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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Celtic Thunder, George Donaldson & Hurricane Sandy

Feeling helpless sucks, and for most of us who live outside the area hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, we are too far removed to know how we could be of any help. And, while we all know that pouring money into groups like the Red Cross will help, for sure, it is always nicer to have a slightly less impersonal option as well. This is where our favorite celebrities come in. So, for all the Celtic Thunder fans and George Donaldson fans, there are some new options for helping those affected by Hurricane Sandy. The most recent option is one offered by George Donaldson, who is teaming up with the family of one of his heroes.

George announced today that all ticket proceeds from his Connelly show in New York will be donated to the Harry Chapin Foundation. This show will be Monday, December 10, 2012, at Connelly's Irish Bar in New York City (121 W 45th St, (212) 597-5126, Bookings by Phone $30) starting at 7:30pm.

So, if you were trying to decide which of George's shows to see this December, and if you happen to be in or near New York, this is an opportunity to see George's excellent show, while also supporting the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. If you are not in that area but want to chip in to this relief effort anyway, you can also go directly to the foundation's website. I didn't see a link on the foundation website that would link your donations specifically to George's efforts, but there is a link to email their executive director on the foundation website.

The second option Celtic Thunder fans have, and one I am almost certainly taking advantage of, is the special Hurricane Sandy benefit concert that the Celtic Thunder singers are putting on in New York. Celtic Thunder announced last week that they will be performing an exclusive 'unplugged' benefit concert in NYC on Monday December 3rd for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I would love to see these guys performing 'unplugged' anyway, so this in itself is a fantastic bit of news. "Colm, Emmet, Keith, Ryan, Neil & George will perform an acoustic session in a 75 minute concert, at Sullivan Hall, 214 Sullivan Street, New York. The concert will start at 8:30PM and doors will open at 8PM." It sadly is a 21+ show, though without all the kiddos in the audience, who knows what these guys might say. They are very family conscious during their regular shows, but we all know they have another side that comes out on twitter occasionally.

Tickets for the show cost $50 and can be purchased in advance by clicking here. This show will almost certainly sell out soon.

I obviously am not in New York. So how am I still getting in on this show? Well ... "Can't make it to NY? You still have an opportunity to see this unique event. We are offering "Armchair Passes" to our fans for $20. The show will be filmed on the night and you can order a download of the unplugged gig on video. The video of the gig will be available for download on the Celtic Thunder website on Saturday December 8th. To purchase your Armchair Pass click here." I will be watching the show in my living room, with a nice big steaming mug of Barry's Gold tea and some cookies, in the company of my large orange cat. "All of the proceeds from this concert will go to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City which supports Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. For more information on this fund please visit the Mayor's Fund Website."

Restoring a major urban region to full working order is a huge task after such a natural disaster, and there were already many people in need of help in all the communities affected by this hurricane. So long as resources are being stretched towards helping the people who have been affected specifically by the hurricane, those resources are not available to help the people who were already struggling in our less-than-vibrant economy. If as a society we can come together for long enough to really restore our hurricane effected communities, perhaps we can make some progress towards improving on what was there before the storm as well. For now, I'll continue posting updates as new cool relief projects pop up on my radar.

George Donaldson (Feb 1, 1968- Mar 12, 2014)

[Last Update: March 13, 2014]

Recent News: George Donaldson died unexpectedly on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 of a massive heart attack. Celtic Thunder has released a message on their website (Click here to read it), and is asking that fans respect the privacy of his family and friends at this time. 

Age/ Marital Status: George Donaldson was born February 1st, 1968, which makes him ancient, a whole 11 years older than myself. He died in Glasgow on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, of a massive heart attack. He was just 46.

Hometown: George was from Glasgow, Scotland. He spent years working in Glasgow making buses, before becoming a full-time musician. Thus, he got to sing songs about 'working men', and about people hanging out at the Red Rose Cafe after a long day's work, while the younger Celtic Thunder lads got to sing about kid stuff. He also sang a lot of songs about fatherhood and married life, as the only member of Celtic Thunder with a wife and a child.

George Donaldson's last album The World in My Mind was officially released Tuesday May 21, 2013. It is currently available online in mp3 format from his website and elsewhere online (link for this album on CD Baby)

If George Donaldson was single, this man would attract the ladies by the thousands, who'd be obsessively in love with him for his voice, his cute Scottish accent, and his magnetic personality. Even as a married man with a daughter, George got plenty of attention as one of the principal singers of Celtic Thunder. He was the sort of entertainer who can get the entire audience singing along at full voice, no matter how quiet they might have been for the rest of the show. While singing with Celtic Thunder, George sang ballads, classic folk songs, and a few cute pop covers, and his rich lower baritone voice filled in the lower parts of the group's 5 and 6 part harmonies. He sang in several quartet arrangements as well with Celtic Thunder lately, in which he held the lowest voice-part. Between Celtic Thunder tours, George squeezed in mini-tours of his own along the East Coast, and this past December (2012) he completed one of these mini-tours, his Raised on Songs and Stories Tour. He also had several local Scottish venues where he has been performing for years when not on tour.

Useful Websites: George Donaldson's website, his facebook page, the Celtic Thunder page on George 

Solo Albums: The White Rose (2011), The World in My Mind (2013)
Other Albums: 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)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Things I am Grateful For This Year

Since on the East Coast it is already Thanksgiving, and my family has started roping me into joining the family 'festivities' as of about an hour ago, I suppose it's about time to think about getting into a mood of thanksgiving. Actually this week it is a pretty easy task, but I have a lot more to be thankful for than just the past few Celtic Thunder themed days.

1. The first thing that comes to mind this year, still, is Ryan Kelly's rather miraculous recovery this summer. I would be thankful even just knowing he survived his accident, but to have him on tour with Celtic Thunder this season, and completely recovered, indeed better than ever, that I am truly grateful for. That I got to meet him and talk with him this week, twice, is just icing on an already amazing cake.

2. Second on my list this year has to be all the great friends I have met in Fort Collins and elsewhere. I do remember what it was like back in 2009 when I was new to this town, and all my friends lived someplace else. I've always had friends, of course, but that year was pretty lonely for quite a while. Everything I've been involved in here and every new community I am introduced to brings me new friends and good acquaintances, an ever-growing network of fantastic people who make everyday life a lot easier, and a lot more fun.

3. Third, I am grateful for all the great music available at my fingertips. Most people have a particular tolerance for music, and can't spend more than a few hours a day listening to music. I, on the other hand, turn on music shortly after I wake up, and turn it off only when I am ready to go to bed at night. I sing in choir, as well, and am working at learning to play my bodhran and tin whistle. Music is pretty much as vital to my life as water or oxygen. Our society creates so much great music, and it is available on services like spotify, where I can access it cheaply and easily all day. Music is very easy to listen to now online, and so easy to buy- I can only vaguely recall those days of only listening to a small collection of cassette tapes or CDs and whatever the local radio stations play.

