We Are Woman
Rotating lineup finds a formula for success with a mix of traditional, classical, pop and show tunes
Celtic Woman doesn’t have a new CD or DVD to tour behind this year. So what will the Irish-rooted vocal group offer? Essentially, nothing but its best.
“It’s a beautiful show,” Celtic Woman singer Lisa Lambe said in a recent phone interview. “I suppose it’s almost like the greatest hits down through the years and songs that people will know very well, songs I think they’ll want to sing along with, or at least I hope they will. Songs like ‘Orinoco Flow,’ ‘You Raise Me Up,’ ‘She Moved Through the Fair,’ and then we have some beautiful classics that I don’t think any Celtic Woman concert or performance can be complete without, songs like ‘Danny Boy,’ which for me are some of the highlights and the moments that I enjoy best when I’m performing the show.”
Judging from the continuing success of Celtic Woman, the group has created an elaborate live show, including a full band and choir, to appeal to a large audience.
Originally, Celtic Woman was created for a single television special filmed in Ireland, and musical director David Downes and producer Sharon Bowne recruited four singers — Orla Fallon, Chloë Agnew, Lisa Kelly and Méav Ni Mhaolchatha, along with fiddle player Máiréad Nesbitt — to perform the unique concert.
Instead, PBS picked up the film of that performance, and it became a popular fundraising program for PBS in spring and summer 2005. This helped paved the way for the release of the show as a concert DVD, selling more than a million copies. Meanwhile, the group’s self-titled first studio album topped Billboard magazine’s world music chart for a record-setting 81 weeks.
By then, it was clear that Celtic Woman had a big future, and the organizers had hit on a musical formula with wide appeal by mixing together traditional Irish songs, a little light classical, pop standards (the repertoire has included Bobby Darin’s “By The Sea,” the Josh Groban hit “You Raise Me Up” and Enya’s “Orinoco Flow”) and even a few tunes from musicals and movies, like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
The group released three more studio albums — 2007’s “A New Journey,” 2010’s “Songs from the Heart” and 2012’s “Believe” — each accompanied by a live DVD.
The success has been sustained even as Kelly, Fallon and Mhaolchatha left, and singers Alex Sharpe, Lynn Hilary and Hayley Westenra joined and then departed. Today’s lineup features vocalists Agnew, Lambe (who joined in 2011) and Susan McFadden (who joined in 2012), as well as Nesbitt.
Lambe (pronounced “Lamb”) said she will have two solo performances during this year’s show. One will be a traditional Irish song, “Dulaman,” which tells the tale of a young woman torn between two suitors. The other is the Simon & Garfunkel classic, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
“I think what’s great about Celtic Woman is David [Downes], our musical director, who’s just a genius in so many ways. He chooses songs that you think, ‘How will this ever sound like it’s never been sung before, a song like “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a great anthem, an incredibly famous song?’, ” Lambe said. “And he did this incredible version for us, and it was just one of my favorite momensts.”
Lambe’s association with Downes predates the beginning of Celtic Woman. She began her career in theater, landing roles in such productions as “Improbable Frequency,” “Sweeney Todd,” “The Wireman” and “The Shaughraun.” It was during that last production that Lambe met Downes, who served as its musical director, as well as Nesbitt, who was also cast in the play.
“Máiréad Nesbitt and I shared a dressing room for this whole process,” Lambe said. “About that time she had been saying, ‘I’m going to join this wonderful new thing. It’s called Celtic Woman, and David’s involved.’ So I really feel it’s such a wonderful thing to be a part of now, because I remember her in the dressing room telling me about the process [as] it was starting. Obviously, having worked with David, we had made a great connection, and we stayed friends in the years when we didn’t see very much [of each other], and he was very busy with Celtic Woman.
“Then out of blue, I suppose, just came a day when we met, and we talked about the prospect of me coming aboard,” Lambe said. “I’m a huge lover of music. I knew that I could bring so much of myself to the stage and bring the theater with me as well, bring my love of storytelling into the music.”