Méav Ní Mhaolchatha
Musical Discoveries: It's great to be able to catch up with you since our last interview around the time of Silver Sea. What led to you joining the Celtic Woman group?
Méav: Yes, the last three years have been a whirlwind of activity! I was invited to participate in a concert which was being filmed for PBS in Dublin in 2004. The concert was designed to showcase the music of five female Irish musicians: singers Lisa Kelly, Orla Fallon, Chloe Agnew, fiddler Mairéad Nesbitt, and myself.
I had worked with David Downes, the musical director, on a number of recordings before and I liked his musical style, and I knew Sharon Browne well as her record company had released two albums of mine. I had not met the executive producer Dave Kavanagh before but I was aware of his work with Clannad.
I knew there would be a full orchestra, a band of great players in a venue with great acoustics, so it was a very easy decision to say "yes, I would do it." I knew many of the singers in the choir and orchestra and we had a great night. We had a fantastic team of people that put the whole show together and the soloists just hit it off as a group from the start. At the time we really thought it was a once-off event. We were wrong!
And what did you think of the run and the exposure you received during that time?
None of us realized that Celtic Woman was going to be such a runaway success that we would end up touring and recording so intensively for the next three years and beyond. The combination of different voices, familiar melodies and new arrangements just seemed to hit a chord with audiences. We couldn't believe that were being recognized on the street in New York within days of the first album launch and the whole thing seemed to gather momentum very quickly.
In three years we recorded three CDs and DVDs and have remained at the top the Billboard World music charts for a 95 weeks, breaking Andrea Bocelli¹s previous record. The concert performances have been aired over 3,400 times on PBS stations across the U.S. and the new Christmas Show is due to debut on PBS early this December. We have toured intensively in the US and beyond and the CDs have been very popular in Australia, South Africa and Japan. I had a ball with the show and enjoyed the whole process.
You've recently announced a departure from Celtic Woman. What are some of your plans?
I recently decided to leave Celtic Woman because I wanted to focus on solo work. I loved performing with the others and it was a difficult decision to leave, but I was hungry to work on something new. I love having the freedom to present my live concerts slightly differently each night. I enjoy chatting to my audiences and having fun with them. I want to create an intimate, close atmosphere in concert and I also have some recording plans in the pipeline.
Do you think it will be difficult to re-establish your solo presence?
The exposure of Celtic Woman certainly helps. My face and voice are better known now than they ever were. I just decided to put together some solo concerts a few weeks ago and I was really delighted to get such a great response so quickly. There are five concerts in a row this December in New York and New Hampshire.
What will be the range of material you work with and your planned repertoire?
While I enjoyed singing many different styles of songs in the Celtic Woman show, my first love is the classic Irish repertoire. In a way I feel that I am returning home. One of the musicians in my band is Conor O Reilly who is probably best known for his haunting arrangement of "Danny Boy" that has been featured in both Celtic Woman DVDs and touring shows. Conor has written some fantastic new arrangements for me and I am really looking forward to sharing them with the audience alongside some old favourites.
How much additional touring is planned and what do you anticipate will be the range of your travels?
I am currently putting together a series of concerts for Spring 2008 in the US. I am also in discussion with some international promoters. I will have more news about this early in 2008.
How do you feel individually deep down inside before, during and after a live performance?
I like to find a few moments of quiet time to focus before a concert, but sometimes that is not easy! I am usually slightly giddy and full of energy and anticipation. During a concert, there is a sense of flow where you are not really conscious of anything except what is happening at that very moment, engaging with your musicians and with the audience. Every audience creates a particular atmosphere which can really affect the performance. It¹s like having an extra personality onstage with you.
After a performance I am usually still on a high. I can¹t go straight to bed even if I am tired; I love time to unwind and relax and mull over how it went with the other musicians. It can be hard to discipline yourself to prepare for the next concert when you feel like a party!
Qhat kinds of things do the listeners say to you after they have seen you on stage?
The feedback from listeners is really rewarding, especially after a tough day on the road. It is a privilege to hear from those who say that the music has helped them to keep their spirits up through times of illness or personal hardship. My music is categorized as "healing music" in Japan and Korea, which I take as a huge compliment.
When can we expect a new album from you?
I will have more news about this early next year.
Do you think the internet is a good place to expand your audience?
I think the internet is a great resource for musicians and for music lovers to communicate with one another. It is also very useful when researching songs and their background. My own website www.meav.com has been a very helpful tool in keeping in touch with my audience and I have met some fantastic fans as a result.
