First Encounters: Julie Feeney and Eugene Ginty

‘We just take up where we left off’

Musicians Julie Feeney and Eugene Ginty. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Musicians Julie Feeney and Eugene Ginty. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Julie Feeney is a composer, singer/songwriter described as “brainy and adventurous” by the ‘New York Times’. Her third album ‘Clocks’ – has just been released in the US. Originally from Co Galway, she lives in Ballsbridge.

I met Eugene when we were both members of the National Chamber Choir, about 2004. After I finished college I was a full-time choral singer, as he was. There are just 17 people in the National Chamber Choir but I didn’t know Eugene that well at the beginning.

The friendship between us really blossomed after I left the choir. I invited him to be part of my ensemble because he’s a remarkable musician, very flexible, able to adapt in whatever way I like. From that point we became really good friends, now he’s like a big brother figure to me. He’s performed a lot with me – including in the Concert Hall the last time I was there, and in my opera – even though he’s extraordinarily busy and it can be hard to get hold of him.

I have rehearsals in my apartment in Ballsbridge and he always comes in with cups of hot chocolate – I love hot chocolate. He brings food too, to make sure I’m eating. He minds me, it’s a nice dynamic.

Eugene probably is older than me, I’ve never even asked him; it seems like he is. We might not see that much of each other because of our busy schedules. Full-time musicians don’t hang out like other people, meeting up, say, at weekends – it’s a different timescale. But we take up where we left off, that’s the great thing about having a friend like Eugene. When you do meet, say, on a big long drive, you can have a great chat and a catch-up.

The friendship is around the music. He breeds alpacas, is big into gardening, and lives in a beautiful house. I’m not particularly interested in gardening, I’ve never had the bug.

I’m from Co Galway, between Abbeyknockmoy and Athenry, and go home as much as possible. There’s definitely music on both sides of the family, my mother played organ. And I’ve cousins in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. One of the first things I ever wanted to be was a composer.

Eugene will definitely be in my ensemble as long as he doesn’t get sick of me. He’s just such a lovely person, so vibrant and warm, he’s always engaged with whatever’s going on. He’s lovely to be around. He’s really good for advice, musically. He’s good on the old life advice as well – he’s very wise.


On Friday, August 9th, Julie Feeney will perform with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra under conductor David Brophy at the National Concert Hall. See rte.ie/co



Eugene Ginty is a tenor who has performed more than 50 opera roles worldwide. He sings with the Three Irish Tenors, appears in cabaret in Harvey’s Point Hotel in Donegal and sings with Julie Feeney’s ensemble. Born in London, he spent nine years working in Durham Cathedral choir and St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. He now lives in Co Louth.

When I joined the National Chamber Choir, I got to know the tenors first and other people gradually. A few of us would catch the 19A bus and we’d chat. I remember Julie from one bus journey in particular: on this occasion, Julie said, “What are you doing this evening?” I said, “Oh, a bit of gardening, I’ll cook some pork chops, maybe watch Coronation Street. What are you doing?”

I was expecting something quite banal, like, going for coffee, going to the cinema. She said, “I’m orchestrating my latest song”. And added “auditioning little people for my new video”. I realised she wasn’t making it up – and that’s when I realised she was different. The auditions were for the video of her song, Fictitious Richard.

My parents are from Mayo and Sligo, left Ireland in the late 1950s. I grew up in north London, where there was an endless stream of Irish people coming through the door. Every summer we would drive to Geesala in Mayo for six weeks.

I moved to Ireland in 2003, got the job with the National Chamber Choir – and that’s how I met Julie. I went to one of Julie’s first gigs at the Sugar Club, was surprised at how good her music was, just loved it – it was so immediate and catchy. I couldn’t believe she played so many instruments – as I do. So in that sense we were kindred spirits.

I live in Dunany, Co Louth – it’s glorious, on the coast. I have animals: two dogs, a cat, seven alpacas (they’re from Chile/Peru, bred for their fleece) and eight miniature donkeys. Sometimes, in a concert, Julie might have a quick costume change. She’ll leave the stage and as she does, she’ll say, Eugene, will you talk to the audience, tell them about your alpacas or something – and off she goes. It’s fine – she knows she can do that.

I do mind her, but she’s not hard to mind, she’s not a diva in any sense. When you bounce ideas off Julie she listens and acknowledges. She is generous-spirited, very much so.

Our friendship is just so simple: if Julie has no gigs or is in America for six months we don’t feel the need to ring each other. When we do eventually talk there’s no acrimony, no, why didn’t you call me for six months.

Some friendships can stay still and not deteriorate, and that’s Julie. I like that. We just pick up, that’s the main thing in a friendship.



l Last week’s First Encounters named Rory O’Connor as chairman of The Model arts centre in Sligo. He was chairman between 1993 and 2003. Bernie Butler is the current chairperson

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