Chloë Agnew told David Hennessy about her new Christmas song, why she felt it was right to leave Celtic Woman in 2013 and why she was delighted to rejoin them earlier this year and what it was like to grow up as the daughter of Twink, a household name in Irish entertainment.
When asked what Christmas means to her, original member of Celtic Woman Chloë Agnew simply answers, “It’s family, really.”
The daughter of Irish entertainment royalty in Adele King, better known as Twink, and the oboist David Agnew, Chloë has just released From Me to You, a song that celebrates Christmas and all those people that can’t be together for it despite how much they would like to be.
“I wrote this song well over two years ago and the whole sentiment of the song is, ‘If you can’t see your loved ones this Christmas, what would you write in a Christmas card to them?’
“I decided this year felt right to finally put it out there to the world.
“Growing up Christmas has always been my favourite time of year but it is more so as I get older. I’ve been touring since I was 14, 15 years of age and spending so much of my year far away from loved ones and the people who are most important to me, Christmas was always the one time of year I look forward to getting home and having that special quality time with family.
“That’s it for me really. I don’t care if there’s any presents under the tree. I’m just glad to be at home and with loved ones. That’s all I need and that’s my Christmas made.”
Although she spoke to the Irish World from America, Chloë is fully intent on making the trip home this year and even sacrificing a fortnight to not Covid-19 get in the way of her Christmas with family at home.
“I’m actually deliberately losing two weeks’ work just so I can go home and quarantine so I can see family at Christmas. I’m making it a priority. With the year that’s been in it, it’s more important to me than ever. I think I’m one of the lucky ones who can do that.
“Please God, when I get home and I’m tested and I quarantine, that I can have that time with family.
“I’m thinking of people all over the world who might not have that opportunity and that’s why this song was so important to me. That’s the whole sentiment: Maybe there’s miles between us but that doesn’t matter. You’ll be dreaming of them, you’ll be thinking of them. They’re with you in spirit this Christmas.”
2020 was shaping up to be a big year for Chloë. She had rejoined Celtic Woman for their 15th anniversary tour while also continuing to work on her own music. Sadly all these plans were scuppered by the pandemic.
“It’s been a rough ride. I’m not gonna lie. It’s been really, really tough. I know I’m not the only one who will say it’s been the hardest year of my life.
“When I started out, I really felt so positive about the year that was ahead.
“Obviously I was with Celtic Woman the guts of ten years and then when I moved out on my own I really hustled and worked very hard to do my own thing. This year when I started January I felt like all of the last couple of years’ hard work and pounding the pavements had all been worth it because I had never had a year in the diary like it.
“Needless to say, it took a serious toll on mental health. You start wondering, ‘What do you do next? Where is the end in sight? How do you keep creative? How do you keep inspired to keep doing what you’re doing when everything looks so bleak?’
“I know there’s so many musicians and artists and creatives who feel the same way. During the lockdown people all over the world relied so heavily on art and music and entertainment to keep them entertained yet the musicians are the ones who have been really badly affected. It seems like we were the first to close and we might be the last to reopen. It’s been a really tough year mentally.
“I will be glad to see the back of this year for sure.”
With Chloë as their original lead singer, Celtic Woman would become a record-breaking act, selling over 15 million records worldwide in her time with the collective. Celtic Woman have continued to be a big name in the music world while Chloe was making a name for herself as a solo performer and she was excited to return earlier this year after seven years away from the group.
“I was only 15 when I started touring with the show. It felt right to come back and celebrate that time in my life. It felt right. I just felt like I was in a different place in my life now, that I had so much individual experience of being out on my own that I really felt I could bring something to the show that was my input, that was different to what I had done as a younger woman and teenager. I felt like a woman coming back to the show now and bringing that wealth of experience of everything that I have learned on my own over the last couple of years back to the show.
“It will always be a piece of my heart and soul and a big part of my story. It felt nice to revisit a new chapter as opposed to going back on an old one.”
Was it scary to leave the arena-filling and multi-million-selling act that she had been instrumental in building up?
“Absolutely, as equally liberating as it was terrifying. It really was. I had been with the group the guts of a decade and I felt at that time I was looking to find out who I was outside of the show and outside of being known as Chloe from Celtic Woman.
“I was looking for a new connection with music and I figured the only way to do that was songwriting. I felt like I had given as much as I could and I had gotten as much out of it. I was just ready for something different but I had no idea when I left it how terrifying that experience of stepping outside that bubble would be.
