What happens when you take a soft rock number by Ed Sheeran and mix it with traditional Irish airs?
Something unique, that’s for sure, and something which can be enjoyed by a wide variety of people.
It helps when those producing the sound are very, very good musicians. And the fact that Sheeran is capable of turning out some great tunes doesn’t hurt.
And it was this – the idea that classical music in any form is invariably of a high standard – that first convinced composer Glen Austin to embark on his latest project.
With NEW AIRS, he has a group that travels around Ireland performing classic rock and pop songs, throwing in some classical strings, folk/rock percussion and synthesised electronics.
They’ve proved popular and are making a name for themselves live and online which, as Glen acknowledges, is in no small part thanks to the quality of the performers.
“We’re trying to put a different slant on things and explore new ideas. Hopefully that comes across in the videos.
“And we film it live because that’s the beauty of this kind of music; it works best in a live setting. People see it exactly as it was on the day and we try and tailor the settings to the type of song we’re performing.”
For their latest track – a version of ‘All of the Stars’ – NEW AIRS travelled to Oughterard, Co. Galway, and set up camp in a simple church hall.
This humble setting lends itself to the stripped down beauty of the song, even more so in this exquisite cover.
And the response has been positive – the video has racked up over 100,000 views in under a week and has generated a host of encouraging comments.
“The feedback has been great, the best we’ve had so far,” Glen says. “People who might previously been put off by classical music are saying how much they love it and they’re passing it on to their friends and family.
“It couldn’t have worked out any better for us really – the setting was perfectly suited to Rachel’s amazing voice, the song spoke to everyone and it works well as a classical fusion.”
The classical route wasn’t an obvious one for Glen, a man who was raised on popular music and fell in love with the guitar.
“My dad loved Sinatra, my mum was into the Beatles, my brother was a big heavy metal fan and my sister would listen to grunge. I soaked it all up like a sponge so I was already in love with music and when I was about 12 or 13, I picked up mum’s old guitar.
“Oasis were big at the time so I played a lot of their stuff and I was in rock bands when I was a teenager.”
While outside influences shaped his adolescence, all those years spent listening to a broad spectrum of music led to a desire to learn as much as possible on the subject.
“I wanted to really study music. I’d been learning everything by ear but I wanted things to be a bit more technical. I wasn’t trained from a young age but I wanted to get into the nitty-gritty of music, I wanted to learn how to read music, how to write and score.
“But I still think it’s important to listen to music. Lots of kids study music but they can get so caught up they forget to listen to it as well.”
While studying, Glen developed a passion for classical music, citing the huge potential it carries as a reason for its appeal.
He notes the variety of sounds which can be created through the range of instruments and how, where paired with film, it can be pivotal in shaping the mood.
And, once again, he draws attention to the high level of performance which often comes as part and parcel of a well-trained orchestra. But in spite of the position he now finds himself in, Glen doesn’t believe what NEW AIRS do is classical.
“I don’t think it’s classical music, at least not in the traditional sense. It does have the feature of being best performed live but I see it as more of a musical arrangement using great orchestral players.
“And while it grew out of another project which mixed poetry with traditional Irish airs, we’ve moved on to rock and pop numbers.”
He believes that music is a tool to connect with people and that, ultimately, is the aim with their videos.
“The support we’ve had is amazing but we want to connect with as many people as possible. We want to reach out to the Irish in Britain and show them some of the stuff we do and perhaps even move some performances over there.”
They’ve got more videos in the pipeline, going “way back into the archives” with songs from the 1970s to show that they cover any songs they love, old or new.
And a collaboration with a “high-profile” Irish singer-songwriter is on the horizon meaning that there’s lots to look forward to for the group.
For now they are enjoying the coverage being given to their cover of ‘All of the Stars’ – a song which, by Ed Sheeran’s standards, might have slipped under the radar a little. The red-headed superstar already has plenty of fans, as the reaction to the release of tickets to his upcoming tour proved, but with the help of Glen and NEW AIRS, he might gain a few more.
For those who love classical music, they can discover new material in a form they are generally accustomed to. For those who love Ed Sheeran, they can discover one of his tracks pleasantly rearranged with well-suited vocals, instruments and electronics. And for those who love music full-stop, they can discover nothing less than a bloody good song.
‘All of the Stars’ by New Airs is available to view on YouTube.
Mary Grammer says she enticed some of Ireland’s best known modern acts to her Camden festival because ‘Irish music isn’t just all country & Trad’.