4. Fourth, I am grateful for the Internet more generally. Yes, social media is scary and intimidating for most older generations, but it is also amazing. I have been watching events unfold between Israel and Palestine over twitter, and getting updates about my favorite singers' new music, and watching new music videos within seconds of their being made available to the public. I can keep in touch with the hundreds of people I am facebook friends with, simultaneously, holding ongoing conversations with several of them at once, while sharing photos, commenting on friends' adventures, and planning outings for next week. It would not be physically possible for me to remain in contact with so many friends 'the old-fashioned way'. I bought my bodhran and penny-whistle online, I buy Irish tea online, and since my CD-player died, I buy all my music as mp3 albums, downloaded off the various Internet stores. Since all these transactions are fast and require no travel time, I have more time free to read, go hiking, hang out with friends, or see more live music shows.

5. Last but not least, I am grateful for the various circumstances which led me to see music blogging as part of a career path, a viable alternative to academia. As in any life, there are always moments when we make those seemingly insignificant choices, and this year those choices added up to something rather interestingly different. Ryan Kelly of course played a vital and complex part- had he never been injured I may still eventually have wound up heading in the direction I am going now, but I doubt I would have done so much so quickly without the sudden shock of June 3rd. In working out how to respond to what was going on in the Celtic Thunder community that week, I wound up on the track I have settled into more securely ever since. June was a scary month- those first few weeks will stand out in my memory for a very long time, maybe forever- but sometimes even these scary and terrible times can produce interesting and constructive results.

Enough introspection for one holiday post. I just (finally) bought and listened to George Donaldson's album, The White Rose, which is a fantastic album, of course. So, between that, the Fierce Bad Rabbit/Sour Boy Bitter Girl show from a bit over a week ago, the Danielle Ate the Sandwich show from this past Sunday, and all the other music stuff going on, the next few posts will no doubt be all about music, and not just all about Celtic Thunder. But, in the meantime, take a moment and think of the 5 things you are most grateful for this year. We as a society spend a lot of time griping about everything, but every so often it behooves us to remind ourselves of all the things in our lives that are good. Happy Thanksgiving!

Conclusions on meeting Celtic Thunder again

First, an apology of sorts for any poor non-Celtic Thunder fans who are still checking out my blog. No, this is still not a 'Celtic Thunder' blog, and I promise there will be a lot of great stuff on here about other bands and artists. Indeed, Josh Groban just announced his new album, and I have several shows backlogged to write about from the local music scene, and there's another cool Mama Lenny and the Remedy show at Road 34 in 2 weeks, and I have quite a few other cool music events on my calendar, with more being added almost daily. I also have a couple Where Are They Now? posts to polish up, so there's a lot more coming. But, Celtic Thunder isn't in Colorado all that much, and this was the first year I actually got to see their show. Considering how much I've gotten into them over the past few years, this poor blog could be a lot worse.

Anyway, that said, I wanted to revisit my earlier topic a bit- autographs and meeting celebrities. I am still not generally a fan of autographs, but I actually did get the guys I met last night to sign the back of my printed ticket. The dynamics last night were interestingly different from what I observed in Denver. At the Loveland show last night, there were only about 20-30 people standing back by the gate for autographs, so a somewhat smaller crowd than in Denver. There was no suggestion of having the fans all stand behind a line this time, so once the guys came out, first Colm and Ryan, and then the rest of them, the line the fans self-organized into devolved into various clusters of people, with the singers all fully surrounded by fans. If Thunderheads were like many fan communities, this would have been a security nightmare, but it really just resembled a bunch of friends hanging out and chatting after the show. There were lots of people taking photos, and most people were seeking autographs from the guys, but the guys were not working their way down a line, so it was even more casual than after the Denver show.

So, as an experiment, my two test cases suck. The 2 nights I am comparing are almost not comparable. Still, I made a few observations, of course. First, it was a heck of a lot nicer meeting the Celtic Thunder guys a second time, regardless of signing/not signing autographs. The setting was better for conversation last night, too, but it was easier to start conversations with these singers with us not being such total strangers. So, while I love the smaller gigs and more intimate communities of local music, I am again a bit more optimistic about at least the possibility of artists getting 'bigger' without losing too much. It takes the right people, of course- from the looks on their faces as they were approaching the fans last night, Colm and Ryan were clearly looking forward to meeting people and talking to people, as opposed to dreading the necessary chore of signing autographs. But, so long as they take enough breaks and keep themselves healthy on tour, I doubt that people like the Celtic Thunder guys will ever burn out from trying to keep up their closer connections with their fans.

My second observation was of course about autographs. In general they are impersonal, and a convenient medium between the artist and his adoring public, something that can take the place of any real interaction. But, as a supplement to conversation, I can concede that they have some value. I will certainly enjoy having the autographs of 5 Celtic Thunder singers displayed inside my choir folder during our long tedious holiday concert rehearsals next week. As reminders of the conversations I had and the people I met this week, they are pretty cool artifacts, actually. The one singer whose autograph I have, but without having had any actual conversation, however, is not nearly as emotionally resonant. I'm thankful for all of them, but it's the conversations, and actually having met these men that mattered to me last night, not having their names scrawled on a piece of paper.

Our society props up singers and other public figures behind a wall of fame and unreality, shielded from the public as brands and images and veiled behind a curtain of carefully managed information. But, at least for many musicians, sharing their music is an inherently personal activity, one which is most satisfying when their audience can see them as fellow human beings, not mythical celebrity figures. Where autographs are used as a way to maintain distance between fans and celebrities, substituting a quick scrawl of a pen for eye contact and friendly greetings, they are never going to be something I approve of. But, where an autograph has enough context to support it, ok, maybe they aren't so bad after all.

Celtic Thunder in Loveland

This post will be a bit shorter than the one on the Denver show, because the set list is exactly the same for both nights. So I went to the exact same show twice? Well, no, not really. I don't know what the rationale was for doing the same set list both nights, but I enjoyed seeing it again. I enjoyed the Denver show immensely, and had I only gone to that one I would have had a decent impression of the group. But, seeing them tonight singing the exact same songs in the exact same order, tonight's show was a lot better. The Denver show was not an off-night, but some of the guys seemed to be getting pretty tired by the second half, and certain spots stuck in my mind, like the high note at the end of "Noreen" when it seemed Neil was stretching to get to that note- he got there, but it wasn't as strong a finish Saturday as it could be. Tonight all the guys seemed to have more energy and they all were singing better. I noticed especially on Neil's rendition of "She's Always a Woman", and on "Whiskey in a Jar", but really the whole show benefited greatly from the guys' day off yesterday playing and relaxing in Boulder.

There were still issues, of course- hardly any longer show goes off without any hitch, but Colm remembered the words to get into his verse of "All God's Creatures", and Neil did not land on his butt when he fell over 'drunk' at the end of "Seven Drunken Nights" this time. Neil's instrument for "Brown Eyed Girl" wasn't quite right when he started the song, but he gave a great performance anyway, and once he got his guitar plugged in properly he played very impressively. He is indeed still deserving of the title "Guitar God". And, at the very beginning, the balance on "Heartland" was much better. "Steal Away" was absolutely breathtaking, to the point that I would not have dreamt of singing along, because I was too mesmerized by the luscious harmonies these 6 men created tonight.

