Irish folk band The High Kings have opened up on why they think they’re successful in Ireland and further abroad - no other band can renovate Irish music like them, but they do admit it is a very fine line of pulling it off.
They spoke to me on Sunday evening before their Dublin show and the very next night they were awarded the ‘most successful Irish folk band worldwide’ by the Sunday World.
The Irish folk band first formed in 2008, but it now consists of Darren Holden, Brian Dunphy, Finbarr Clancy, and the newest member Paul O’Brien, as they continue to sell out arenas around the world. They are about to tour in the States, their biggest one yet starting on the 16th of February and lasting to 23rd of May.
Speaking about the success in America and the rest of the world, Finbarr Clancy, said: “We have been touring America since we started as a band, we’re coming onto our 14th year now. We started their March of 2008 and we go back several times a year for the festivals, there are big summer festivals and St. Patrick’s Day - we tend to go for February and March, this year we are even going into April, which will be our longest tour over there.
“And then we’ll be heading back over there in the summer. There are loads of decedents Irish-Americans, who are right into their culture. And it’s well set up, so we go over there quite a bit and it’s great.”
When asked about what is the best thing about Irish music that helps it resonates with so many people, “The stories,” Finbarr says before, Brian Dunphy adds: “It is about the stories, the songs, it’s about I suppose what we have brought the old songs as well as people really want to hold on to their heritage.
“Which is the one they do want to hold onto if they do move away from Ireland. They just want to hold onto it - the things they listened to when they were younger.
“And when we came out and done all the old songs, in the new way we’ve done them - it’s a link that’s why they hold onto it.
“Then they want to link onto heritage as well if their Grandparents or Great Grandparents are from Ireland, they have that link through music there isn’t really any other outlet they can but through the music, they can.
“So that’s what it descends too. I think there is 85 million Irish around the world.”
Once a member of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, Finbarr Clancy - son of Bobby Clancy – added: “there is this tightrope and it’s a problem because it is good to innovate songs and for bands to put their own stamp on a song.
“Because it’s almost like these songs are passing through generations of musicians.
“And you can put your own little stamp on it, but you don’t want to remove the sentiment of the song and what it is about. If you change everything about it, then it is no longer what it is meant to be about, if you stray too far.
“It is a tough trick to do and not to venture away from the meaning of the song.”
Their latest Christmas song ‘Christmas the way I remember’ goes to the melody of Loch Lomond (also used in Red is the Rose), Darren Holden, explains the choice: “The melody as you know is from Loch Lomond, it is a melody we have been using for many years with an Irish song, which is, called Red is the Rose.
“And the lyrics came on our way to the JFK airport, as we had just finished a two-month tour of America and we were all on our way to go home and couldn’t wait to be back with our families.
“We were all in that vibe and that type of headspace, the lyrics just came out of there, and I started writing them down showing them to the boys and we all got a nice little vibe from it.
“So, when we got back, we took a week off to see our families and then we got back into the studio, and we put it out and it has down really, really well for us. It’s a good lyrical and musical coming together and it’s a song I think we’ll have at our disposal for many years to come.”
The best song to show a newcomer, wherever that be a Grandparent or a friend, or anyone who hasn’t listened to their music before. The newest member Paul O’Brien said: “It’s definitely the song you would sing (he motions towards Darren Holden) Nobody’s Child, I don’t know who originally sung it. But definitely, that as the older generation would know that.”
Finbarr Clancy added: “Probably Whiskey in the Jar or something like that,” Brian Dunphy suggests “The Rocky Road to Dublin” and Darren Holden adds, “Yeah, it’s got the beats for kids and the funny thing is at some of our shows you see the little kids coming along and they know some of our songs, which you wouldn’t expect them to know at all.
“It’s pretty amusing standing there on stage watching these little nippers singing these songs. The worst part is some of them sing Whiskey in the Jar - it’s probably the only country in the world you can get kids to sing about loving whiskey and get away with it!”
Brian Dunphy continues on: “It’s really whatever you’re brought up with.”
It easily crosses generations wherever that be parent or school kids or your parents, Brian continues: “A lot of these kids have their earphones in listening to these songs while heading off to school or when going to school their mums or dads will have the CDs on in the car and they just listen to it and they like it.
“They like the beats of the songs.”
They have had plenty of requests for a song, which they might cover soon, is a song written by Liam Reilly, says Darren Holden: “I’ve always loved - going back to - The Wolfe Tones it only came into a conversation recently if we could cover one song probably on the next record it would probably be The Streets of New York. It’s a song we learned and listened to while growing up, it is wonderfully written by Liam Reilly, one of our best songwriters, it’s just a real story song. It takes you in at the start and keeps you until the very, very end and beyond.”
Others have had a different song to add as Finbarr Clancy said: “I think the Boston Rose is good too, there are great harmonies in that,” Brian Dunphy said, “Yeah that’s good too, Liam Reilly again.”
While touring and recording albums there is bound to plenty of gaffs or funny moments - so Brian Dunphy had this story to tell: “Hahaha, my moment was being dragged off the stage, right here in Vicar Street,” Darren interjects “no, you threw yourself off the stage, you being pulled off is debatable,” Dunphy continues, “No she definitely pulled me off the stage, she did have a few drinks on her she didn’t do it for any other reason - that has to be one of the funniest moments.”
Darren: “There has just been so many though - but that has to top it.” Finbarr explains what happened: “So, we came out on stage, and this woman was shouting ‘Brian! Brian, I love you can I get a hug?’ she said, so Brian went down and when he gave her a hug, she got him by the neck, and his legs were dangling as he came off the stage. As we tried to pull him back it was like a tug of war!”
Most singers have others they’d love to collaborate with, well The High Kings are the same as Darren, said “I think Imelda May - I just think if we were to get in the studio with her we’d have a really good collaboration and a really good vibe, with good energy.
“So that would be the one for me,” Finbarr adds, “I thought you would’ve said Elvis as if you can do it with anyone dead or alive…” Darren responds, “If it’s that definitely Elvis or Sinatra would be good too, or even The Beatles.”
In the near-distant future, you never know The High Kings may just get to collaborate Imelda May as Darren jokes “It’s something we can do in the future do a duet album - find us when we’re old…”
Brian Dunphy mentions, his father Sean Dunphy - who managed to get Ireland to number two in the Eurovision 1967 just behind the UK - Brian adds: “Here is an interesting one I got to record one song as a duet with my dad and not a lot of people have heard it.
“But I would’ve loved to have done a full album with him.”
This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributors network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor click here.