The Priests: We could do business with Ed Sheeran – if Lady Gaga's not free

Singing sensations The Priests talk Ed Sheeran, reinvention and their Hollywood movie with Joanne Sweeney ahead of a series of concerts in the north

Ed Sheeran is a guy we could work with if Lady Gaga is not available, say The Priests
Ed Sheeran is a guy we could work with if Lady Gaga is not available, say The Priests

AS ED Sheeran is in the process of trying to form a boy band, perhaps he should look no further than three of the most famous clergymen in Ireland – The Priests.

Fr Eugene and Fr Martin O'Hagan and their friend and fellow group member Fr David Delargy have their sights set on working with pop's hottest property at the moment – that's if Lady Gaga is not available.

Fr Eugene – who describes himself as the "impish one" out of the three – says, tongue in cheek, of Sheeran: "He's a guy we could do business with, I think. He's riding the crest of a very wonderful wave musically and I must say his stuff is very good, so he might be an artist to work with if Lady Gaga is not available.

"We would only be too delighted, I'd say, so if she can't make it, let us guys all together on the stage and when Ed brings out his guitar, you wouldn't know what might happen."

That prospect might not be too pie in the sky for the priests who became 'overnight stars' when their first eponymously named album was released nine years ago.

Their smooth blend of heaven-sent voices, along perhaps with the novelty of their religious calling, ensured that by the end of December 2008, the record was the fastest-selling debut classical album to date, turning Platinum in Ireland, the UK, Sweden, Norway and New Zealand.

The Priests donate the vast majority of their royalties to charitable causes at home and abroad.

Two further albums, 2009's Harmony and Noël in 2010, plus major performances and meetings with the great and the good have cemented the musical career of the three gentle clerics who love to share their joy of music and song with the world.

Now their fourth album, Alleluia, completed late last year is being re-released ahead of Easter, while a series of concerts in the north for this year starts on May 26 at Derry's Everglade Hotel.

Fr Eugene says of their latest recording: "When we sat to do this album we very much wanted to capture the sound of our very first album which was extremely popular. We wanted the tracks on Alleluia to be instantly recognisable to listeners but at the same time do something new for ourselves so we have a mixture of old favourites along with a new recording style.

"We have tracks like The Lord of the Dance and The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby which we all love. Without losing the musicality of the piece, we like to emphasise the words as the song is about the loneliness and isolation of many.”

Life for the priests, all of whom are in their 40s, is a lot quieter now than last year when they performed concerts at home and abroad while recording the album.

When they are not working on their musical career, all three continue to work as priests: Fr Eugene, a former parish priest in Ballyclare who's now a full time diocesan administrator working for Down & Conor, with Fr Martin and Fr David ministering as parish priests in St Patrick's Church, Newtownards and Hannahstown Parish in Belfast respectively.

While they might admire the careers of stars such as Lady Gaga and Madonna, Fr Eugene says that The Priests will always be priests who love to sing.

"We haven't met Lady Gaga but we wouldn't turn down the opportunity if she was so inclined," he says. "We became interested in her when she performed some Sound of Music songs which she did extremely well. She reinvents herself all the time, a bit like Madonna. We don't do that type of thing. We are who we are and you get what you get.

"When we appear to sing we are usually in a clerical dress, our black and whites, so we don't the same opportunity to reinvent ourselves as Lady Gaga. In one sense, I would envy her, but there you go – we are what we are."

The O'Hagan brothers from Claudy, Co Derry, and Fr David who's originally from Ballymena, first started singing together as students at the former St MacNissi's College in Garron Tower, Carnlough, in the 1970s.

Dubbed 'Holy, Holy, Holy' by their fellow students, their talent was recognised and nurtured there and continued when all three went for vocational training at the Seminary in Belfast while studying at Queen's University.

It was during their continuing study at the Irish College in Rome that they got their first big break by being asked to sing for Pope John Paul II during liturgy on several occasions.

Admiration of their voices quietly grew when they returned back home to take up their vocations as priests. They kept their singing alive by forming choral group Capella Caeciliana, recording four albums with them.

But it was a recording contract with Sony in 2008 which that led to their world-acclaimed debut classical album. It will be a few years yet until their proposed movie Raising the Roof, inspired by their story, will be ready for screening.

"The script is near its completion and has gone through a couple of workings, and is slightly different from the original text proposed." explains Fr Eugene. "It's loosely based on the three of us but it's not a biography. Now it's about getting the right director and the right director will attract the right investment to make it work at some time in the future."

Their longstanding friendship and mutual love of music is something that adds to their sound, he says.

"We know each other's voices so well and know each other's temperament so well and that all has a part to play in the real life concert performance as we can anticipate almost what each other is going to do," he adds.

"It's the glance or the wink or the tone of the voice which is a great assistance on stage. My dear brother and David would agree that probably of the three of us, I'm the most impish when it gets to the live performance.

"The joy of making music which is such a joyful shared experience for us all and can simply change our world."

The Priests still have some not so modest ambitions, says Fr Eugene.

“It would be great if we could play the O2 sometime in London but that may be too big for us. Carnegie Hall in New York is a venue that’s so well known and so highly respected by all kinds of musicians, so to play there would be a dream yet to come true.”

:: For upcoming concert details and tickets visit www.thepriests.org