Shamrock Tenors - hitting the right chord

Northern Irish group carry on Irish musical tradition across the globe

The Shamrock Tenors are an Irish folk vocal group made up of five singers from across Northern Ireland pictured in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter
The Shamrock Tenors are an Irish folk vocal group made up of five singers from across Northern Ireland

They have wowed audiences across four continents with their new slant on Irish folk music. Now the Shamrock Tenors are set to make their West End debut and play at some of the biggest venues in America.

“Our American bookers were saying we have Chicago, Boston, New York, fighting over us for St. Patrick’s night 2025,” laughs Raymond Walsh, founder of the Northern Irish five piece harmony and multi-instrumental group.

Lisburn-born Raymond was starring in Les Misérables in London when he had the idea to create a group that would showcase the breadth of talent back home in the north of Ireland.

The Shamrock Tenors pictured in a Belfast bar
The Shamrock Tenors comprise of Raymond and Jack Walsh, Jamie Johnston, Tom Brandon and Matthew Campbell

Formed in 2018 he is joined in the group by his younger brother Jack Walsh and Larne-born Jamie Johnston. Also in the line-up is Rostrevor performer Tom Brandon and their musical director Matthew Campbell, from Downpatrick, both of whom starred in Grammy-nominated The Choir of Man.

The five-piece harmony and multi-instrumental group, combine traditional Irish melodies with exciting modern-day vocals, with hit songs such as the Wild Rover, Whiskey in the Jar and Dirty Old Town, as well as more modern hits by artists such as Van Morrison and U2, and their own original compositions.

Their first two singles, Belfast and Grace, shot to number one on the iTunes World Music Charts.

The video for their rendition of the song Belfast, originally written by singer-songwriter Alex Quinn, follows Lisburn-born actor and Normal People star Desmond Eastwood, as he arrives in Belfast City Airport and in some of the city’s top attractions and landmarks.

Having juggled the band with individual acting and music commitments, Raymond is excited to now be “throwing their all” into the band.

Whilst the band were entertaining onboard a river cruise in the Amazon Rainforest this March, their live concert from Belfast’s Ulster Hall was aired to viewers across the UK and Ireland in the BBC special The Shamrock Tenors – St Patrick’s Night Concert.

As the Shamrock Tenors’ aim is to “bring their love of traditional Irish music to a worldwide audience”, they are delighted the programme will be shown in North America on PBS later this year.

“Initially we were supposed to get a localised PBS release, but they loved it so much it’s getting a national release in November, going into 97% of homes in North America, which is just mental,” enthuses Raymond.

This will be followed by a 10 week tour of America, promoted by theatrical booking agency The Road Company.

“They look after shows like Wicked and Moulin Rouge and they’ve managed to get us into some crazy big theaters next year, including the 5000 seat Fox Theater in Detroit.”

An international appetite for Irish music combined with the Shamrock Tenors upbeat performances and infectious energy have contributed to their popularity.

People are proud to be Irish and music is a huge part of how we celebrate our identity

—  Raymond Walsh

“There’s been a massive resurgence in Irish folk music in the last sort of 10 years. It’s firmly back in popular culture.”

“People are proud to be Irish and music is a huge part of how we celebrate our identity. No matter where we are in the world, if you ask “is there anyone of Irish heritage here?”, the place goes nuts. We’re fortunate in that sense,” says Raymond.

What makes The Shamrock Tenors stand out, apart from their obvious talent is that they are a glorious representation of unity in diversity.

Proud of the fact that their members come from both Protestant and Catholic upbringing. Their musical catalogue doesn’t shy away from any particular aspects of our divided history– from The Fields of Athenry and Grace, about the love of Easter Rising leader Joseph Plunkett to the World War 1 military song The Road To Passchendaele.

“I think we’re one of the first bands from the north to take this music on an international stage. With us being a cross community group, there’s a real fascination and intrigue that we are of a different generation.”

The group plan to release a live album of 14 songs by the end of this year, followed by a full studio album with more original Irish folk music in 2025.

“Our long term goal is to further add to the Irish songbook and represent home as best we can. Jamie (who is also a former champion Irish dancer) is a very proud Northern Irish man and he wants to create the genre of Irish music that originates from the north,” adds Raymond.

Two of his songs featured in the St Patrick’s Day special – Mary and Climbing Over the Mountain, a positive song about mental health.

The Shamrock Tenors in concert
The Shamrock Tenors in concert

“Mary is based on a true story about the very first passenger ship, Friends’ Goodwill, that left Ireland from Larne. It’s about a guy who is leaving on the ship and he’s leaving his life and love behind and he’s saying I’m trying to find a better life in Boston. He tells her that although he will always be thinking of her, she is to not wait on him but lead her own life. It’s a beautiful story and song.”

The eldest in the group at the age of 35, Raymond has his sister, and Westlife, to thank for discovering his passion for performing when he was persuaded as a teenager to help operate the lighting at a youth production she was starring in.”

“I was really taken in and thought it looked so fun. Then I discovered Westlife and wanted to be part of their group,” laughs Raymond, who went on to train in Musical Theatre at the Guildford School of Acting.

“Our production manager actually works with the Westlife boys. They’ve seen our video and been asking about us, which is brilliant.”

Northern Ireland's premier folk and traditional vocal group The Shamrock Tenors
Northern Ireland's premier folk and traditional vocal group The Shamrock Tenors (Cinematic Tide/Cinematic Tide)

When it comes to Raymond’s favourite song to perform, he is quick to stick with his folk roots and names Black Velvet Band.

“It’s got lovely harmonies. I start it and straight away the entire place is singing with you. There’s nothing like that feeling. The first line says ‘in a neat little town they call Belfast’ and no matter where you are in the world it takes you home.”

The Shamrock Tenors will play a number of local gigs in Armagh’s Marke tPlace Theatre on May 4, Portico Ards on June 7, Belfast’s Grand Opera House on June 21 and Derry’s Millennium Forum on June 22, before making their West End debut at London’s Adelphi Theatre on July 30. For full tour dates and booking visit Shamrocktenors.com.