Loudest Whisper go from tin shed to National Opera House

Veteran rockers are set to perform their ‘The Children of Lir’ folk opera in Wexford

The august surroundings of the National Opera House is a far cry from playing in a shed with rain rattling off the galvanised roof to but that's the journey Cork band Loudest Whisper are about to complete this week with the staging of their Celtic folk opera, The Children of Lir.

Founder member Brian O'Reilly recalls how the band began life in his native Fermoy in the early 1960s as beat group The Wizzards, playing covers of songs by The Beatles, The Hollies, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks before being later turned on to Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

"We were gigging around Fermoy at the start and then we started coming into Cork city. We used to play Shandon Boat Club and this place in Douglas – St Columba's Hall, the Tinny Shed – and if it was raining outside, you would have to turn up the volume," he says.

As the 1960s progressed so did The Wizzards, metamorphosing into Loudest Whisper to reflect the band’s growing interest in folk music with Brian’s brother, Paud joining on drums as they embarked on a career that over the next five decades saw them tour extensively and record10 albums.

"We were over to the States a lot and used to play at a place on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village called The Red Lion," says Paud. "We were depressed after the first few days because the standard of musicianship was so high but we survived and ended up with a 15-year residency."

Acid guitar

Loudest Whisper also enjoyed success in continental Europe and the band, now a three-piece with Paul McCarthy on bass, are due to play in Holland in April and Germany in October with loyal fans in both countries proving keen admirers of their fusion of rock and folk into a unique Celtic mix.

“Once we got this great review in one of the British papers – they called us, hang on, let me get this right: ‘Progressive, psychedelic folk rock with acid guitar.’ I was on guitar so that must have been me but we were looking at each and saying, ‘Lads, what does this mean?’,” laughs Brian.

Over 40 years after they first performed their major opus, Children of Lir, Loudest Whisper are about to bring it to the National Opera House in Wexford with an expanded nine-piece band where they will be joined on stage by choirs from the local Loretto Convent School and Selskar Abbey School.

“I was always interested in Celtic mythology,” says Brian “and the Children of Lir jumped out at me because when Aoife, the stepmother, turned them into swans, she allowed them have human voices and sing melodious music. We staged it first in 1973 so it’s great to revive it now all these years later.”

Loudest Whisper stage The Children of Lir at the National Opera House in Wexford on February 3rd and 4th, nationaloperahouse.ie.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times