In addition to the higher energy and stronger voices, tonight's show benefitted from the acoustics of the space. I love the visual aesthetic of an opera hall, which is what we were in Saturday, but oddly enough, I liked the sound in the Budweiser Events Center better. The seats were far less comfortable, and while I was in a very similar spot relative to the stage, with almost the same angle between me and the set as last time, I was sitting much further away this time. But, the way lower notes and especially percussion sounded in that space was like magic. Barry Kerr played great bodhran solos Saturday too, but tonight's drum war segments sounded richer and all-round better just because of the space we were in. And, when the guys got to that gorgeous a capella section of "Steal Away", those harmonies also filled the space differently, sounding even richer and more amazing.

So, now the Celtic Thunder tour season is winding to a close for me, since I have seen my shows. I met all of the Celtic Thunder singers, most of them twice, I have autographs from almost all of them, photos of almost all of them, and fantastic memories that will last a very long time. I even got photos of those beautiful Celtic Thunder tour trucks, with the shiny red cabs and the gorgeous artwork on the sides. It was dark, so the photos are more of a reminder than a fitting record of these lovely things, but thanks to a very nice security guard who walked with me to where the trucks were parked, I got to stand right up close to these beautiful things. If any of the guys saw me from their bus windows, they may have thought me a bit mad, but that's ok. Even if none of my pictures turned out at all recognizable, I actually stood just a few feet away from them- just me, the trucks, and two security guards. I'm not sure I could explain why those trucks make me so happy, but seeing them was as absolutely necessary as seeing Ryan. :)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Brand New Pale Blue Jak (Neil Byrne) Music Video: Mr. Ace

So, while I was working on my profile post for Neil Byrne, someone was also busy, because I left my computer only a bit over an hour ago and all of a sudden we have a new video to enjoy from Pale Blue Jak. I'll update the profile post when I get back from the Celtic Thunder show tonight (only so many things I can do while getting ready, I'm afraid) but it's a great video, a Walter Mitty sort of story that gives the song a lot more context. I sort of think the character Mr. Ace reminds me of a certain someone, who happens to have left the exciting world of accounting to become a touring musician. :)

Neil Byrne (profile/bio) [Updated June 10, 2014]

[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.]

Birthday/ marital status: Neil was born on November 16, 1977 (whatever dates other sites have given, this one is the correct one, confirmed by Neil in person). So, at the moment he is 36 years old. He is, as far as anyone officially knows, single, and if he has had steamy romances going on in the background they have so far stayed out of the spotlight.
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.

Useful Links:
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.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Important Upcoming Celtic Thunder Event: Hurricane Sandy Benefit

Direct from the Celtic Thunder publication The Celtic Times. I generally try to stick to original content on here, but there are always exceptions. There are almost certainly many Thunderheads among those who are struggling to recover from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, so this is an event of particular importance to our fan community. For more information about this event, you should go to the Celtic Thunder website.

"Celtic Thunder are very pleased to announce that they will be performing an exclusive unplugged benefit concert in NYC on Monday December 3rd for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Colm, Emmet, Keith, Ryan, Neil & George will perform an acoustic session in a 75 minute concert, at Sullivan Hall, 214 Sullivan Street, New York. The concert will start at 8:30PM and doors will open at 8PM.

As this venue is a club, it is age restricted and fans must be over 21 to attend.

Tickets for the show cost $50 and can be purchased in advance by clicking here. We strongly suggest that you purchase tickets in advance as the space is very limited and we anticipate selling out well before the show date.

Can't make it to NY? You still have an opportunity to see this unique event. We are offering "Armchair Passes" to our fans for $20. The show will be filmed on the night and you can order a download of the unplugged gig on video. The video of the gig will be available for download on the Celtic Thunder website on Saturday December 8th. To purchase your Armchair Pass click here.

All of the proceeds from this concert will go to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City which supports Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. For more information on this fund please visit the Mayor's Fund Website. Let's join together to help the victims, a lot of whom are also Irish Americans, of this horrendous storm."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Contemplating Scale and Great Music

I loved, absolutely loved seeing Celtic Thunder yesterday. As anyone who has read many of my posts here would know by now, I really had not expected to do anything more than just sit in the balcony watching them from that long distance, better than a TV show, but still only a bit more personal and real than watching a DVD. I can still recall the chill, and the texture of Neil's jacket under my fingertips, and Emmet's smile when he was chatting with us about the show, and George touching my shoulder, which are tiny shreds of details too vivid to have been just a dream. I suppose I could maybe have made up the sound of my name in someone else's accent somewhat, but I've still never mastered the accent Ryan has, so I must not have made him up either. Still, I found myself feeling rather conflicted about the evening.

It was stressful, meeting these men who I know so much about, but to whom I am an utter stranger. That these men mean so much to me just made it that much worse. It is hard not tor read false significance into every slightest gesture, and as just one of many fans, I almost can't help but want to be more significant to them than I am. Music at the scale at which Celtic Thunder operates is just past that edge where the audience ceases to be just a bunch of people and the singers cease to be just the people on the stage making the music, and instead we all become fans and celebrities. They aren't too far into that world, so they can still somewhat get to know some of their fans, and while they have venue security guards around when meeting fans, they don't always need much crowd control to protect themselves from their beloved public.

But, being at the Danielle Ate the Sandwich show this afternoon, I was reminded again, pleasantly, of what it is like to be at a music show without being nervous about talking to the performer. Meeting Celtic Thunder was awkward, in part, because I didn't have something I wanted signed. I just wanted to meet them. For some of them, they really didn't have the time or interest to devote to fans who weren't there for autographs. At Danielle's show, we had a real conversation after the show, as two human beings who could relate to each other and were interested in each other's lives. There were a few folks asking her for autographs, but never was anyone given the impression that just wanting to talk with her was odd or inconvenient. Watching how the Celtic Thunder guys act, though, talking to fans on and off stage, I don't think they are any less friendly than Danielle, or that they are doing anything at all wrong. They simply operate on a bigger scale, and have too many fans to be able to treat them all the way they could if they too were only playing smaller spaces like the bookstore where we were for Danielle's show today.

If I find a way to get to the Loveland show of Celtic Thunder, and if I have the good fortune to meet any of them again, I'll no doubt revisit this topic after, too. I did meet Danielle once before today, so part of the awkwardness of meeting the Celtic Thunder singers may simply be that it was a first meeting for all of us. Perhaps seeing them again would be easier and I would have a very different impression compared to last night. Heck, I might even bring along something to sign, for that matter, just in case I would feel less out of place doing what everyone else is doing. But still, after this weekend, I am glad that I have some favorite singers who still play small local venues where I can meet these people and where they can know my name and where we can talk like people, not needing the shelter of the celebrity curtain to protect us from each other.

Celtic Thunder in Denver, Colorado

Celtic Thunder is in Colorado through Tuesday night. They played a show last night at the Ellie Coulkin's Opera House, in Denver, and they have 2 more shows in the state, in Colorado Springs tonight and in Loveland Tuesday night. Some of the people I met last night had been under the impression that the shows were sold out, but last night's show was certainly not. If you were on the fence about going to see these guys, there are probably still tickets to tonight's show, and certainly for the one in Loveland. Their set list changes every night, and if Emmet was not just giving a stock answer last night, he doesn't know what songs they'll be singing until shortly before the show each night, so while the setlist below includes a few songs they will probably do in Colorado Springs and/or Loveland, these 2 shows will be different enough that I wish I could see all 3.

Last night’s show was great. I wound up sitting a bit closer, since the balcony section was closed- only 16 people bought tickets in that section, so we were traded tickets at the next closest section, on the side, which the women next to us didn’t like so well, because they were too far into the corner and couldn’t comfortably see the whole stage, but from my seat I could see everything and could even see through the gap in the stage curtain to where the sound guy was sitting. I could see some of the musicians through the curtain too, so waiting for the show was more entertaining than I expected. (I didn't take any pictures, at all, until I was outside after the show, though I think my camera would have done ok from our closer seats.)

I brought along my friend Chelsea, who happens to like music and have a car, so it was interesting getting her reactions. She had never encountered Celtic Thunder before, and was amazed that we actually met all of the singers outside after the show. She goes to a lot of shows in the price range of Celtic Thunder, and rarely expects to even get within a few feet of the artists after the shows. We'd just been talking about some of the legendary 'greats' who would stay to sign autographs and talk with fans so long as there were fans waiting, but I don't think she believed me that these guys would actually be that nice and attentive of their fans. George was especially nice, and while I'm not sure she's completely hooked yet, if she does turn into a Thunderhead, George will probably be her favorite of the guys.

It was a greatest hits show, so for us fans it was a fantastic array of the best of Celtic Thunder, but while Chelsea loved all the songs individually, she felt a bit overwhelmed and confused by the jumble of genres and styles of music we heard all in one show. It took her a few songs to recognize the two men I am particularly fascinated by, and even then, their names were fuzzy for her. Actually she kept thinking Neil was 'Ryan', so I am guessing she pegs Neil as more my type, so that of course he would be the one I've been talking about more this year.

The Set List, First Half:

Heartland (Neil Byrne, Emmet Cahill, Keith Harkin, Ryan Kelly & George Donaldson) - The balance was a bit off for this one, so that George’s voice was a bit louder and Colm and Neil’s voices were too soft to get the nice harmonies the guys were obviously singing. (Sorry, I hang out at soundchecks a lot anymore and seem to pick up bad habits.) Colm was not included in this one, but he got a solo entrance immediately after. I’m guessing that this is one of the songs that is retiring, since it’s a bit odd not having them all on for the first entrance.

Come By the Hills (Colm Keegan) - I wish we could hear Colm sing this one through entirely in Irish, because I love how he sounds when he’s singing in Irish.

Homes of Donegal (Keith) - One of my absolute favorite Keith songs from the Celtic Thunder albums.

Raggle Taggle Gypsy (Ryan, Keith, Neil, Colm, George) - The drum war was fantastic, and we were in a great spot to watch Neil. I love watching his face when he’s playing the drums in this one- he seems to really enjoy being on the drums for this song, and he still looks very sexy as a percussionist. I absolutely loved watching Barry Kerr play the bodhran, too. Some day I will be that good, I hope.

Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears (Emmet) - Emmet was the audience favorite, from the volume of his applause. He deserved it, too. Maybe he had an extra nap the other guys missed, but whatever the case, Emmet was in fine form all night.

She’s Always a Woman (Neil) - Yep, I’m still in love with this man.

Black Velvet Band (Colm) - Not too many people were singing along to this one (I could see most of the audience beneath me from my seat), and of course it is a new CT song, but I grew up singing along to the Irish Rovers “Unicorn” album. I hope this one’s a new song they’ll keep up for a few years.

The Old Man (George) - Took on a bit more meaning knowing about George’s father’s passing this past year. This was never one of my favorite songs (my dad and I are most definitely estranged permanently) but last night’s performance of this one was unexpectedly quite powerful.

Steal Away (ALL 6) - OMG, these men are amazing. I could freeze time in the last minute or so of this performance of this song and relive the these luscious harmonies over and over for all eternity. It was not quite done a capella until the last part, but the instrumentation was light enough that it was easily tuned out as soon as these guys opened their mouths.

Noreen (Neil) - Not my favorite song, though sung by one of my favorite people. I was still drunk enough on the last few bars of the previous song, though, that I doubt I could have handled another favorite just yet.

Heartbreaker (Ryan) - Ok, watching Ryan get slapped on stage was surprisingly entertaining. Seana’s acting was hilarious, and Ryan always looks amazing anyway, but especially in that long jacket.

My Irish Molly-o (Emmet) - That last note is pure showing off, and always makes me a bit jealous. My perception of this song is colored a bit by just how nice and friendly Emmet was after the show, but I think this would have been one of my favorites from the evening anyway.

Ireland’s Call (ALL 6) - I kind of wish I was down in the front section, for songs like this one. We literally had our entire row and most of our section to ourselves, and Chelsea was new to Celtic Thunder and so was not inclined to stand up for these songs.
(I spent intermission chatting with the usher for our section, mostly about Les Miserables, bodhrans & tippers, & a bit of general history/background about Celtic Thunder. I must have had a bit of an accent, because she was sure I was here from Ireland.)

Second Half:

Dulaman (ALL 6) - One of my favorite entrance songs from Celtic Thunder. It’s so dramatic, and yet, while it has deeper layers of meaning, on the surface this song is still about edible seaweed.

Home (Colm) - Damian McGinty was great on this song, but I really love Colm's rendition of it. He has such a pretty voice! I still would want a bass voice if I could try out having a guy’s voice, but I wouldn’t mind sounding like Colm either.

All Day Long (Keith) - I think Keith lost track of what verse’s chorus he was on at one point. He could lose track of verses more often if he always looks that cute about it- he makes adorable faces when he slips up. I agree with the usher that his haircut wasn’t flattering, any more than Neil’s was, really, but Keith still looked great up there with his guitar. His arm was probably a bit more tired and sore than usual, with how recently he was injured, but I was glad to see him playing his own guitar for all his solo songs.

Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (ALL 6) - Since Amazing Grace was not an option this tour, this one was high on my wish list. I love how Ryan and Keith sound together.

Ride On (Ryan) - Another song I’d imagine is retiring. I always see Ryan’s much younger face when I hear this song, but his voice sounds a lot more mature now than back in 2007. (And he’s looking even sexier now than in 2007/8 too.)

Brown Eyed Girl (Neil) - Another nice surprise. I like this sort of song better than the slow ballads for Neil, the more I know about his personality. I’ve been enjoying the youtube clip of Neil singing this one, from the spring ABC tour, so hearing it for the first time all nice and polished on the CT stage was a great treat.

Cat’s in the Cradle (George) - I can’t really imagine George before this was one of his songs.

