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Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 Wrap Up/Highlights: Celtic Thunder

2012 is just about over and this year has been very decidedly eventful for my favorite music group, Celtic Thunder. Of course, as someone who has been a Thunderhead for a few years, my concept of 'Celtic Thunder' includes not just those people who are currently connected with the group, but past members as well, and none of these folks have been coasting or resting on their laurels this year.
Way back in January, Celtic Thunder was embarking on their first Australia/New Zealand tour. Celtic Thunder then included George Donaldson, Keith Harkin, Neil Byrne, Emmet Cahill and Ryan Kelly. Daniel Furlong, who was listed as a guest performer and had toured the US with the group in fall 2011, was left behind in Ireland.
After Australia and New Zealand, the lads had a brief time off before returning to the US for their next publicity tour, visiting PBS stations and TV studios to promote their next album/tour, called Voyage. At the end of this publicity tour, Ryan Kelly and Neil Byrne stayed behind to tour the East Coast for the first leg of their new Acoustic by Candlelight tour.
They returned home to Ireland in late May, and at the very beginning of June Ryan had his accident, which landed him in the hospital for weeks. He was still in the hospital in a coma as the group was preparing to head back to the US to perform 10 nights of shows in Atlantic City, so Colm Keegan was hurriedly added into the group and performed his first night on stage with Celtic Thunder in Atlantic City only a couple weeks after he started learning the material. During this time, too, the fans were worried that Keith Harkin was being replaced by Colm, because Keith's new album, through Verve Music, was set to be released in a few months.
By the end of the summer, though, Keith was still in Celtic Thunder, Ryan was fully recovered and rehearsing with the group again, and Colm was becoming fully integrated into Celtic Thunder. New fans coming into the Celtic Thunder community in future years may be quite puzzled by a lot of things, but one they will wish they had not missed is Willis. As the guys rehearsed their show in August, a new 'member' of the group developed, thanks to Ryan, Neil and Colm. This new member, Willis, was a distinctive green & yellow ball of tape, which apparently still resides in Neil's suitcase. Willis derives his name and identity from an episode of the TV show "Friends", and now has his own fan club page, and even t-shirts and other merchandise. If Neil ever should lose Willis, or worse yet, throw him out, he'll have quite a few fans to answer to.
Keith released his debut album in September, Damian McGinty released a very successful 5-track EP a few weeks ago, and Damian's own record label, Walled City Records, released a fantastic 4-track EP from their first artist, Darrell Coyle.
Unfortunately for Thunderheads in Australia and New Zealand, Colm is not yet so fully integrated into the group as we might wish- apparently he is not going to be heading down that way with the group until the new Mythology tour, which reaches that part of the planet in early 2014. I'm sure there are good reasons for this, but having met Colm, I sympathize with my fellow Thunderheads who won't get to meet this lovely lad for another year. But, he will be an integral part of the group as they move forward with Mythology next year.
Celtic Thunder released 2 albums this year, Voyage and Voyage II, with their accompanying DVDs of course, and this fall they toured using this material in combination with some of their old favorites. They completed their 67 show tour at the beginning of December, after which George headed to the East Coast to play a small solo tour, while Ryan and Neil started their own tour, a second leg of Acoustic by Candlelight, this time focusing on the West Coast.Also this year, somehow, the group found time to learn and record a whole new double-length album which will come out in February.

The Lads: Daniel Furlong
Daniel Furlong is a 14yr old lad from Wexford, which is at the southeastern corner of Ireland. At his age I would imagine his voice will be changing soon- after all, boy sopranos don't remain sopranos without serious and irreversible surgery, and I doubt anyone wants to add Daniel to the ranks of famous Castrati, however lovely his voice would be. In the meantime, his album, Voice of an Angel, is out, and his friend and supporter Michael Londra is doing what he can to support Daniel's music career, right now by helping to promote Daniel's album. Daniel is also working on learning to play electric guitar, and is improving his guitar skills more generally, so by the time he returns to the public eye more fully, he'll be well on his way to stardom, guitar in hand.

Paul Byrom
Paul Byrom, steadily plodding away at his solo career post-Celtic Thunder, has been working on setting up his show for a 'PBS special' to be recorded early next year. He has been hard at work on all the posts and other fan-appreciation 'gifts' he owes his many supporters who pledged money to his kickstarter to make his PBS special possible. And, of course, next year he and Dominique will be getting married, so they will no doubt be turning some attention to wedding-planning in the coming months. Once Paul's special is completed, he'll be doing his own publicity tour to promote his show, hopefully with many concerts sprinkled in with his publicity travels, and with a proper concert tour to follow.

