Wednesday 24 April 2019

Nothing compares to these sisters

Marie Therese, Grainne, Angela and Joan Diver are making a big name for themselves as the Screaming Orphans

Grainne, Joan, Marie Therese and Angela Diver are the Screaming Orphans. Photo: David Conachy
Grainne, Joan, Marie Therese and Angela Diver are the Screaming Orphans. Photo: David Conachy

Andrea Smith

The Diver sisters live, work and tour together for most of the year in the US, but they still hang around together when they're at home. Happily they really like one another as people, and are so in tune, they finish each other's sentences.

While the two blonde sisters, Grainne and Joan, are chatty and outgoing, the dark-haired ones, Marie Therese and Angela, are quieter and happier to stay in the background. Although Marie Therese is the oldest, she's not the bossy one. She's too nice and serene, her sisters say, and she's a real dreamer and very easygoing. Grainne, who comes second, is the leader of the group and usually speaks on their behalf, and she's the dynamic one that the rest go to for advice. "Grainne is kind of the boss and she has great cop on," says youngest sister Joan.

The sisters bicker a bit when they're tired, but they don't tend to argue in general. If one of them gets down, the others rally around to cheer her up, and they know each other so well, they rub along together most harmoniously. "Angela is a worrier, but she's incredibly creative and loyal," says Grainne. "She gives us our sound. Joan is extremely considerate of other people and she looks after everyone else and is a very hard worker."

While they now live in a house they bought outside New York, the sisters grew up in the town of Bundoran in Donegal and attended Ard Lughaidh school. There are seven years between the oldest, Marie Therese, and youngest Joan. They inherited their musicality from their mum, Kathleen, who sang with her brothers Richard and Barney in the Richard Fitzgerald Ceili Band for many years. She had toured the world with the band before her daughters came along, as it happens. "She always sang in the house and our uncle would drop in and teach us to play music," Marie Therese recalls.

While they can all play several instruments, Marie Therese mainly plays piano and accordion, Grainne is on guitar, banjo, flute and viola, Angela mainly plays bass guitar, violin and banjo, and Joan is on drums and lead vocals. All of the sisters have great voices and harmonise naturally, which comes from years of being so much in tune at every level.

While their mum gave up touring when they came along, she was in demand locally to entertain the visitors who flocked to Bundoran during the summer. The girls learned their craft from her, as they used to play with her on stage and also at surfing events. They feel that they were "old souls" from an early age, as they got to have many experiences travelling to other counties and countries to play while still at school.

The sisters had a very happy childhood and can't say enough about how wonderful their parents are. Their mum is always very positive, and their dad, Sean, was very much outnumbered in the house, gender-wise. "He was the local driving test supervisor, and people still come up to us and say that our father either passed or failed them at driving," says Angela.

The sisters left Bundoran after school and travelled to Dublin to study. Marie Therese did a degree in performance at the College of Music, while Grainne went to Trinity to study maths and music. Angela studied violin and also did a course in retail management at the College of Marketing and Design, and Joan studied German and French at Trinity. Having originally performed as the Diver Sisters, a friend suggested the name, Screaming Orphans. Their big break came when Sinead O'Connor spotted them performing without music in a church in 1997 and invited them on her European and US Gospel Tour during the summer months. They were her support band and were also her backing singers during her set.

This led to them moving to the US in 2001 and begin touring around bars and clubs building up a fanbase, which went very well. They are in demand all the time now to perform at concerts and festivals, and their career highlights include appearing on David Letterman's TV show, topping the iTunes World Music charts, and recording with The Chieftains and Peter Gabriel. Singing in Central Park was another real highlight, they say.

Their new pop album, Life In A Carnival, is out this Friday, and they will tour it here and abroad.

While they're known for their Celtic music on one hand, the girls have a real pop/indie side and they fizz with energy and vitality on stage. The album, produced by John Reynolds, reflects the diversity of their sound and musicality as well as the myriad influences that inspire them.

The sisters don't date at present, partly because they're always on the road, and partly because it would mean the end for the band.

"At this stage, none of us can be replaced," says Grainne.

"Other bands can replace members but we can't as our sound comes from the four of us.

"If someone met Mr Perfect tomorrow, everyone else's career would be gone so you have to take that into consideration."

"But we're OK with that," her sister Joan points out, with a smile. "We're happy to keep doing this because we love it."

'Life In A Carnival' is out this Friday. The Screaming Orphans will play at The Sanctuary at Cruises, Ennis, on April 5; The Castle Late Night Venue on April 7; Allingham Hotel, Bundoran, on April 8, and Whelan's, Dublin, on April 14. www.screamingorphans.com

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