By David Hennessy
Fresh from the release of their fourth album, Friends for Life, their first to feature original compositions, The High Kings are touring the UK. Since their launch in 2008, The High Kings have enjoyed incredible highs such as playing for Barack Obama both in Moneygall and The White House with the American President quoted as saying: “I have two favourite Irish groups: U2 and The High Kings”. Put together by Celtic Woman manager Dave Kavanagh, the band have also been voted Ireland’s folk band of the year for the past four years.
Some of the band’s members possessed famous names even prior to the band becoming known as it is made up of Martin Furey (son of Finbar) and Finbarr Clancy (part of the Clancy Brothers dynasty) and Brian Dunphy and Darren Holden have both toured globally with Riverdance while Brian went on to become part of The Three Irish Tenors and Darren later starred on Broadway in Movin’ On.
The Irish World caught up with Darren and Martin to ask how pleased they are with the response to the album and Darren reveals just what a big step releasing their own material was: “When you think that we were launched in 2008 as the ballad folk group for the new millennium and that people warmed to us on the fact that we were doing the old stuff but in a new way, it’s always a big risk to take: Putting your own material because you run the risk of alienating some of your core audience. That was always at the back of my mind anyway. I always felt that the material that we were to put forward should be at least in vein with the material that we’ve come to be known for and I think we’ve achieved that.”
Martin adds: “I think if it wasn’t for the quality of the writing in the ballads, we wouldn’t be inspired to write our own material and I think it’s a good way to keep things moving forward. The beauty of the ballads is they’re great material so you don’t actually need to be Irish to get it and what we’ve found is that we have got a lot of support from the Irish community who enjoy hearing them again but we’ve also met an awful lot of just music fans who have no idea who the other Irish bands would be. They’re just hearing these songs for the first time and the quality of the writing is really carrying the day, people are amazed by how good the songs are and they’re having such a good time. I guess it’s kind of old time music at this point so to throw in a whole load of new stuff into the mix and to have people welcome it is a delight.”
The album is called Friends for Life, does this describe the four guys and will they be bandmates for many years to come? Martin has no doubts on either topic. Between the four members, they can play thirteen different instruments and can boast of various experience. It is the diverse backgrounds that make the band so great. “We’ve been together for six years now and I think we’ll keep gigging together now for the foreseeable future,” Martin begins. “We’re all into different styles of music and that’s what makes the album. I’m gonna say this now but I don’t mean it in any arrogant, stupid way. It reminds me a bit of how different all the songs are on The White Album. When you play that album, each song is different. The Beatles, they’re massive all over the world, we’re not. I mean in terms of a style of an album, it’s not samey and each song comes at ya from a different angle and that’s just purely by accident. Darren and Brian come from a real poppy background, they both auditioned for Boyzone. Darren worked with Louis Walsh for a while and then Finbarr and myself are just out and out folks. It’s a great mixture and the folk joins everyone together. The main thing we are is a harmony group. I enjoy working with the boys. They’re really solid at what they do.”
Darren from Kilkenny adds: “Yeah, we all get on very, very well and it kind of does sum up the feel of the group and we would like to continue as The High Kings as far as we can. If people want to hear The High Kings, we’ll be there to provide the albums and the tours. I’m sure there’ll be little breaks here and there, we might do something different but always come back to The High Kings. I think it’s a lifelong thing now.”
The album is produced by Sharon Shannon and one track on Friends for Life that is already well known is Galway Girl. What was it like to work with Sharon and with her on a track that is synonymous with her? “It was amazing,” Darren begins. “She has this electric personality and she literally can light up a room with a smile and that’s what she did every day she came into the studio, she could bring all this positive energy in with her and it was like magic, somehow things would just take off and the songs would take on a life of their own and it was just brilliant to work with her.”
“I’ve always been a fan of that song. It’s been done a hundred million times now by a load of different people but there’s always room for one more of a classic song like that. The thing about Galway Girl is it was never released outside of Ireland. It was sort of a hit on YouTube, it was never released as a solid record outside of Ireland so the fact that we’re getting a worldwide release with this album, it seemed to be a good idea to put it on and introduce it to maybe some people who have been living under a rock and haven’t heard it yet, then they’re gonna hear it now.”
Asked if it was perhaps daunting recording Galway Girl with the woman from Clare who is so known for performing it, Martin answers: “It was a privilege and an honour and all the other things you would expect. She doesn’t really carry a daunting atmosphere with her. She carries an encouraging one and one that just makes you feel like you can play music. It’s not a stifling environment really when she was producing. The sound of our album really came together with her help.”
The band has enjoyed some remarkable highs and when asked what stands out, it should come as no surprise that the American President features. “Barack Obama would have been great,” enthuses Darren. “We played for him twice: In Moneygall when he came over here and then we were invited to do The White House, obviously that was fantastic and we just had a wonderful time there with him. He was so warm to us, it was almost like chatting to an old friend and we had Enda Kenny there as well, we were very well represented that night. Everybody championed the name The High Kings to everybody in Washington and it was just really, really cool to be there.”
Playing The White House and seeing the band’s picture up on Time Square also stand out for Martin but his main highlight comes on these shores: “I’ll tell you what was brilliant: When we played St. Patrick’s Day in Trafalgar Square. That was honestly one of the best gigs we ever had and a couple ended up in the fountain at the end having an old smooch. That was just a really, really good feeling because I lived in England for a number of years so I saw everything change and to see such a large number of tricolours in Trafalgar Square and to be associated with romance was just lovely. People had a great time and it was all sorts of communities.”
For the full interview, pick up the October 5 print edition of The Irish World.
Friends for Life by The High Kings is out now. The High Kings tour the UK from October 5. To buy tickets, click on the link below: