In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE
grew up in Moynalty, Co Meath and studied engineering in UCD while also studying singing in the College of Music. He worked as an engineer for five years before becoming a full-time singer, joining The Three Irish Tenors in 1998. He lives in Moynalty with his wife Celestine and their three children
I ’ve always sung, always loved singing: in national school in Moynalty, Co Meath, a teacher called Mrs Murchan collared anyone with promise and fed us to the nuns in Kells, where Sister Dominic gave me my first singing lesson. I studied engineering in UCD but at the same time was studying singing with Mary Brennan in the College of Music.
After UCD, I got a good job as an engineer in England: after five years, I took six months off and got to sing with the National Chamber Choir, and with Opera Ireland. And that’s where James heard me. He asked me if I was interested in joining his group for the Clontarf Castle show, for €800 a week.
It was a sink or swim situation: James had 10 years experience behind him, I had five years of singing into electrical cabinets, driving work colleagues in England mad. It was like singing a full role every night: luckily, I swam – and I loved it. After six months, we were well polished, were taken to EMI, sang six songs – and were signed on the spot.
I had joined the lads – James and Niall Morris – at a difficult time for them: they’d been singing as The Three Irish Tenors, then Ronan [Tynan], Finbar [Wright] and Anthony Kearns formed The Irish Tenors and they thought it was all over. We just kept our head down, kept it small, with a piano and a small band and as it turned out, that was a business model that worked.
I was aware of James, he was in the Chamber Choir ahead of me. I was very much surprised when he asked me to join the group. He had a gentleness and an amazingly creative side when it came to harmony and general musicianship. He got higher marks than anyone else in UCD in harmony, and there were loads of truly great people in his year. He’s a musical heavyweight: he created the framework for some really great music and that’s why he’s the soul of The Celtic Tenors. Harmony is kind of our unique selling point.
Daryl Simpson joined the trio in 2005, replacing Niall, so James and I are the constants, and have been together for 13 years.
A few years ago, James and I bought the business, had to remortgage our houses and pay off vast amounts of money after a very amicable split with our manager: it does test a friendship, but through thick and thin, the friendship has always won out. The great balm for us is the music: there’s something absolutely magical about standing in front of thousands of people and making them happy.
James is incredibly kind and generous, it is a brother relationship. His best quality is his sense of humour, he makes me laugh out loud every day.