Don’t Forget About Me (Keith) - He seemed to be both very excited and very tired by about this point in the show. During this song Keith was very animated, showing off his song to everyone, but I got the impression that he was starting to feel the effects of being up bright and early in the morning. Even so, he did a great job on this song, and if his solo show is anything like this, I’m really hoping he’ll come through Denver with his album tour so I can see more.

All God’s Creatures (ALL 6) - Poor Colm! He sang the second verse, only he forgot the first words, and then he and Keith were laughing too hard to jump back in for a bit. The rest of the song went well, including the dancing bits, which Chelsea seemed to really enjoy. This was my favorite song through elementary school, and until I heard Celtic Thunder sing it, I had never met anyone outside my 3rd grade class who knew this song at all.

Whiskey in the Jar (Keith and Neil) - A bit less energy than they probably have some nights, but with those shiny red guitars it was still great fun to watch. Keeping in mind that these guys were in Wichita the night before, several thousand feet lower in elevation, I’m surprised these guys had any energy by the end of the night.

Friends in Low Places (Ryan) - This really is a great song for Ryan anyway. Coupled with the context of this past summer, this was possibly my second favorite song of the night, with Steal Away as a close third.

This is the Moment (Emmet) - Again, such a powerful voice. I miss Paul, and hope he’ll eventually have a show near me so I can see him, but Emmet is a really cool guy with an amazing voice. I’m very curious as to what the 37 new songs Ryan mentioned are, and which songs Emmet will sing next.

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) (George) - He has so much fun doing this song.

Seven Drunken Nights (ALL 6) - I forgot to write this song down when it started, so I am not 100% sure where it fit in- I was laughing too hard by the end of it. Neil landed pretty hard on his butt this time, at the end, before he was hauled off stage. Keith ran all the way off stage as George started in on the last verse, and the entire song the guys were just fantastic.

Appalachian Roundup (Celtic Thunder Band) - I only whistled along under my breath for this one, as I figured whistling ‘full-voice’ might actually be audible for people near me, but I did whistle along to the flute bits on this song.

Caledonia (ALL 6) - With this song, my past few years as a Celtic Thunder fan have come full circle. I was in love with this song before I knew the names of any of the singers, and long before I’d heard anything else by Celtic Thunder. The harmonies sound even better with Neil, Colm and Emmet. In fact the recorded version from Act II sounds a bit thin compared to what I remember from last night. In answer to Chelsea’s question after, “Did I cry at all during the show?”, I almost never cry, in any context, but I was tearing up a bit by the end of this song.

Between Caledonia, Steal Away, seeing Ryan looking amazing and very much alive on stage in Denver, and enjoying Keith’s guitar playing, and then meeting all of them afterward, it was an unreal night. I have been pondering ever since how I could get to Loveland for the show Tuesday night. Honestly if I only had to buy one ticket, I could afford it. (I bought 2 for the Denver show, because unless I brought along a friend who could drive, I would not have had transportation.) But, I have no idea how I could get home from the show even if I could get a bus or find a friend to get me to the show. Loveland is only ~20 miles away, though, so if I can figure out how, I may very well see about going to a second show after all.
Update: I found out one of my best friends from choir is still around this week, and free Tuesday, and can borrow her parents' car, so we're going to the Loveland Celtic Thunder show. It'll be her first time seeing them, too, and in addition it will be her very first major concert, ever, so hopefully all the guys remember all their words and cues, though they are all pretty cute when they mess up on stage. And, if I have time before then, I may have an idea of something I actually would like the guys to sign. I absolutely have to get a new choir folder anyway, before our Christmas concerts start, and it would be very cool to have their autographs inside my choir folder where I could see them when I am on stage. Brilliant? I think so.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Weekly 20 Songs Playlist: November 16

No Christmas songs this week. I am headed to a Celtic Thunder concert tomorrow (!!!!!), so while we are still rehearsing in my choir for our Christmas shows in a few weeks, I'll get to Christmas in earnest next week. I'm pretty sure the lists for Christmas and the week before Christmas will be entirely Christmas songs, so never fear. I'll be posting plenty of great Christmas song recommendations here, in several languages, and from a wide variety of musicians. In the meantime, this week finally features the Celtic Thunder song "Caledonia", my longest standing favorite song from this group. I have no idea what sorts of pictures I will have by Sunday- this will be the only concert I'll have been to so far this year where I won't be allowed to take pictures during the show, so whatever I write up, there probably won't be concert shots, but how could I write about Celtic Thunder all year and not post about the concert? Anyway...

The List:

1. “Hard Times Come Again No More”- The Chieftains, Paolo Nutini (Voice of Ages): A great folk tune off of the cool Chieftains album I featured in an earlier post, combining the musical excellence of the Chieftains with the equally amazing voice of Paolo Nutini. In the Roud Folk Song Index, this song is #2659. "Hard Times Come Again No More" is a parlor song written by Stephen Foster, published in New York by Firth, Pond & Co. in 1854 as Foster's Melodies No. 28(wikipedia). It has been recorded many, many times, ever since 1905. This version is one of my favorites.

2. “When the Levee Breaks”- Kristin Hersh (Strings): Another cover of a Led Zeppelin song, and while this one is a bit different from the SHEL song I listed earlier, both are great covers by women of classic rock songs.

3. "Eleanor"- Hipple Street (Hipple Street the EP): Another great pop song from the band Neil Byrne performed with prior to joining Celtic Thunder. This band really fits nicely with the 80's pop aesthetic I grew up immersed in, though since Neil is about my age, he'd have been just a kid hanging out at his dad's gigs back then. If I ever make it to Ireland, this is one band I'd love to gather a bit more background on, and if the local music scene there is anything like what we have here in Fort Collins, perhaps some of the fellows in Hipple Street have current music projects and bands they play with. Oh, the photos I could take! ;)

4. "Magpie"- Beth Orton (Sugaring Season): This one is not a cover, though it fooled several of my friends; it sounds as solid and cover-worthy as many of the classic rock songs we hear covered all the time. Beth Orton, for an article in the Rolling Stone, said of this song, "I have experienced being silenced and this song came out of that. It was my way of keeping my voice and a sense of freedom alive."

5. "Caledonia"- Emily Smith (Too Long Away ): I included two songs titled "Caledonia." This one is about a woman who takes passage on a ship bound for 'bonnie Caledonia' and narrowly escapes being thrown overboard by the sailors, winding up married to the captain instead.

6. "Man on Fire"- Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes (Here): For a nice change of pace, here's an anthemic, rambling country-western tune which sounds like something from a television variety show from the 60's.

7. “Careless Whisper”- George Michael (Ladies and Gentlemen ... The Best of George Michael ): Classic George Michael, and one of my favorites. I only figured out a few years ago that it was about a guy who was cheating on his partner, because most of the time I'm just mesmerized by the saxophone.

