Fiona O’Brien spoke to Éabha McMahon, the newest member of international singing sensation Celtic Woman, as they prepare for their first ever UK tour on their 10th anniversary
At the time of interview Éabha is relishing a few (four!) days at home before shooting off on her next tour.
“It’s been such a whirlwind,” she says, having just joined the four-piece in the summer. “I’m here dropping my granny at the hair salon, but it’s the first time I’ve seen my family in months so it’s so nice, and now that our tour is in the UK it means they can come and watch me, they’re so excited.” Éabha was making a name for herself in music circles in Ireland having gained a substantial following on YouTube when she first got the call to join Celtic Woman.
A native Irish speaker from Dublin, with a Human Rights degree from NUI Galway that she says ‘is great to have both, and may hopefully help me in the future’. “It’s so funny how small Ireland is, everyone seems to know everybody. They must have seen me on YouTube and they sent me a message on Facebook to see if I would be interested in coming in and auditioning. It goes to show how helpful social media can be!
“And also that one of the most important messages I ever got was through Facebook! I actually had lined up a little tour for myself in the States so I we arranged it for when I got back.
“So I went in on the Monday, and they got me to sing a few Irish ballads around a board room table, my usual kind of repertoire, and said they wanted to make sure I sounded as I do on my videos! I suppose to make sure I wasn’t editing my voice with autotune or anything.
“They liked me, and I fitted the part they needed to replace; I’ve got quite a traditional Irish voice, and a lower key, an alto I suppose, and they needed to specifically fill a deeper voice role. “It was such a case of my life changing overnight, however cheesy that sounds! I was trying to make it in music, and like many other struggling artists I was spending as much time as I could gigging and recording while holding down other jobs to pay the bills.
“They offered me the job and were like, tell work you’re not coming back because you’ll be in the studio with the other three band members on Friday.
“It was such a shock. I was working away writing music and trying to make it in my own capacity. I was working as a nanny and also had a second job in a salon and gigging in the evening.
“And what was brilliant was I had been saving up for a year just to pay for a day’s worth of recording time in Cauldron Studios in Dublin, and that was where they sent me. To record for a whole week!
“I couldn’t believe my luck, it is my dream studio. I had worked there for a day with producer Ciaran Byrne, and now because of this I am able to go back there and finish off the album with him next year. It really has changed my life.” It was an even quicker transformation than that however, as the Wednesday was shoe-horned in for the 24-year-old’s dress fitting; one of the standout features of the Celtic Woman shows.
“That was just an incredible experience. Two days after I got the job I was told to head to Synan O’Mahony’s dress room to be fitted. That is just an experience in itself, and such an added bonus to having your dreams come true on stage. He was going with a gold theme, but he asked what kind of shape I liked.
“He is unreal. He completely designs for your specific figure and although they are beautiful and glamorous dresses they are so comfortable and flattering.
“Every night I go on stage I am so excited to wear his designs, it’s just so different to normal clothes you own that you get tired or bored of eventually. I’m still in love with mine.
“I keep saying that I’m absolutely spoiled, and have no idea how I’m going to manage with a wedding dress as these are so perfect. We are actually getting new ones designed soon for our Christmas shows which will be more festive, and I just can’t wait!” And how has she found the tour? “Well there’s a lot of choreography, and I come primarily from a singing background. I did a bit of dance as a child but I’m did more trad singing, including Sean Nos and even had a bit of training from Moya Brennan. That was the kind of influence I had growing up in an Irish speaking household.
“But thankfully I joined the musical society in college so that has helped with the dance aspect. To be fair it is more flowy than full-out dancing, as we have professional dancers with us, but it is such an energetic show, and my performances before tend to be more haunting, so it has been a real learning curve.
“I joined the show on such a big stage as they were recording a new album and doing a new show for the tenth anniversary. We’ve just done six weeks in America, three weeks in Australia and then shot the DVD too. It’s been all go. “The other girls have been absolutely wonderful. I suppose in most jobs when you are the new girl, in any industry, people’s attitude is, well you have to work your way up and put the hard work in. “But they’ve been great. So supportive and welcoming. When I started I learnt all the stuff for the album so didn’t really have time to get to grips with the live shows, but they offered me all the help that I needed from them to run lines or whatever I needed, and they meant it to.
“The first few times on stage I was still getting used to the choreography, and I would maybe walk the wrong way but without anyone noticing they would kind of grab me by the arm and guide me back the right way. “I suppose they all know what it’s like to be the new girl too and how daunting it can be, especially considering how big the show is. They have just been the nicest people, it’s been a real pleasure and they’ve welcomed me with open arms. And the support network means I’ve never really had a chance to feel homesick either.”
The other three members are Susan McFadden, the sister of former Westlife star Bryan, who has a wealth of musical theatre experience on the West End circuit, Máiréad Nesbitt, an Irish classical and Celtic music performer, most notably as a fiddle player and violinist and Máiréad Carlin, who has an extensive career having won BBC Talent’s Young Singers’ competition at the age of 15.
“We do hand out with each other on our days off. But with all the production crew and dancers and cast there is actually about 25-30 of us touring at one time, so we have these WhatsApp (instant messaging) groups to see what to do with our days off.
“It’s so not cliquey, and it helps keep things balanced. For example if someone fancies going for a walk and exploring one day they’ll put it up and whoever fancies joining will join, so you might be hanging out with different people all the time who are just interested in that one activity one day.
“It means you get to meet so many more people because you are naturally close to the people who have the same schedule as you, but this opens it up to people you don’t necessarily spend a lot of time with day-to-day.”
Éabha, like the other two vocalists, sings two solos on the album, how did it work with the selection process? “Mutt Lange wrote one new song for me, which is very different from anything that I would ever sing. Then I was given the Enya song How Can I Keep Me From Singing, which is more my kind of style, with an Irish voice. “They just told me to go away with it and come back and show them what I had done. I think, and hope, it’s worked really well. It was great to do my own interpretation of it.”
• The new album Destiny was released on November 6 through Decca Records
NOVEMBER 2015 TOUR DATES
• November 11th – The Sage, Gateshead
• November 12th – Usher Hall, Edinburgh
• November 13th – Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
• November 14th – International Centre, Harrogate
• November 16th – Cliffs Pavilion, Southend
• November 17th – de Montfort Hall, Leicester
• November 18th – Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
• November 20th – Philharmonic, Liverpool
• November 21st – Symphony Hall, Birmingham
• November 22nd – Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
• November 23rd – Eventim Apollo, London
More about Celtic Woman on their website www.celticwoman.com