Damian McGinty
Damian McGinty's fame is twofold at this point, and many of his Glee fans are only now discovering that he once sang as part of Celtic Thunder. Yep, he was a scrawny kid with braces when he started out as one of the singers on the Celtic Thunder stage, and just as Daniel was funneled towards cutesy songs that capitalized on his cherubic sweetness and constantly batting eyelashes, Damian was once the cute kid singing songs about "Puppy Love" and charming the moms and grandmothers in his audiences with his twitchy eyebrows. Damian has grown up, and now has his own recording studio and music label with his friend Oran. Damian released a solo EP of his own this month, which was hugely successful right from the start, and his label's first artist, Darrell Coyle, has had considerable success so far with his own EP released earlier this year. Damian and Oran will be launching their next artist, Gem O'Reilly, tomorrow with her debut EP.

George Donaldson
In fall 2011, George Donaldson released his debut album, 'The White Rose'. This year George updated his webpage, and he's started tacking mini-tours to the edges of his Celtic Thunder tour schedule, playing songs from his album and no doubt trying out songs he's working on for his next album, which he is currently working on. It took me until this November to buy George's first album- his style of music is one that for me requires that I have a more personal connection to the singer. But, since meeting him finally this November, I now have his album (and am listening to it again as I write). I hope one of these days he does one of his solo shows in a town where I am so I can see him play his own stuff. George still does shows back home, and just played one at Jinty's this week, so maybe I just need to travel to Glasgow while Celtic Thunder is between tours.

Keith Harkin
Keith Harkin had a very exciting year in 2012. In addition to helping his sister record new music back home (which I hope means she will be releasing and EP or full-length album sometime soon), and touring with Celtic Thunder in Australia, and doing the publicity tour and the recently ended US tour, Keith released his new album and has been squishing his album promotion and solo shows in alongside his Celtic Thunder schedule. Catering to Celtic Thunder's schedule may have lost him some momentum at his album release (which was several weeks earlier in Canada so that Keith could sign albums, and start selling them actively there during Celtic Thunder's Canada tour dates), but by not alienating his Thunderheads to strike out on his own, Keith has maintained a loyal and growing fan base that is all too happy to help him promote his fantastic new album. I still wish his website was updated to reflect the fact that his album is already out, and the whole autoplay music player thing is always annoying, even if it is Keith's single playing. But, webpage grumbles aside, Keith's career seems to be heading in a great direction. He'll be doing more solo touring soon, so hopefully I'll be posting about an upcoming Keith Harkin solo tour that includes Colorado in the near future.

Neil Byrne

Neil Byrne has been teasing his fans all year with Pale Blue Jak stuff, posting odd animal cartoons every so often that we eventually learned were the animated characters in his new music video for his song 'Mr. Ace'. He has been working on new material as well, for the next Pale Blue Jak album, so while he has not release any new music just yet, it's coming. His first Pale Blue Jak album, 'Faces', came out in fall 2011, and he has been performing some of the songs from that album on his tours with Ryan Kelly. I am hoping that enough of us fans are pestering Neil and Ryan about making an Acoustic by Candlelight tour album, because from what we've seen on youtube and on the Acoustic by Candlelight tumblr, these two guys are amazing together. (And they keep saying that they'll make it to the towns they missed so far, on later legs of their Acoustic by Candlelight tour, so maybe next year they'll be here in Colorado.)

Celtic Comet (Colm Keegan and Emmet Cahill)
Colm and Emmet, while not yet ready to launch solo careers, have been developing an amusing identity as the Celtic Comet. Both adorable, soft-spoken, super nice lads, these guys have stolen the hearts of girls of all ages around the world. Just as Willis may or may not last, it remains to be seen what comes of the Celtic Comet, but these two will be performing together on the Celtic thunder cruise next year, so no doubt we will see more of this pairing in the coming months. And, yes, they are at least as charming in person as they seem on screen. I am still in love with Ryan and Neil first, but even so, these younger lads are easily among the nicest, best people I've met.

Ryan Kelly
Last, but not least, Ryan had another crazy year this year. He flew back to Ireland from Australia in January to attend a court date connected with the crud he was dealing with last year, and in February posted one of the most sad, depressing Valentines Day videos I've seen yet. Touring with good friends is a great therapy though for a man rebuilding his life, and by April Ryan was looking happier and healthier than ever, as he was getting ready to take Acoustic by Candlelight on the road with Neil. In June he nearly died, and by August he was recovered, back to running several miles a day and rehearsing for the next Celtic Thunder tour. He and Neil are just now finishing up the last shows of their second Acoustic by Candlelight tour segment, in Kansas City, before they fly back to Ireland for some well-deserved time off before they head south to Australia mid-January. Ryan has been talking about how he is due for a new album soon, since his debut album, 'In Time', came out a whole 2 years ago, so hopefully new music will be forthcoming from this lovely man as well.

It's been a busy year, and hopefully next year will be just as busy, if not moreso, but without the hospital scare, and with lots of new music. Celtic Thunder's new album, Mythology, comes out in February, through Verve Music, a positive sign for the next year. George Donaldson, Paul Byrom, Barry Kerr and Seana are all nominated for Irish Music Association awards, and while Paul Byrom and Keith Harkin didn't make it into the formal Grammy nominations, they were both shortlisted for Grammy awards this year. By this time next year, anything is possible.

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