8. "Glass Elevator"- The Infamous Stringdusters (The Infamous Stringdusters): Since the friend I am dragging with me to Celtic Thunder loves the Infamous Stringdusters, and had a lousy time with rude security staff at their show this past weekend, I had to add in one song from this band this week. I was at a different, and cheaper show that night, so sadly I have yet to see the Stringdusters in action (and actually, since they were at the Aggie, I'd even have taken better pictures there, since their lights are better. Oh well.) The Infamous Stringdusters are a fantastic bluegrass band, currently touring in the US (& one show in Mexico), so if they come to a town near you, check them out, and be sure to wear shoes for dancing.

9. "Kick It Out"- Heart (Little Queen): If you'd peeked into my dungeon-like basement room in the 80's you might have seen me bouncing around the room, dancing with great gusto, while pretending to be the singer on this song. I wish I had that energy now, but I still love singing along to this one.

10. "Not Like the Movies"- Katy Perry (Teenage Dream) : Josh Groban is responsible for my even trying out Katy Perry's music. I really try to avoid mainstream artists that are overplayed on store speakers and corporate radio stations. Knowing very little about Katy Perry except what filters through to me from my sister, who does go for mainstream media, I'd never been interested, but Josh Groban likes this lady and seems to respect and enjoy her music, so I had to at least see what she sounds like. I'm still resistant to the radio-released singles, but actually I kinda like some of her songs. (Yep, a slippery slope, and by this time next year, who knows what I'll be listening to.)

11. "Caledonia"- Celtic Thunder (Act II): I haven't looked recently at the list of possible songs Sharon Browne put up for this tour, and won't, so close to the show. So, I don't remember if this one is on that list, but it is one of my top 3 Celtic Thunder songs, and the song I heard first from this group, on youtube, in 2009, when I was looking for Scottish music to listen to while reading about early Scottish history. I bought the album, Act II, because I had to have this song, and have been a fan ever since.

12. "The Night Comes Down"- Queen (Queen): It's hard for me to pick just a few favorites among Queen's 170+ album songs, but this one is always on my favorites list for this band. I loved Queen above all other bands through most of high school- love is probably an understatement, though the fact that Freddie Mercury was dead shortly before I first got into this music made being a 'fangirl' a bit tough. It sounds weird listening to this song without hearing the rest of the album around it, but I usually hear the rest of the album in my head once this song is through anyway.

13. "Another World"- Poe (Hello): Another cool song from Poe, and one which for some reason fits in my head with how Brian May and Roger Taylor talk about music. Last time I checked Roger Taylor's solo albums were still not on spotify, but I often feel that the same muse working in Roger is also in the band Poe.

14. "Rosa"- Keith Harkin (Keith Harkin) : Every time I leave my place, even for just a few minutes, my cat acts as if he's devastated at the thought of my leaving him, as if I may never return to him. I know this song was written for Keith's god-daughter, but it works quite well for my cat, too. I have no idea how Keith Harkin's arm is feeling, so we may not get to see this guy playing his own guitar accompaniment for his songs Saturday, but it will still be cool seeing him in person finally.

15. "Light Survives"- Simon Spire (Four-Letter Words) : Sometimes reaching out to random music-oriented people on twitter works. At least, in the case of Simon Spire, it worked, anyway. I suspect that following random music writers is in some cases a sign of desperation, since many of the musicians I encounter this way either aren't even on spotify, have a very rough, underdeveloped sound, or they don't fit with any of the music styles or genres I feature on my blog. Occasionally, though, musicians 'introduce themselves' via twitter by following me and actually create music which fits with what I want to hear. The song I included this week from Simon's album caught my ear for the chorus, which clearly references back to a catchy 80's pop tune.

16. "Old Devil Time"- Kim & Reggie Harris, Magpie (If I Had a Song: The Songs of Pete Seeger Vol.2): Imagine yourself in a family sing-along folk concert, at some music festival somewhere, and you'll appreciate this song all the more. I love the tune, and while it is odd listening to the sing-along portion in the latter half of this track, the oddness goes away if you give in and actually sing along.

17. "Little Joe"- Megson (Take Yourself a Wife) : This song is one I can imagine my singer-songwriter friends performing, on a lonely barstool perched in the corner of some small local venue, the sort where the singer can comfortably chat with his small audience between songs.

18. "It's Too Late"- Darrell Coyle (My My My) : Sadly, since Mr. Coyle's EP has only 4 songs, this one is the last I have to add from him for a while. By now, of course, I know this one well enough to sing along to it all the way through, so I think I'm ready now to see this guy live. Surely he can add Fort Collins to his show schedule sometime soon, right? Derry is only on the other side of a rather large pond, after all. I'm sure by the time he starts touring the US, Darrell Coyle will have a few more songs added to his repertoire, and maybe even a full-length album. In the meantime, this is yet another great song, sung by a guy with a rather cool voice.

19. "All About Our Love"- Sade (Lovers Rock) : Sade has a distinctive sound, and this track particularly caught my ear. It's a beautiful love song, about enduring love between two people who've been together awhile already. Since my brother and his girlfriend celebrated their 8th anniversary this week, this one's on the list for them.

20. "Marrow Bones"- Jackie Oates (Saturnine) : One last folk song rounds off the list this week. I love the title to this album, too. Yep, I'm a Dr. Who fan, and for fellow Whovians, Saturnine is the name of a particular planet, where the 'buxom fish from space", the Sisters of the Water originated. This song is actually really gruesome, and ends rather badly for the cruel old lady who tries to kill off her elderly husband off to replace him with another man.

A Very Happy Birthday to Neil Byrne

I am not going to pretend I know for sure in which year he was born, but whether he is now 33,34 or 35, I do know that it is Neil Byrne's birthday today. Of all the guys in Celtic Thunder, Neil is probably the one I would have been most interested in meeting, if I was a music blogger writing in Ireland when Celtic Thunder had yet to be created. Neil started out his music career as a kid, hanging out watching his dad's band, playing with them, and eventually starting his own band(see the well written bio on his own webpage for a much better, more thorough accounting of his pre-CT days). He's obviously gone in a direction well outside the realm of local music scenes now, but from the way he and Ryan Kelly have crafted their Acoustic By Candlelight tour, I suspect these guys would be quite happy going back to smaller shows and more of the local music world, if they could be sure of paying all their bills with their earnings still.

I actually spent quite a while tonight browsing through old Hipple Street videos on youtube and the Hipple Street myspace and facebook pages, imagining what great photos I would have of this band if only I had been at the shows these photos and videos depict. (Neil was of course the guitarist and sang vocals for Hipple Street for ~5 years or so. Unfortunately Neil is no longer with Hipple Street- they've disbanded, and whatever bands Neil plays with when he is back in Ireland (he was on his way to play with some band in his last tweet before Ryan had his accident in June, as some fans might recall) Neil is not posting photos or information online about them where his Celtic Thunder fans could see it. Ireland's culture is different, it seems, at least enough that it is a bit harder to research bands online if they are in the Irish music scene, compared to Colorado bands.

