Whispers of Celtic mythology
It's a far cry from playing Fermoy Community Youth Centre on Ashe Quay to the august surroundings of the National Opera House but that's the journey that local band, Loudest Whisper are about to complete this week with the staging of Celtic their folk opera, The Children of Lir.
Founder member, Brian O'Reilly recalls how the band began life in his native Fermoy in the early 1960s as The Wizzards, a beat group playing covers of songs by The Beatles, The Hollies, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks before being later turned on to Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
"We were listening to a lot of stuff - the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and the Spencer Davis Group and we were listening a bit too to Ray Charles and Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan - you were hearing lots of stuff in that era, Peter Paul and Mary - a lot of things were influencing us, folk rock, blues."
As the 1960s progressed so did The Wizzards, metamorphosing into Loudest Whisper to reflect the band's growing interest in folk music with Brian's brother, Paud joining on drums as they embarked on a career that over the next five decades saw them tour extensively and record ten albums.
Paud explains: "We were over to the States a lot and we used to play at a place on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village called The Red Lion - we were depressed after the first few days because the standard of musicianship was so high but we survived and ended up with a 15 year residency."
Loudest Whisper also enjoyed success in continental Europe and the band, now a three piece with Paul McCarthy on bass, are due to play in Holland in April and Germany in October with loyal fans in both countries proving keen admirers of their fusion of rock and folk into a unique Celtic mix.
"They come out of the woodwork whenever we tour" says Brian "and you would have people coming up with copies of The Children of Lir and saying 'This was the very first concept album about the Celtic World to come out of Ireland' and 'You were the first ever folk rock band from Ireland'.
"I remember once we got this great review in one of the British papers. They called us - hang on, let me get this right - 'progressive, psychedelic folk rock with acid guitar'. I was on guitar so that must have been me but we were looking at each and saying 'Lads, what does this mean?'," laughs Brian.
Over 40 years after they first performed their major opus, Children of Lir, Loudest Whisper are about to bring it to the National Opera House in Wexford with an expanded nine piece band where they will be joined on stage by local choirs from, the Loretto Convent School and Selskar Abbey School.
Joining Brian, Paud and Paul in an expanded Loudest Whisper are Brian's son, Oran on guitar and keyboards, Frances Foley and Melaine (YES, MELAINE) Quann on vocals, Barry Cluskey on Soprano saxophone, Eelco Beckers on mandolin and guitar and Lisa Howard on whistle and Uillean pipes.
Since it was first performed in Fermoy in 1973, The Children of Lir has been performed in both The Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork and the Cork Opera House as well as in Germany and a recording of it made on Polydor issued in 1975 has become a collector's item.
But the idea for The Children of Lir had its origins in Fermoy in the 1960s when Brian, as well as playing with Loudest Whisper, also took part in several Fermoy Choral Society productions such as The White Horse Inn and Hello Dolly and he began to think about trying to create an Irish folk opera.
"I was always interested in Celtic mythology," says Brian "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 .
"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 and see it performed in the National Opera House."
Loudest Whisper stage The Children of Lir at the National Opera Hall in Wexford on February 3rd and 4th. For further information and tickets, please visit www.nationaloperahouse.ie.