“I was only 24 at the time as well. I think I was going through that quarter-life crisis stage anyway of trying to figure out what else I could do in life and what else I have to offer musically. It was a real period of soul-searching.
“It was the hardest thing but it was the best thing I could have done. I wouldn’t change it for the world now.
“Fortunately, so many years out of it, it was lovely to have the chance to come back in. It was really sad that we only got two weeks in before we were all sent home. I can only hope that when things come back, I’ll get a chance to work with them again.”
Asked what it was like to grow up as the daughter of Twink, Chloë remembers she didn’t know any different as a child but certainly realises now how much her mother means to people.
“I didn’t know any different really. Growing up I thought everybody’s parents were onstage and on television.
“Carving a career of my own away from Ireland it’s incredible to see and to meet people who come up and say what an impact my mother had on their lives.
I feel very lucky to come from that showbiz royalty. What she gave to entertainment particularly as a woman in the early days of television in Ireland- She really was a tour de force. I have so much respect and admiration for the slog she put in.
“She’ll tell me stories of her Vegas days, of all the people she used to hang out with and work with. I have moments where I go, ‘Did you really do that?’ She’s had some rock star moments so I’m in awe of her.”
However, it is not without its downsides as Chloë reveals she sometimes gets pre-judged as her mother’s daughter.
“It has its moments too. It can be a blessing and a curse. As much as you hear the lovely things you also hear the negative things too. She’ll say it about herself: She’s marmite. People love or hate her.
“Sometimes for me in the business it’s hard because people have made an assumption about me and my character and what I do based on their opinion of who my parents are. Sometimes that can be hard to overcome. They’ve already formed an opinion before they’ve met you or heard what you do or what you have to say for yourself as your own independent person and artist. That can be tough.”
Chloë sang on her mother’s programme at the age of six and in 2000, aged 11, she recorded a song to raise money for the children of Afghanistan raising over £20,000 for the Afghan Children’s Charity Fund in 2001.
Did she always knew she wanted to follow her parents into the business? “No, I never intended on any of this to be very honest. I came from an Irish entertainment household, both my parents being in the industry, and performing and showbusiness and music was just a way of how we put bread on the table. It was very much a way of life. I never saw the business through rose-tinted glasses. I knew it’s a job.
“Then obviously with Celtic Woman, none of us intended for it to become the success that it did. I was still in school at the time and music was something I did on the side. The creative team came up with the concept for this one night show which was originally all it was meant to be. We had no idea. In a very short space of time it exploded.
“Initially it was, ‘Take the next couple of months out of your life’. That turned into nearly ten years. One thing led to the next. I never planned any of it. Now I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
While Chloë has had the pleasure of singing for numerous American Presidents and playing some truly prestigious venues with Celtic Woman, it is when material she has written is positively received that she describes as being ‘truly magical’. She has been delighted with the reception to From Me to You: “This last week I’ve been crying non-stop with seeing the reaction because it just reminds you why you do what you do even through all the grief and the struggle and the moments that you question, ‘What am I doing with my life? Where is this going?’
“I’m just thrilled. I can’t get over the reaction. It’s been so overwhelming.”
To continue the song’s theme of family, the song was a family effort with Chloë’s mother designing and creating her album cover while the video features scenes from her own family Christmases.
“She did it so perfectly for me and it’s just that extra connection to home that I love.
“Christmas is about home and family and all the things I love most. I wanted something timeless for the cover. I had an idea of what I wanted in my head and I wanted it to have that connection to home.
“Then with the music video, I wanted to share some Christmas memories that were precious to me so I spent a lot of time converting old home footage so I could include some clips of our Christmases through the years.
“A lot of love and heart went into this project which is why I think seeing the reaction to it , seeing people say, ‘Oh my God, this song makes me think of my own family, I can’t wait to hug my own family this Christmas’. When you read those comments and you realise that something that you’ve created hits home with other people and they think of their own loved ones or think of their own Christmas memories- That’s all that matters to me. It’s a dream to hear people say that. It’s all I could have hoped for when creating the song and the video to get that feedback is incredible.”
Was she reticent to share private family moments in the video? “As an artist and songwriter that is what you do. You try to share the most authentic pieces of yourself and at times you feel vulnerable. You’re constantly putting yourself out there for people to either like it or hate it.
“Those Christmas memories, they’re a part of my childhood and because this song means so much to me to have footage that means so much to me paired with it kind of made sense.”
From Me to You is out now. For more information, click here