But, if there are bands out there Neil has been playing with, those bands are as much on my radar now as any of the music projects and bands my new friends and acquaintances here are involved in. Once the parties and hangovers from those parties have passed into memory and Neil is back to creating more music, I'll be keeping an eye out for whatever cool stuff he is working on and anything particularly worth sharing will be on here somewhere eventually. In the world of Internet I see no problem with having a blog which focuses on local music from more than just one locality, and keeping Ravenmount as a Fort Collins/Ireland & UK/rest of the planet music blog suits me just fine. In the meantime, here's hoping Neil has an absolutely amazing birthday, and is recovered from his birthday in time to sing lots of pretty music for me by Saturday night.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Paul Byrom's Album Release Anniversary

Paul Byrom, a classically trained baritone/tenor whose voice drew thousands of women to follow Celtic Thunder from 2008 through the end of Paul's tenure in that group, is celebrating the first anniversary of his most recent album's release today. This Is the Moment occupied the #1 spot on the world music charts on amazon and elsewhere for quite a while when it first came out last November. While this album shifts away from the romantic crooner tunes Paul was known for in Celtic Thunder, it still retains enough of the romance to satisfy most ladies.
This album also includes a few popular cover tunes, which have been staples for recent classically trained pop stars for several years, and while many of Paul's fans already have "You Raise Me Up" and "To Where You Are" in their mp3 collections thanks to Josh Groban's debut album, Paul's voice lends a different tone to these songs. As a debut album, which in many ways this one is, This Is the Moment offers a great snapshot of Paul as he was last year, as well as a glimpse into the wide range of possibilities Paul has to choose from going forward.

And Paul is most definitely going forward. Just this past month Paul ran a kickstarter campaign which successfully raised over $50,000 which will help to make possible a recorded concert early in 2013 which will result in a PBS special. Celtic Thunder spent last winter touring the US and Canada, followed by a tour of Australia and New Zealand this past spring. They then did a promotional tour in the US and parts of Canada, and after a few months off, Celtic Thunder is back on tour, again in the US and Canada, with another Australia tour to follow in January.
Paul has meanwhile been singing a show or two every so often, but without something to promote himself by on PBS he can't tap into the promotional mechanisms that Celtic Thunder relies on. Paul's had it relatively easy sitting around in New York while his former touring companions of Celtic Thunder traveled the US, Canada and Australia. But, having a recorded concert to promote himself on PBS, Paul will be able to access more venues and tour more easily, and hopefully by next year we can start seeing a more active touring and performance schedule for this excellent singer.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ryan Kelly (profile/bio)

[Last updated May 17, 2013]
[A lot of this information is on biography pages on various sites, though IMDb is woefully out of date, and much of what is stated regarding Ryan's music life prior to Celtic Thunder is confusing, incomplete or incorrect. Since the crud that went on in late 2011, the information remaining online anywhere about Mr. Kelly seems to be copied and adapted from the same few limited sources. I strongly dislike gossip, and do not intend to provide juicy details on any of Ryan's private life. However, there is a lot of gossip to be had about this fellow in particular, and this profile hopefully can provide enough information to derail at least the more obnoxious, irresponsible or hurtful rumors which occasionally surface around Ryan Kelly. Substantiated corrections are always welcome, but much of the basic information for this profile comes from or is backed up by Ryan's own webpage bio, and I consider that a fairly reliable source.]

Current location/activities: Ryan is currently finishing up a tour in Australia with Celtic Thunder. Following that tour he will be in Canada touring with Neil Byrne to promote their album, Acoustic By Candlelight. This fall Celtic Thunder will be doing a much smaller orchestral tour in the US and Canada, with far fewer dates and locations, and Ryan will be on tour with Celtic Thunder for that. In between, one would hope he will get to spend a few weeks with his dog, Larry, in Moy.
Birthday/ Marital Status: Ryan was born on November 6, 1978. He is currently 35 years old. He is currently happily single, as far as anyone has been officially told.
Hometown: He is from the tiny village of Moy, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.
According to wikipedia the population of Moy is 2,129 (as of 2013). This means his entire town is just a little bigger than the population of my old high school.
Pets: No musician's profile is complete without some mention of pets. Ryan's newest pet is a small terrier named Larry, named of course after one of his favorite basketball players. After all the wistful posts we've seen on social media from Ryan about dogs, it was only a matter of time before he added a new dog to his family. Ryan's parents also have a family dog, Molly, and Ryan has a cat, Rory, who he got as a kitten in 2012. Ryan took suggestions from fans to arrive at the name Rory, which of course is also Damian McGinty's character's name on Glee.
Instruments: Voice(singing since he was a small kid), guitar(learned to play starting ~13yrs), tin whistle(he plays this during "Galway Girl"), ?
First “official” performance: First Communion at age seven.
Education: Queen’s University in Belfast- Bachelor of Science in Accounting and also a Graduate Diploma in Advanced Accounting, qualified as a Chartered Accountant. (My sister and I have a theory that somehow accountancy draws in lots of people who really ought to be musicians, and that maybe the folks who try music and find it is not the life for them ought to try accountancy instead. There seem to be a lot of former accountants in music, in any case.)

Bands and Ensembles: Emergency Exit (before Celtic Thunder), Celtic Thunder (2008-2011, 2011-present). I would love to have photos and information to post on Emergency Exit, and the musicians who were in this band alongside Ryan, but unfortunately there seems to be nothing online about them. Brownie points are to be had for anyone who sends me substantiated information on this band and/or any other music projects Ryan was involved with. Also, jpgs of show posters or other imagery from this era of Ryan's music life would be lovely.

Other Music Related Activities:

2003- Finalist in BBC's "Country Cool" TV competition, which led to Ryan performing on stage for the televised 2003 "Children in Need" concert at the Odyssey in Belfast, a show which also included Westlife, Girls Aloud and Simply Red. While this show was indeed broadcast, it also does not appear to exist in any recorded form online now, so this is another item which ought to have photos and video if only I had them to share. And yes, I am still a bit jealous of all the folks who got to see this concert live.

2007- Ryan came in first at the Scor na Sinsear Tyrone County Final, in the Amhranaiocht Aonaoir (Solo singing) event, representing his local GAA club An Mhaigh Tir na nOg. (He sang Danny Boy for this competition.) I wish we had something like the culture surrounding GAA clubs here, btw. I always knew these clubs supported local sports, but I had no idea they did cultural events until I started trying to fact-check a note in a biography on Ryan about some 'Scor' singing competition he won. Again, I wish I had photos or video from this event or from the semi-finals for the Ulster regional competition, which Ryan did not win. I don't know enough about SCOR, and certainly don't know enough Irish Gaelic to happily navigate GAA's SCOR website, but I got the impression from the results archive on that site that Moy has not had a history of winning the county competition in this event- it looked like the last time Moy won this title was in 1974, though I may easily be reading the site wrong.

Ryan sang "Only Our Rivers Run Free" at the Ulster semi-final, and was 'runner up' at this round of the competition. I have to admit (and if/when Ryan ever reads this I may be losing whatever favor I ever had with him for this one) the only good thing I had to say about the last 4 recordings I have heard of this song was that it is shorter than many political tunes the Wolfe Tones played. "Our Nation Once Again" can go on almost literally forever, and "The One Road is almost as interminable. But, Ryan has a much nicer voice than the fellows on the recordings I've heard, so maybe his rendition of "Only Our Rivers Run Free" would be the one that would redeem this song for me. :) [UPDATE: I did find a version of this song that I actually like, so while in general this is still not a song I look forward to hearing, it is possible that this song might turn out pretty good.

