Sunday 20 January 2019

Brian's 'Children' at the Opera House

After Dark

Bill Browne

In January 1973 a ground-breaking musical score that is today recognised as one of the seminal compositions in the history of Irish folk rock was premiered in the town of Fermoy. 

Penned by local man Brian O'Reilly 'The Children of Lir', regarded as Ireland's first folk opera, was an immediate success with Polydor Records signing Brian and his bother Paud's band Loudest Whisper up to make an album of the music. 

Released in 1975 on a limited run of just 500 copies, the album has become one of the most sought after LP's in Ireland and ranks among the top 100 rarest albums in the world. 

Still going strong after more than five decades together, Loudest Whisper regularly perform the 'Children of Lir', with Sunbeam Records contacting Brian in 2005 regarding a re-issue of the 1975 album on vinyl. 

'The Children of Lir' was re-mastered at the famous Abbey Road studios in London and a limited edition of the album on 180g virgin vinyl was issued in 2006. Needless to say this edition was also a sell out. 

Over the years the popularity of the opera has never waned, with Loudest Whisper staging regular performances of it in addition to maintaining their reputation as one of the country most exciting live acts. 

In fact the prestigious Record Collector magazine described Loudest Whisper as "a band that has consistently produced fine and passionate music over the years and captured the imagination of collector's world wide." 

Brian has said that Loudest Whisper like to bring new and innovative ideas for the work itself and the production each time they bring to the live stage, while at the same time remaining true to the original score. This was no more apparent than last year when they premiered 'The Children of Lir Celtic Concert' for three magical performances at the National Opera House in Wexford. 

Described by Brian O'Reilly as "one of the more creative and magical home-grown presentations that Ireland has seen in a long while" it saw Loudest Whisper joined on stage by an 80-strong choir, a string quartet, four ballerinas and a narrator. 

Cork audiences will get the chance to enjoy the spectacle when it comes to the Cork Opera House on Friday, May 18 & Saturday, May 19, with a special lunchtime school matinee show on the Friday.  Brian said the subtle tapestry of instrumentation and the human voice has brought a new dimension to an ancient story, with the lonely wail of the swans represented by the uileann pipes and the plaintive sound capturing the very essence of the pain at the heart of Celtic migration.

"Yet overall, the tone of the music is celebratory and positive as good triumphs over evil and light defeats the darkness," said Brian. "The concert is a unique mystical Celtic experience, the music is hauntingly lyrical and spiritual, yet in idiom it is contemporary and vital in a recognisable Celtic style," he added. 

Joining Loudest Whisper for the Cork shows will be folk legend and fellow North Cork resident Donovan, who will reprise his role as the Narrator when he featured both in the stage production and CD recording of the folk opera that the band did in the mid 1990s.

Also joining Brian and Paud and bassist Paul McCarthy on stage in an expanded Loudest Whisper will be Brian's son, Oran on guitar and keyboards, Frances Foley and Melaine Quann on vocals, Eelco Beckers on mandolin and guitar and Lisa Howard on whistle and Uillean pipes.

The band will also be supported by a string quartet as well a choir of 100 voices drawn from the Loreto School Choir in Fermoy and the Cork Prison Officers Male Voice Choir as well as young Cork ballerinas Tamsin Giltinan, Niamh Kehoe, Laura Hayes and Sofia Rea. Tickets for 'The Children of Lir Celtic Concert  at the Cork Opera House House are available from the venue on 021 427 0022 priced at €27 (evening) and €12 (matinee). Early booking is advised the show are expected to sell-out.


A magical folk story of love, sorrow and betrayal

Heralded as Ireland's first folk opera, 'The Children of Lir' retells a famous Irish legend of love, sorrow and betrayal - with the swans representing freedom, beauty, jealously and everlasting youth.

Brian O'Reilly explained where the idea for the folk opera came and, perhaps somewhat surprisingly  given his love of rock music, it was his involvement  in Fermoy Choral Society and its productions of shows such as 'The White Horse Inn' and 'Hello Dolly' that proved the inspiration for The Children of  Lir.

"I was always interested in Celtic mythology but I was reading a lot of stuff by Lady Gregory and the Children of Lir jumped out at me because when Aoife, the wicked stepmother turned them into swans, she allowed them have human voices and sing melodious music," he said.

"When I read that I said this has to be done so I stuck as rigidly as possible to the background - I was working on it from late 1971 into 1972 and we first staged in Fermoy in January 1973 - I've added to it since then but it's great to revive it now again and perform it at the Cork Opera House again."

Brian has gone on to write, perform and stage a number of other major productions including 'Perseus', based on the classic Greek legend Maiden of Sorrow; a folk opera on Deirdre of the Sorrows and 'Buskin' a light-hearted contemporary jazz/folk piece with a Faustian theme.

Brian works as a musician/arranger/producer at Studio Fiona, which he founded in 1979. Over the years he has worked with a wide cross section of artists including the Irish Chamber Quartet, string quartets, choirs and brass ensembles.

The studio spans different musical genres from trad to jazz to folk to rock, with clients that it has worked with over the years including Sinead O'Connor, Donovan, The Frank and Walters, John Prine, Jimmy Crowley and Richie Kavanagh to name but a few.

Brian is also known and respected as the creative driving force behind Ireland's legendary folk/rock band Loudest Whisper.