Tuesday 6 December 2016

Next generation celebs - actors and singers keeping up the family tradition

Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30

Actress and singer Kate Stanley Brennan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Actress and singer Kate Stanley Brennan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Concert pianist J J McNamara in The National Concert Hall. Photo: Tony Gavin
Actress Kate Stanley Brennan. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Actor Matthew King. Photo: Damien Eagers
Paddy Casey, his daughter Saoirse, Andrea Smith and Declan O'Rourke
Singer Aoife Scott. Photo: Douglas O'Connor.
Chloe Agnew. Photo: Brian McEvoy

We meet six bright young Irish talents for whom fame is a family business.

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Kate Stanley Brennan

Kate (31), is an actress and singer from Rathfarnham in Dublin.

Parents: Kate is the daughter of actors Martina Stanley and Stephen Brennan. She grew up steeped in the Thespian world, as her mum is best known for playing Dolores Molloy in Fair City, and her Tudors actor dad is part of the Brennan acting dynasty.

"My parents have never made a big thing out of anything they did, and I have always been very proud of them and looked up to them," Kate says. "However, when I was making my communion, dad was doing The Rocky Horror Show and had to grow his hair very long, which made him stand out from the other dads. On top of that, he was asked to do a reading at the mass, and I pleaded with him not to do the 'posh voice'."

Kate began her drama classes with Ann Kavanagh, and completed two years of theatre studies at Trinity College. She will shortly start rehearsals for The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey and an Irish/American tour. She is also recording an EP at the moment with her band, Miss Kate.

"I was well aware of the highs and lows of the business, but I don't think I could have done anything else," she says. "My parents would have loved if I had become a scientist or something, but I think I'd explode if I didn't have a creative outlet.

"I've learned so much from them both growing up, and biased as I am, I think they're truly brilliant actors. I always have them there for advice with the business, and we're so close and great friends."

Kate says that she doesn't mind being introduced as her parents' daughter as it's something she's proud of. At the moment she is working with her aunt Barbara at the moment on a new musical called Town is Dead for the Abbey. "She came into the room the first day and said, 'I'm Kate's aunt', which I found very funny because I've always been 'Barbara Brennan's niece,'" says Kate. "A disadvantage might be that I've missed out on going for roles in the past as my dad was cast as the romantic lead, so I couldn't audition because that would be slightly weird! Hopefully I'll get cast as his daughter some day."

Kate says that her dad is a chameleon who can play any part, which really inspires her, and is really creative and passionate around music and writing too. Her mum Martina gives the best advice, and can make Kate cry within seconds playing emotional scenes on TV, particularly during her IFTA-nominated scenes where her Fair City character Dolores had cancer.

"She's a total style queen and I'm always 'borrowing' clothes from her," laughs Kate. "A lot of people tell me I remind them of my mother when I come off stage, which is a great compliment."

Matthew Boyle

Actor Matthew (16) is from Rathfarnham in Dublin.

Parents: The son of TV3 presenter Martin King (real name Boyle) and photographer Jenny McCarthy.

Matthew first realised that his dad was famous when people constantly came up to talk to him when they were out and about.

"There's a video clip of me when I was one and had just learned to walk," he says. "Dad brought me into TV3 when he was doing the weather, and I ran on to the set while he was recording. Even when he was a DJ on Today FM, I would be in the other room watching him, and it gave me a really good insight into how it all worked."

Matthew started acting when he was seven at the Young People's Theatre. He loved it and really wanted to be in movies. "It's a very good school and they teach us a lot, like how to draw on the emotion of a scene and connect with the people you are acting with," he says. "A lot of my training has also come from my dad, as he helps me with my scripts."

While Matthew did radio plays growing up, including one on RTÉ, his biggest part to date has been voicing the lead character Nico in the animated film, The Magic Reindeer. "It was a really fun experience because I got to see how it's all done," he says. "I was doing the voice when they were still making the animation, so you're looking at a screen waiting for the character's mouth to start moving so you can begin talking."

As he's in transition year, Matthew has more time to concentrate on acting this year. He did a course recently with the writer of Love/Hate, Stuart Carolan, and learned a lot from him. He also voiced another animated movie called Otto the Rhino, which can be seen on Netflix. The talented young actor thinks he might like to do the drama course at Trinity College after his Leaving Cert.

Having a different surname to his dad (King is Martin's stage name) means that many people in the business are not aware that Matthew has a famous dad. He says he's very proud of the genial presenter. "I get a lot of my confidence from my dad," he says. "He's so talkative and charismatic, and I hope I possess those qualities as well. I have also done a bit of photography with my mum and she taught me how to pose for the camera."

