music producer Nigel Wright. With Nigel's experience and talent for arranging orchestras for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Simon Cowell he was the perfect man for the job, blending pop with traditional pieces and some big band numbers.

In my opinion, no-one else can represent Belfast better than singer/songwriter Brian Kennedy. His performances around the world make him a great ambassador for Northern Ireland as does Rachel Tucker who has an impressive musical theatre career and is the leading lady of Sting's new musical The Last Ship opening in Broadway this September. Keith & Kristyn Getty have taken the world by storm with their beautiful modern day hymns with a Celtic flare. And last but not least we couldn't have a show at the Grand Opera House, celebrating all things from Northern Ireland without the incomparable May McFettridge.

Tell us more about the plans for broadcasting the concert Thanks to BBC NI and PBS we will be broadcasting across the world in March 2015. The TV show will show the scenic landscapes and back stories of how the songs were written.

Does Northern Ireland music still influence your own career?

I am always very conscious to remember where I come from and know that I would not be here today if not for the great musical talent, from home, that paved the way for new artists like me, particularly here in the US.

Van Morrison's contribution to music, especially in movie soundtracks, has been phenomenal as has Jimmy Kennedy's compositions that have been covered by many of the biggest names in music including Elvis and Frank Sinatra.

* Celebrating Music from Northern Ireland with Eamonn McCrystal is at Belfast's Grand Opera House on September 6.


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