The High Kings Are Steppin' Out
By Debbie McGoldrick
Celtic Woman took the world by storm when they debuted in 2004, topping the charts and touring to standing-room-only audiences. Now it's the boys' turn.
Meet the High Kings, a quartet of ultra-talented Irish musicians who hope to match the smashing success of their corporate sisters. The group was created last year by Celtic Woman's producer Dave Kavanagh and composer/musical director David Downes, and a major rollout is already underway in the U.S., with the group's maiden DVD scheduled for heavy PBS airplay during March, and a national tour to follow in April. (Their self-titled CD was released by EMI, Celtic Woman's recording home, in February.)
The members of the High Kings - Darren Holden, Brian Dunphy, Martin Furey (a son of the famous Irish singer Finbarr) and Finbarr Clancy (a scion of the renowned Clancy Brothers) - bring a diverse array of musical styles to the table. But the group is going back to basics, as it aims to freshen up the classic Irish standards and introduce them to a new audience.
Holden, a Co. Kilkenny native well known to Americans, particularly Billy Joel fans, for his years playing the Piano Man in Joel's stage show Movin' Out both on Broadway and on national tour, was approached about participating in the group last year and said yes on the spot, even though he and his young family had made plans to move to New York full time so Holden could further pursue his career.
"The Wild Rover" is a long way from Joel classics such as "Big Shot," but Holden was more than ready to take the leap, especially as he was starting to write his own songs that marked a return to his Irish roots. The opportunity to be part of a group for the first time in his career was also too good to pass up.
"The producers said they were looking to put a new group together based on the Clancys and the Dubliners. They wanted to bring the old Irish songs back into the forefront, making them hip and cool with four young-ish guys who could sing and play and write," said Holden.
"I could see right away that it wasn't going to be cheesy, or be like an Irish Il Divo. All of us guys had known of each other, and when we went into rehearsals we clicked. We knew it was going to work."
The group spent lots of time together in Ireland the latter half of last year getting to know each other's styles. They also commenced recording their CD with Downes at the helm. The rollicking DVD was recorded in front of an audience in Dublin.
How have the High Kings made many of Ireland's most beloved songs newly unique?
"The productions are bigger and more orchestrated," says Holden. "Certain songs are just as they were, but we've re-energized and re-packaged them for a new audience hearing them for the first time."
The High Kings come complete with a full backing band and a world champion Irish step dancer to boot. The show, Holden says, is incredibly energetic.
"We've got lots of audience participation. If you come to a High Kings show you better be ready to stand up and sing and have plenty of fun. We're there to have a good time - not that we don't take ourselves seriously, but it's not about that at all. People are really going to love it."
The legendary High Kings of Ireland, of course, ruled Ireland for many centuries. Today's High Kings will also be content to dominate not just their native land, but the world at large.
"We were signed by EMI who did Celtic Woman, and they really wanted us," Holden says. "So that's a great start. We know that we're going to get out there and they are going to make sure we have lots of promotion behind us.
"In years to come," he adds, "we want to be remembered as being the band that brought this back to the forefront of popular music both in America and around the world. We want to go down in Irish history as the High Kings who brought it all back home."