I have a very warm and supportive fan base at www.celticmeav.com and at www.ladymeav.com. There is even a fan site in Brazil run by a lovely lady I have never met thanks to the wonders of the internet! I have not set up a MySpace page but I think it is useful when browsing non-mainstream musical styles.
Do you think file sharing or downloads will help or hurt the business?
The business is changing rapidly but I think we need to embrace the new technology on offer. The format of the new medium should not really matter as long as audiences are willing to show their appreciation of music by continuing to pay for it.
In addition to music, what else are you doing in your life these days?
I have a young daughter who lights up my life. We recently moved to an old house with a big garden so I spend a lot of time with my husband trying to prevent the whole place from turning into a wilderness!
Are there any particular artists out there that you think your listeners may also enjoy and whose music you enjoy as well?
I socialize with and work with many musicians. In Ireland there are so many people who sing or play an instrument that it¹s almost taken for granted.
When I was in university in Trinity College Dublin, I sang the part of Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady. The singer who played my father was the Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, and the singer who played my boyfriend was the singer-songwriter Damien Rice. I don¹t think any of us expected to end up singing as a career but that is what happened.
It's hard to single out any individuals, but there is a band called Kíla who are great fun. They use traditional Irish instruments like low whistles, fiddle and uileann pipes, but they combine them with African drums, wild singing and world music rhythms to create music that just makes you want to get up and dance! Three of the brothers in Kíla band went school with me from the age of five.
I also have a close friend called Roisin Dempsey who is putting the finishing touches to her second spiritual music album.
Continued on December 14, 2007
Has the last minute stuff been hair-raising?
It's been a bit crazy - even checking on the availability of the musicians, I was so happy they could all make it. The dates have been shifting around a little bit, even visa applications and all the practical stuff gets in the way. All you want to do is think about music and sit down and rehearse. And you end up on the phone talking about all this other stuff. I guess that's show biz.
I used to work in arts and administration years ago organizing gigs for other people so it's nice. It's a shock, you become institutionalized, when everything's been done for you, but it does mean you can surround yourself with other people who's company you really enjoy. It's been fun. With Celtic Woman, when you're on the road all you have to do is sign up in a way because all the other things are looked after for you. I was on WLIW earlier on the weekend before last and it was amazing the kind of roots that they have and the kind of support they give you for lots of different cultural events. I wish we had something similar at home.
I was hoping that you would talk about your new material.
There's a taster of a couple of the new pieces in there and I'll be interested in what you think of them. What I grew up with was the kind of classic Irish sound and that is something that I keep returning to cause I never tire of singing those pieces. I have plans to maybe treat them in a slightly different way. I don't want to give too much away about it because I'm still talking to people about exactly what it will be. But it will be different from what I've done before in terms of my orchestration.
And that's one of the things that's great about being out again on my own is the freedom to try out different things. Even with the three of us, the three musicians that I have with me, we were working on something that suddenly happened in the last few days - it's just so much fun to be back working organically like that - you get an idea and toss it around. That's something I missed due in part to our own success because with Celtic Woman you're on the road so much that you really didn't have time to just catch your breath, be toying with ideas and trying to work on things yourself, you really have very little down time. So it's really great to be able to do that. And there's a new Gallic song in the set tonight which I think is a bit of fun. It's a song I first heard Capercaille sing. We'll see if anybody can pick up on their Gallic, it's an easy chorus, but you never know.
Are you going to self-release or are you with a label?
I can't tell you, I'm afraid. There's a couple of balls in the air there and hopefully I'm able to tell you as soon as I can.
Many artists want to keep their personal lives private. But based on our email interview responses, your daughter and your husband are the lights of your life. What else can you share with us about them?
I'm so protective of my daughter, it's difficult to talk about her. I see the lives of some other musicians. When somebody is so little, she's still only a toddler, she doesn't have the choice to decide whether her life is public or not. She gets a great kick out of music.
She loves to perform and I guess most kids do and it's really enjoyable to see. There's actually an area in my house that is a split level and it's an open plan living area and somebody was pulling my leg and said is that the stage because there's these steps? No, no, no.
They said did you put that in deliberately, and I said absolutely not, but that's where she likes to perform and sing her little songs and things. I would like for music to be part of her life the way it was for me growing up because it was just there in the middle of everything. It never felt like a big deal. It just happened organically and I would hope that the same would be true for her.
