Thursday 27 July 2017

The grand opera of a life: hear his song

Niall Morris unburdens himself to our reporter about the break-up of his parents' marriage when he was four

Niall Morris says he has had more creative freedom since leaving the Celtic Tenors, and has found personal happiness with marriage to Woody. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Niall Morris says he has had more creative freedom since leaving the Celtic Tenors, and has found personal happiness with marriage to Woody. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Niall Morris was four years old when his parents, Joan Davis and Dr Michael Morris, separated. Growing up with separated parents in the 1980s, there was still a lot of stigma.

In fact, when his mother remarried, former Celtic Tenor Niall used to pretend that her new husband was his father.

"Once, one of my school friends said, 'you don't look much like your dad', and I replied, 'But I look a lot like my mother!' I still didn't say, 'he's not my real father'."

"It's weird now when I look back on it," he reflects, "But that was how I felt. I was ashamed that I didn't have a real family like my friends."

When Niall was seven, his birth father came back from America (where he had been on a University Scholarship).

"He thought he could pick up where he'd left off," says Niall. "But to me, he was barely recognisable. I felt he wasn't the man who had left when I was five.

"My dad says now that my mother wrote to him saying I was very distressed and unhappy. He decided to leave Penn University and come back to see if he could help," says Niall.

"But even in those few years, his appearance had changed so much that he was barely recognisable. We've had this strange on-off relationship ever since. Sometimes, we seem to be getting closer and then it all just goes back to square one.

"It took me years and years to stop thinking I needed my father's approval. Once I finally copped on to that, I was free. I suppose it was a consequence of my parents separating when I was so young.

"Kids always blame themselves and that blame never quite goes away. But, mostly, I am free of it now."

Niall says that religion wasn't part of his early youth. That said, when he was 12, Niall was made head choir boy at St Bartholomew's Church, an Anglican church on Clyde Road in Dublin. "It was a big honour." The honours kept coming. In 1999, Niall's virtuoso tenor performance Powder Her Face, recorded on EMI Classics, was nominated as Best Opera Recording at the Grammys in 2000.

In 2010, he jetted off on holiday to Bangkok where he "got chatting to a gorgeous Thai guy Woody - real name Arwut - in a bar one night".

"Let's say it went well, as I'm now married to him!" says Niall, referring to their civil partnership in May 2012. The reception was held at L'Ecrivain on Baggot Street Lower.

Niall adds that he had initially invited Woody to come and stay with him in Dublin for three months to see if he would take to life in Europe.

"He must have thought all Irish people are mad, but he loved it. We later moved back into my penthouse apartment at Grand Canal Dock, which we absolutely love."

Happy marriage to Woody notwithstanding, Niall says leaving the Celtic Tenors (the other members were James Nelson and Matthew Gilsenan) about 10 years ago was "rather like a marriage, when it's over, it's very final. When I left the group, we never spoke again".

He adds: "It's sad in a way, because we shared so much, traveling the world, making records in Abbey Road studios for EMI."

But he said his departure from the Celtic Tenors was "the best thing I ever did. It finally gave me creative freedom".

Apropos of which, he is currently putting the finishing touches to his new show Hallelujah, which makes its debut on June 24 at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

"It's got a terrific line-up: Mary Coughlan, the Palestrina Choir, Melanie McCabe of X Factor and some of the very best classical musicians in the country," he says.

"The music is incredible and it brings me back to my days as head choir boy, where I got all my musical training."

For more details on Hallelujah, visit www.niallmorris.com

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