Celtic Thunder
Ryan auditioned for the new show Sharon Browne and Phil Coulter were putting together in 2007, and he was among the few who made it through both rounds of auditions. After months of rehearsing and recording, Celtic Thunder performed at the Helix in Dublin for the recording of their very first Celtic Thunder show. Ryan has remained one of the principal singers of Celtic Thunder continuously ever since, except for a brief hiatus during the summer of 2011. Celtic Thunder has appeared on PBS, QVC and various talk shows and news programs throughout the United States and Canada.
They opened the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade twice, performed for President Obama and his family at the White House, and recently performed a show at the US Pentagon. Ryan also got to sing the US National Anthem for his beloved Boston Celtics at the TD Garden, and while I'm sure he loved singing for the Obamas and for the Pentagon audience, I suspect that if he had to pick just one to do again, Ryan might go for singing at another Celtics game, especially if it meant he would get great seats to the game.
Ryan Kelly has a fondness for musical theater, not just singing, and while we have yet to see him perform musical theater songs from his past shows, he has played a wide range of characters on stage. IMDb mentions that Ryan played Mickey Johnstone in the musical “Blood Brothers” and Judas Iscariot in “Jesus Christ Superstar”, and perhaps when Celtic Thunder takes some time off from the road next year, Ryan can find another musical to keep his musical theater skills from getting too rusty. On stage with Celtic Thunder Ryan takes a 'bad boy' role, singing songs like "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", "Heartbreaker" and the rogue of the duet "That's a Woman".

Solo Music Projects
In October 2010, Ryan released his debut full-length album, In Time. This album includes a lot of original songs, for the most part not referencing traditional Ireland, but rather drawing from a rock/pop sound and edginess that no doubt is a lot closer to the music he performed with his rock band prior to joining Celtic Thunder. In spring 2012, Ryan joined fellow Celtic Thunder singer Neil Byrne to tour the US East Coast with a show called “Acoustic by Candlelight”. Their setlist included songs from both songers' solo work, along with traditional folk tunes and Celtic Thunder songs, and was very successful. The second leg of this tour, covering the US West Coast with a few more central dates as well, took place in December 2012, and other mini-tours covered still more locations throughout 2013. This duo will be touring Canada next in 2014, and will be promoting their new, long awaited, Acoustic By Candlelight album.

Ryan also has a second solo album out, called "Life", though I have been too poor so far to buy it and it is not available on spotify to hear for free yet. Ryan does post bits of his songs from his new album on his website, though, so I have heard bits and pieces of some of them. After his brush with death 2 years ago this month (he was in the hospital in a coma 2 years ago, for much of June) his new album shows a new appreciation of the fact that he is not dead.

Ryan won the 2011 award for “Top Solo Performer in Concert” from the Irish Music Association, and the award for this was presented to Ryan while he was on the spring 2012 Acoustic By Candlelight tour with Neil. Ryan also received enough votes during the Best in Britain online campaign to remain in the top 20 for the last few months of this online event, though sadly while he ranked higher than the Queen for quite some time, he did not beat out the top entertainers on that site's list. He finished 18th overall, bracketed by J.K. Rowling at 17th, and William Shakespeare at 19th.

2011 Drama
I had removed all mention of this episode of Celtic Thunder history from this profile when it looked like the harassment problem had finally gone away, but as it appears not quite dead after all, here again is briefly what was going on in 2011.
Ryan has been a member of Celtic Thunder since the group was formed back in 2007, but he did leave the group briefly at the end of the spring 2011 promotional tour. The details remain fuzzy, because the whole point of his leaving the group was so he could focus on his private life more. However, by the end of the summer that year Ryan was back in Celtic Thunder, and all information pertaining to what had happened in the intervening months has been pretty much scoured from the internet. Yes, this is exactly why it is so easy for nasty rumors to catch- many fans remember reading posts and other information online that no longer exist, and it is easy to start speculating as to what really happened. I do not know exactly what happened, nor do any other fans, because Ryan has never told any of us what happened. I do know that there was a significant invasion of privacy, his and that of people close to him, and there has been an ongoing issue of at least one of those people being harassed online since. Needless to say, this sort of behavior is not what the Thunderhead fan community supports, but it only takes one crazy 'fan' to keep this sort going.

2012 Accident
Last, but not least, the fact that Ryan scored so high in the Best of Britain rankings is of particular interest because at no point did Ryan post anything about this contest. His nomination and all the reminders to vote were fan-driven, an unusual dynamic for such internet contests anymore. Ryan was actually in the hospital and not online, or even conscious, shortly after this competition started. Early in June (the night of the 2nd here) a message went out over Ryan's facebook stating

“For all those starting to post and ask questions, yes, Ryan is in the hospital, and prayers would be much appreciated. More information will be shared as we can. For now, just love, support and prayers will do- thanks!”

I've said plenty, probably more than enough at this point, about the month that followed this message. Just seeing the text of this dire message again gave me cold chills [and still 2 years later this remains true- Ryan, you are not allowed to ever scare us like that again, ok?], so if you missed this brief but scary chapter in Celtic Thunder history, check out some of the other posts I have on here about Ryan. I'd say that Ryan ought to be careful lest his fans or his producer insist he wear protective pads and a helmet at all times, but seeing as Keith was in an arm-brace for part of the 2012 winter tour, having cut some of his veins and arteries in an ill-fated encounter with some window-glass, I suspect we'll just have to hope that whatever graces have kept these men alive so far will serve them a while longer. Ryan made a full recovery, though he admitted in 2013 that his sense of smell was compromised and was not yet back to normal after his accident.

Ryan did successfully complete the entire 2012 US/Canada tour, the 2013 Australia/ New Zealand tour and another mini-tour with Neil Byrne at the end of 2012 for their Acoustic By Candlelight show. He seemed more committed than ever before to sticking with Celtic Thunder, and was back in fine form for the 2013 Mythology tour. As far as I could tell when I saw him in November 2013, he seems to have recovered and he is quite well, at least till his next adventure.

Useful Links:
Ryan Kelly's website, ReverbNation page, Ryan's Official Facebook page
Celtic Thunder website

Albums, Solo/duo: In Time (2010), Acoustic By Candlelight (2013),
Life (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)

SOURCES: Almost all the above information on Ryan Kelly was obtained through some combination of his own website, the various relevant pages on the Celtic Thunder website, and from profiles on sites like Reverbnation. Information regarding awards and competitions Ryan participated in was obtained online as well, from the websites of the organizations involved and from other reasonably reliable sources. Some of the information I've included on Ryan is just from my own personal knowledge as a fan who pays attention to Celtic Thunder's activities online and spends way too much time on social media, but whenever possible I have tried to corroborate everything from other sources as well.