Dublin is an environment full of musical talent. How does it feel to be part of the musical close-knit Dublin environment?
It's because I grew up in it that you don't know anything different. I remember studying in France one summer learning French and I spent about a month in French schools. It was only then that I realized that it was unusual. Not everybody got up and sang and performed and played music as much as we did at home. Because I ended up singing something that was in a concert that they were putting on and they decided I should sing.
It was then that I realized that we were very lucky to have that kind of environment at home and not every child had that opportunity. And obviously they should. So it was just a very natural thing. In some ways there's always this attitude of downplaying everything at home. If somebody admires your dress, you have to say oh this old thing. It's a bad habit in a way if you undermine the compliments because you're trying to downplay it and I think in one way that means you don't realize what a big deal it is to be around all the time. It's just the way things are. I certainly love living there and I will continue doing that as well. I think it's just a perfect combination of when you're working in those capacities and you can choose to come and sing to the audience and they are very responsive and yet you have your private home life to reflect and you have your family and time to work on your music.
A number of years ago there was an enormous explosion of music from Ireland, and since then it seems to have toned down. What do you think has happened?
Yeah, there's still an awful lot of music happening, there's seems to be less of young music students coming up. On one hand there are more opportunities cause you can see there is different options in what you can do as a performer. On the other hand, there are less things like soundtracks being recorded where you can get to be part of a really big production but there's not so much of that market anymore. I think it's more for people to generate what they have. You could have said a number of years ago that the Celtic music thing was really happening. It was interesting that the response from a non-Irish or a non-Celtic based audience seems to be quite strong still for that music.
Do you have a page on MySpace?
Actually I do, but it's only one page and is fan-based.
What do you think about MySpace and that being a meeting place for drawing fans into your site?
I don't have a problem with it. I think there are other ways, there are other channels of finding people. If there's something your interest is piqued by, it's a quick way of finding out a little more about them. It's very speedy. It doesn't fit every type of music so well maybe. I think you need to find the method of communication that is right for you. I can find myself spending a lot of time in there because you find you're looking for musicians that you know and you're drawn into to find other people. Anyway to get people looking at music outside the box is a good thing.
CDs are a great form of distribution - people can touch, feel and hold them. But, iTunes is much faster. What do you think?
I miss all the background information. I think that once that becomes the norm it should be easier to find more information, not less. Yes, like a book, I think people like to hold onto something. The fact that there are so many things are at your fingertips is good.
I have one bone to pick with iTunes and that it is not the value, the international value is still there. There is so much music that is on American iTunes and that is the fact that it has international boundaries. There is so much music that is on American iTunes and I can't access it because my credit card is Irish, not American. and tghat drives me crazy. Why? It doesn't make ansy sense. That is one thing that I'd like to see changed.
But, in terms of the immediate impact of finding alternative versions of people singing things, it is fascinating. And what I find great about it is if you look for a sound, often the one that you find most appealing is by a musician you never heard of before. You'd never find it otherwise because you go in and for that I'm grateful.
What do you think of filesharing?
Well, I am disappointed in those that can't appreciate the original source. That's the bottom line. Now it's time for me to get ready. Thank you so much and enjoy the show.
The Show. Meav played: "Dulaman" "She Moved Through The Fair" "Waves of Tory" "Wicked Sister" "Last Rose Of Summer" "One I Love" Si do Mhaimeo i" "Suantrai" "You Brought Me Up" "Wexford Carol / Little Drummer Boy" "Marble Halls" "Winter, Fire and Snow" "The Voice" "Danny Boy" "O Holy Night" "The Blessing" "Glasgow's Burning" "Silent Night" and she returned for one encore: "Ding Dong Merrily On High."
She was marvelous on stage, her vocals soaring well atop the light instrumentals. A very long set indeed, the highlights of the evening certainly included "The Voice" originally sung by Eimear Quinn as the winning song of Eurovision 1996, her rendition of Capercaillie's walking song "Alasdair Mhic Cholla Ghasda," "Marble Halls" and the "Ding Dong Merrily on High" encore.
More Méav Ní Mhaolchatha|
Silver Sea (2002)
Interview and Photos (2002)
initial interview and HTML © Audrey C and Russell W Elliot 12 November 2007
followup interview and HTML © R. W. Elliot 14 December 2007
photographs © (1-2) Barry Mc Call, (3,4,6) Celtic Woman, (5) WLIW 2007
Last updated 08 January 2008