The talented teen came very close to being cast in the recent Peter Pan film, but at 5ft 10in, was too tall for the role in the end. "You can miss out on a part over the smallest thing, like the colour of your hair, your eyes or height," he explains. "I will be 17 in October and can start going for more adult parts, and being tall will help with that. I also got the part for a movie a couple of years ago but the funding fell through, so that kind of thing happens too and you just have to be patient."

Aoife Scott

Singer-songwriter Aoife (31) is from Dublin.

Parents: Aoife is the daughter of singer Frances Black and Richie Scott. Singer Mary Black is her aunt and her cousins are also in the business - Danny O'Reilly as lead singer of The Coronas and Róisin Ó as a solo act.

Singer Aoife is steadily rising to the top of the traditional and folk music scene, while garnering acclaim and recognition both here and abroad. However, while she harboured dreams of becoming a singer growing up, she lacked confidence initially, and pursued a career in film and TV editing and production.

"My granny Patty was a huge influence on all of our family, as she just loved singing so much," says Aoife. "When I was younger, my mam and Auntie Mary were on the road all the time, so I kind of told myself that the career of a musician was too hard, even though I loved it. It's a scary industry to be in, as you have to have a massive amount of self-belief, but I was always the shy kid of the family and never put myself forward for singing."

When Aoife was working as production manager on the IFTA award-winning TV series, 1916 Seachtar na Cásca, they were filming a late scene of the GPO shooting in a warehouse and the actor singing behind the set had to leave. Someone was needed to set the mood and sing in Irish, and Aoife had to step in. Her beautiful voice caused such an emotional reaction on set, she ended up being booked to sing throughout all seven episodes of the TV series.

Having decided to leave her full-time job in Galway in TV and go for singing full-time, Aoife's solo career was launched when she won the coveted Fast Track to Feis competition, and played support at the London Feis to Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, amongst other acts. She was also awarded first prize at the Ballyshannon Folk Festival Showcase. She has toured with her band to worldwide destinations, including the UK, Germany, Australia, India and the US. Her debut album, Carry the Day, has just been released on iTunes and on AoifeScott.com, and she is currently on an Irish tour, headlining at Dublin's Workman's Club on March 4.

Is it daunting that all of her relations, including her cousins Danny O'Reilly of The Coronas and Róisín Ó, have achieved so much? "Definitely, because everyone in my family who decided to pursue music has done really well at it," says Aoife. "For me, it's about enjoying myself and making music, as singing is the best feeling in the world for me. It isn't about being famous or successful - I just want to make a living at music. My mam is brilliant and has always supported me and she really believes in me. I'm a fan of her music too and feel very lucky to be able to say that she's my mother."

JJ McNamara

JJ (17) is a concert pianist from Dunshaughlin, Co Meath.

Parents: Music producer Frank McNamara and RTÉ presenter-turned-barrister Theresa Lowe.

JJ started playing piano at six and won his first competition aged nine, achieving a full music scholarship to Sutton Park School. After his Junior Cert, he decided to go to Chetham's School of Music in the UK, and is now studying for A levels and learning piano under Jonathan Middleton.

"I came over to Chetham's last September because I thought it would be really good for my career as a pianist," he explains. "I was 16 so it was young to leave home, but I had a good think about it in the summer and knew that I could come back every three weeks to see my family. The English education system is pretty different - instead of doing seven Leaving Cert subjects, I'm doing two A levels, music and music tech."

JJ admits to missing his parents, older twin brothers, Frankie and Quincy, and younger sister Charlotte, but loves studying music full-time. It's a mixed school and there are roughly 300 young people there - all musicians playing different instruments. "I'm not really used to having so many people with something in common with me, but it's great that I can chat to everyone about music," he says.

When he was younger, JJ's dad was musical director of The Late Late Show and is a highly accomplished pianist. His mum Theresa presented Where in the World and then became a barrister. He realised they were different when he was in primary school, and his friends told him that their parents knew his parents from being on TV.

"I was confused because I never really knew that they were famous, but I've kind of gotten used to it now," he explains. "It's very handy that my dad plays piano, because if I'm stuck with something, I can just ask him. He's really talented too, and I've learned a lot from him."

JJ won the prestigious under-18s Junior Concerto piano competition at the Feis Ceoil in 2014, and each young competitor had an experienced pianist playing the orchestra part on a second piano. Frank played with JJ and was delighted with the win - despite his long and distinguished career, it was his own first time to win the Feis Ceoil. JJ has won many other awards and hopes to study music at a conservatoire after Chetham's.

