Launching a United States tour in support of their recently released Ancient Land CD, the Grammy-nominated and multi-platinum-selling group Celtic Woman continues to wow audiences every stop along their way.
The album is an 18-track masterpiece that takes you from traditional roots to newer sounds, along with some original works. “I guess the idea behind this album was to go back to our roots and really delve into that treasure trove of Irish history and find songs that people have not heard in quite a while,” said group member Máiréad (pronounced MA-Raid) Carlin. “Songs like ‘Mna na hEireann,’ which is a traditional Irish song which means ‘Women of Ireland’ … which we thought was very apt for us considering we are women of Ireland ourselves (laughs).
“Our fans have been asking us for quite a while to give them new music as well, so we really wanted to do that with this album. We reached out to some fabulous Irish writers from all across Ireland and we have some new, original music on there which we are really thrilled by. And one of our own girls, Éabha McMahon, has a song on there. It’s a really exciting time to be part of Celtic Woman and we’re really proud of this album.”
Celtic Woman will perform at Prudential Hall at NJPAC in Newark, March 24 at 3 p.m., as well as at the Tilles Center Concert Hall in Brookville, N.Y., March 20 at 8 p.m.; the St. George Theatre in Staten Island, March 21 at 8 p.m.; and the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, April 4 at 7:30 p.m.
Carlin has been with the group for more than six years. Her involvement came as she attempted to craft her own music career, a path begun by her love of folk music.
“I loved Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny and Eddi Reader,” she said. “I was signed when I was 21 to Decca Records and one of the samples that I used as a reference point was Celtic Woman. I remember having a meeting with the managing director of the label and he said, ‘You know, you’d be a perfect fit in Celtic Woman,’ and I remember saying out loud, ‘That’ll be the day.’ I never thought in a million years that I’d be here. It just makes you realize that the world is a small place and anything can happen.”
The styles of music the group performs “kind of go hand in hand because we’re very honest performers in Celtic Woman, so I’m basically myself when onstage. But the music that I love to sing is folk music, which is what I get to sing in the show.”
With an album like Ancient Land that has such depth, reflection and great production involved, one may wonder how the group chooses their material and who has the final say. According to Carlin, it’s a team effort.
“We’re very lucky in the sense that we have such an amazing team around us that really listens to us as artists and people. Sometimes I say that they know us better than we know ourselves when it comes to our voices, because sometimes we think of songs that may really not be for us, and they say, ‘Well, gee, it really doesn’t fit.’ There’s a big pot and we throw in ideas. There’s constant emails saying ‘I love this song’ or ‘I’d love to sing this song at some point,’ and then our producers will come back and say, ‘Have you thought about this song? I think it really fits you.’
“I think all of us as artists really need to feel connected to a song and to the music. If we don’t feel what we’re singing about, then it’s very difficult to sing … We’re really encouraged to give our opinions and throw in ideas. I remember sitting down at the piano with our music director, who had a big list of songs, things he had put together as options for me. And he started playing this melody on the piano. I didn’t know the melody but I was completely drawn to it and I said, ‘What was that? I need to know what that song is!’ It was a song called ‘County Down’ and I’m from Northern Ireland and ‘County Down’ is in Northern Ireland so I immediately said I have to sing that song.”
Originally formed in 2004, Celtic Woman has been built on a changing core of performers and stage productions, but with every addition or subtraction the unit remains cohesive and unabashedly excited. Some may feel that this affects the group, but Carlin says that is not the case, and with the recent addition of vocalist Megan Walsh her point is well proven.
“We are very open about the fact that Celtic Woman has always had a fluency in their members. The group has been going for 14 years, I don’t know if I can name many bands that have been together for that length of time. People have wanted to move on and do their own thing and our lovely Susan McFadden left just before Megan joined to have a gorgeous little baby, so we found ourselves in the position to find someone new. So we put out the feelers and we came across the wonderful Megan Walsh who was studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London and she’s an absolute dream and so talented. We’re very lucky to have her.”
Ancient Land is also available on DVD and Blu-ray, where you’ll hear songs from the disc performed in front of the historic Johnstown Castle located in County Wexford, Ireland. Was Carlin excited to perform on such a grand stage?
“Oh my goodness, yes,” she gushed. “I grew up watching and being a huge fan of Celtic Woman and they are known for those spectacular castle specials and I never thought in a million years that I’d get to be a part of one. So when we were told that we were doing it again I was completely overwhelmed and I remember walking into the grounds of the castle and just bursting into tears because it was very special and not everyone gets to be involved in something like that. I guess it’s something we will remember for the rest of our lives.”
Celtic Woman was just here in the United States a short time ago. Their enthusiasm for America doesn’t wane.
“A couple of months ago we finished our symphony tour; we did a tour all across the States in December with a different symphony orchestra every night, performing Christmas music,” Carlin said. “It was really fun; it was a special thing to get to perform with a different symphony orchestra every night. That’s something that you can only ever dream about, and we absolutely cherished every single moment of that.”
She has relatives in New Jersey, “and they always come to the New Jersey concerts so I love doing (NJPAC), and Philadelphia is one of my favorite places in the entire world and I love (the Academy of Music), so they are going to be two great nights for us.”
The current show, she says, “takes you on a journey through Ireland. That’s what we really wanted from this album and from this show, was to take people on a journey, the ups and downs and everything in between. We have a full stage production, beautiful gowns, as people would expect, drummers, percussion, bagpipers, dancers and lots of old music as well as new music.”
Carlin sees no slowdown in sight for the band, and embraces the thought of continuing their journey.
“As far as I’m concerned, Celtic Woman is just growing and growing and moving forward. I’ve been in the group for six years and it’s amazing to see the progression within the music industry. All around us, the industry is changing and the amazing thing for us is to see people still coming to our shows and still wanting to hear our music. So for as long as people want to come and hear us perform, we are more than happy to do that. We feel very lucky to do what we do.”
For more information, visit celticwoman.com.