[I had started this bio/profile several times, each time deciding that the bios already available on Neil's own website, the Acoustic By Candlelight website and Celtic Thunder's website are far more thorough than what I would be writing here. But, I seemed to still be switching between these 3 sites a lot, and googling a lot, when it comes to double-checking things I think I recall about this lovely man and his music career. And, from the meager stats I see through the blogger system, it would seem that some people arrive on this blog looking for a bio/profile on Neil. So, while I love the storytelling on Neil's existing bios, I put up a bio here on him as well. When I first posted this bio, there were several different websites and articles stating Neil's age, and they varied by several years, so I did ask Neil when I met him in November 2012, just a few days after his birthday, and he told me he was 35. While wikipedia is still not exactly a trusted site, it is actually correct on this factoid. And, fyi, this post is still an ongoing project, so it will be updated as I have more or better information.]
Hometown: Neil is from County Wicklow, Ireland. I know I've seen or heard him mention which town is is from more specifically, but at the moment I am not finding that particular reference. In any case, his family lived near enough to Bray for him to be heading there to buy his first album, Dire Straits' "Brothers In Arms", as a kid.(Celtic Times, 4th Edition)
Instruments: Guitar (started learning to play by age 7), piano, mandolin, electric bass, drums, ? (I vaguely recall seeing him with a ukulele in one of the youtube videos, but I'll have to double check later to be sure). Neil reminds me of musicians I know who will play anything if you put it within their reach, so the real question may be "What does Neil not play, and why?"
First “official” performance: Not sure about this one, but according to his profile on the Celtic Thunder website, Neil was playing with a band by age 11, so he took to the stage pretty early. His dad was a professional musician, so he grew up around music and had his parents' full support all along as he was developing into the musician he is now.
Education: I don't really know, but I've never heard that Neil finished a degree of any kind in college. He was so solidly into music by the time he was a teenager that I'm not sure what he would do with a college degree, unless maybe it was in business or marketing. He is about my age, though, so he's certainly had enough time to have tried out college at some point.Maybe this is something I should ask next time I see him in person?
Bands and Ensembles:
Hipple Street (before Celtic Thunder) Again, I have very little to go on for pre-Celtic Thunder days, though Hipple Street is on myspace and facebook in some capacity. Hipple Street's EP is also on spotify, as anyone following my weekly 20 song playlists knows. I was able to find out a bit about some of the other guys in this band, but not much. Hopefully I'll stumble across enough information to profile this band separately, eventually.They did have one song that is on youtube, but not on their EP, that they were giving away as a free download promo to boost their following near the end of Hipple Street's career, which I am sad I missed out on.
Celtic Thunder (2008-present) Neil started out as a musician with this group, playing guitar, percussion, and various other instruments as needed, but he was also a backing vocalist, and starting with the 2010 tour Neil moved up to join the other lead vocalists of Celtic Thunder. His role as a singer with this group has solidified and expanded since then, to the extent that the group has had a new sexy Irish man on guitar and Neil is no longer bouncing between two roles as the lead guitarist in the band and as lead singer. He does, however, still play the drums in the Raggle Taggle Gypsy 'drum war', a task he seems to enjoy thoroughly, and rather than pull Neil off of instruments on tour, it seems as if the trend may be to have the singers play their own instruments more, which I rather like. It is harder to take musicians seriously when they are just singing arrangements of pop covers to taped backing tracks, but even with those taped backing tracks at least they look like 'real' musicians if they have guitars in their hands. They work just as hard either way, but I find it easier to sell my friends on Celtic Thunder as a band worth hearing if they can see that the singers have more talents than just singing and strutting.
Other Music Related Activities:
Sensitive Souls: A 4-song EP Neil released in 2010, this album includes a very nice cover of Madonna's "Cherish", and the original song "Sadie Jones and I", for which Neil has a lovely music video as well. One of my favorite video clips of Neil is from when he was introducing this EP to his fans, explaining the title "Sensitive Souls". In his own words, from his webpage bio, he says somewhat less personally, "The title comes from my own observations of many musicians being sensitive souls." But, in his video, he was so nervous and excited about sharing his precious songs with the world, clearly very much a 'sensitive soul' revealing something of itself to the world through his music. I'm sure many people fell in love with Neil on seeing this side of him, and he has remained just as genuine and lovable ever since.
Pale Blue Jak: A music project Neil started a while ago, Neil released his first Pale Blue Jak album last year, entitled "Faces". This album has a nice mix of original songs and pop/rock cover tunes, with a happy, upbeat sound that relates back to Neil's days with Hipple Street. Neil has a brand new music video now involving a bunch of cartoon animals he has been using as rather effective teasers for months, for the song "Mr. Ace", which is off this album. Neil draws from the songs on Faces for his shows with Ryan Kelly when they tour with their Acoustic By Candlelight show (though not all the songs he sings on this tour are from Pale Blue Jak, of course).
Acoustic By Candlelight: A tour with Ryan Kelly, also of Celtic Thunder, which has covered much of the US East Coast in spring 2012 and covered the West Coast in December 2012. More tours in 2013 finally led to a new studio album from Neil and Ryan, called appropriately Acoustically Irish (released in 2013). Video clips of the tours are up on youtube, including a few of the song "Raggle Taggle Gypsy", which as a Celtic Thunder song would be sung by the whole ensemble; Ryan and Neil kept the arrangement very close to the Celtic Thunder version, but with just their voices, so Neil sings the verse that was usually sung by George, in a lower range than what Neil usually sings. Neil of course does the lower voice in his "Captain Lane" recording, so fans who have seen the teaser video for that song know he has a wide vocal range, but it is still a bit of a shock hearing him suddenly singing a verse in that range, mid song.
Neil Byrne's website, Neil's Official Facebook page, Reverbnation
Celtic Thunder website, Acoustic By Candlelight website, Neil Byrne and Ryan Kelly on facebook
Albums, Solo/duo: Sensitive Souls EP, Pale Blue Jak "Faces", Acoustically Irish (2013)
Albums, Other: Celtic Thunder: Celtic Thunder The Show (2008), Act II (2008), Take Me Home (2009), It's Entertainment! (2010), Celtic Thunder Christmas (2010), Storm (2011), Heritage (2011), Voyage (2012), Voyage II (2012), Mythology (2013)
And, yes I am slowly getting around to updating these profiles. I did a lot more work on Ryan's pages because of all the drama he has dealt with over the past few years, and especially when he was in that coma 2yrs ago, but if anything happened to Neil I'd be just as upset. I'm just grateful he's been lucky so far, and yes, I'll be focusing more on Neil and his pages this year. I know he was in the studio last year working on his Pale Blue Jak music, so no doubt he has some new stuff for us to enjoy, coming soon.