While Frank became famous for his musical prowess on TV, his son thinks he might stick to playing classical music. "I would ideally love to be a concert pianist but would like to teach as well," JJ explains. "Although my dad is well-known as a musician, I'm not under pressure to become the best pianist. I'm just playing piano because I really love it."

Saoirse Casey

Saoirse (19) is a singer from Dublin.

Parents: Singer-songwriter Paddy Casey and Sinéad Martin. Saoirse's parents separated when she was younger, and her step-dad Brendan is also a musician.

Saoirse grew up surrounded by music, and it certainly rubbed off on her. "I was always singing, which probably annoyed most of the people around me," she says. "I couldn't stop. The first album I bought was The Beach Boys, and I was interested in all types of music, from The Cure to Bjork and Joanna Newsom."

Saoirse entered talent competitions and did plays and musicals at school, and after she left at 17, she thought she might follow her artistic side and become a children's book illustrator. While her dad was performing all over the place when she was a child and had a massive hit with Saints and Sinners, Saoirse didn't really realise that he had a public profile until she was around 12. "I'm very proud of him," she says.

Now living in Kildare with Paddy, Saoirse started playing guitar and piano two years ago. Music then took over from art for her and she began playing small gigs and support to people like Declan O'Rourke. She recently accompanied her dad on the Topflight Today FM ski trip to Austria, where she sang live on the Ian Dempsey Breakfast Show and in concert with Paddy, Declan, Wallis Bird and Mundy. She brought the house down with her gorgeous voice, and many people in the industry are tipping her as one to watch.

Saoirse has just finished writing her debut album, An Infant Star Collapses, and hopes to launch it in Whelan's around early April. She has teamed up with female Japanese violinist Yuri to record and perform, and hopes to tour in Japan later in the year. While Paddy signed to Sony early on in his career, Saoirse is bringing out the album on her own label and feels that it's a lot easier for artists to do it themselves these days.

"There are a lot of platforms there," she points out adding that she promotes herself through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. "My favourite gig so far was when I performed an acoustic set in Alice's Restaurant in Kildare. The audience really listened, and every time you get positive feedback, it's amazing."

Has her dad given her much advice about the music industry? "Yeah, don't do it," she laughs. "Ah no, I'm kidding. He gives me a lot of great advice, even though I don't really follow a lot of it. I'm a night owl, like him, and while both of my parents write songs, my music is not really like theirs. What I learned from watching them was that a music career is really fulfilling creatively and you'll never get bored. The downside is that it can be hard to manage if you're raising a family or want to keep up with the bills, but it's still worth it."

Chloe Agnew

Chloe (26) is from Knocklyon in Dublin. The singer joined Celtic Woman at 14, touring the world with the show for almost 10 years, and left in 2013 to go solo.

Parents: Entertainment star Adele King, aka Twink, and concert oboist David Agnew.

Chloe has been performing from an early age, singing on RTÉ radio aged six, and began recording albums at 12. "I grew up in an entertainment household, and music and show business were a way of life," she says. "I definitely knew our family was a little different when I was younger, but didn't realise until I was older that my parents didn't have normal jobs."

After making a huge name for herself internationally, Chloe is now based in LA with her Irish boyfriend, singer Dermot Kiernan. She performs all over the world and is writing and recording songs, but the most special performance so far was her Irish solo concert in January at the National Concert Hall. Her dad David was one of her special guests, which was very emotional for both of them.

The humble Dubliner says she is inspired by her parents' talents, but she didn't go into the business with her eyes closed, thinking it would be all glamour. She has seen the downside of being famous first-hand, particularly when her parents separated and there was huge media interest in the matter.

"I was quite young the first time a private matter of ours made the news, and for several days in a row, we couldn't leave our house because reporters and photographers were camped outside our home," she says. "It was one of those moments where I realised things were different in our house to others."

For both Chloe, following a path in music and acting, and her younger sister Naomi, who works in TV and radio production, having a backbone of support from people who know the answer to almost every question, worry or concern they have is a huge advantage.

"Mum and Dad are both incredibly articulate and intelligent people, and I'm lucky that they've experienced so much of what I'm going through in life, both onstage and off," she says. "One of the disadvantages is that people often presume that because your parents are in the industry, you're only there because of them. Naomi and I have always tried to fight against that stereotype, and have both worked so hard for everything we've achieved."

Chloe says that what she most admires about her parents is their strength and tenacity, and their ability to carry on personally and professionally when things are tough. "As a naturally sensitive and emotional person, I tend to worry and stress about things," she smiles. "They've inspired me to remember that good old line, 'The show must go on,' at times when I've needed it most."

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