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Unique sound of Anakronos

Malahide singer, Caitríona O'Leary talks to Ken Phelan about the musical collaboration that is Anakronos as they gear up for a major concert




Caitríona O’Leary

Caitríona O’Leary




Now performing with her new ensemble, Anakronos, Malahide vocalist and virtuoso Catriona O'Leary has taken her music in yet another new direction, blending medieval music with jazz, global rhythms and the contemporary to form her own inimitable style.

Catriona this month takes newly-formed Anakronos to their debut performance of The Red Book of Ossory at the National Concert Hall, and with it a unique and distinctive sound.

Inspiration for The Book of Ossory came from a 14th century medieval manuscript which was compiled in Kilkenny and is housed there in St Canice's Cathedral. Within the manuscript's texts are sixty Latin verses by Richard de Ledrede, Bishop of Ossory, which Caitríona has set to music.

Following the performance, the group plans to put together their first ever recording before embarking on a tour of Ireland and Europe.

Having first studied music in the School of Music, Limerick from the age of eight, Catriona, who was a student at Pobal Scoil Iosa in Malahide, has gone on to record over 20 albums, and has performed under various guises in her illustrious career.

Prior to her new venture with Anakronos, Catriona performed with her Early Music performance ensemble eX & the ensembles Sequentia, The Harp Consort and Joglaresa amongst others, and has worked closely with many of early music's leading artists including Christopher Hogwood, Ben Bagby, Andrew Lawrence King, Konrad Junghaenel and Pedro Memelsdorff.

Touring extensively in Ireland and Europe, Catriona has performed in such venues as the Royal Albert Hall, the Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall and Cité de la Musique to name a few, as well as in Dublin Theatre Festival, Belfast Festival, and many other European festivals.

Speaking before Anakronos' performance at the National Concert Hall, Catriona tells of her love affair with music, the origins of her new ensemble, and how she came to record with one Tom Jones:

'Music is something I've always been interested in. I come from two musical families - my mother's side was generally classical music, and my father's side was traditional Irish music, so we grew up with music all around us.

'I played some instruments and my sister Deirdre, who's also in Anakronos, played instruments too, but I focused then on singing. So we used to play and sing together and entertain my parents' friends and extended family and that sort of thing, and always had music sessions when we all got together. I would have been in quite a few competitions growing up, and I used to do the Feis Ceol and also the Malahide Young Musician,

'I would have done bits of things on other people's CDs before I moved to New York in 1990. I used to sing with the RTE Chamber Choir, and did a lot of recordings with them. My first solo CD, I recorded in 1999, and that was released in 2000. The latest album I've done is called 'The Wexford Carols', and that was with a few guest singers like Tom Jones, Rosanne Cash, and Rhiannon Giddens, and reached number one on the Billboard and Amazon charts.

'Just after the National Concert Hall, Anakronos is going to make an album of 'The Wexford Carols', and then a few months later we're going to do The Wexford Carols Volume II.'

Catriona formed Anakronos only recently, along with sister Deirdre, who plays clarinets, and two musicians she had worked with previously, Francesco Turrisi and Nick Roth.

Francesco, who plays keyboards and percussion, had performed with Catriona in her early group, 'Ex' and also with her traditional Irish group Durla, while Nick had performed with her in Roger Doyle's electonic opera 'Heresy'.

Wanting to bring herself and the other three musicians together for an altogether original sound, Catriona led the group and Anakronos towards medieval music, infusing it with a variety of modern styles.

Anakronos is only just evolving, Catriona says, so that until very recently, she wasn't quite sure how they would sound. She was 'very confident', however, in the direction the group was moving, simply because of the proficiency of the musicians she had gathered.

Traditional Irish music too has played a large role in her life, something she pursued with her band Dúlra. Early childhood experiences of trad had fostered a love of the genre, and led her to pursue it in later life.

It was a spell of living in New York, however, that rekindled her love of Irish traditional music, a sense of returning to her childhood, family and home.

She says:'My father was a traditional Irish flute player, as well as playing other instruments, so we always had that going on in our family. I'd be very much interested in Irish traditional music, it's always been there and been a part of me.

'When I lived in New York, I really missed it, and it became more precious to me, so I started to research it a lot. I was in New York for ten years and I wanted to do something new with traditional Irish music. I had been studying early music, music before 1800 and a lot of medieval music and saw some connections with Traditional Irish music.

'I put a band together called Dúlra in New York, made up of early music players and trad players. That was the first album I released, in 2000. That was very well received and we toured a bit with that.

'The rest of the group were all New York based, so I reformed the band when I moved back to Dublin, and toured quite a bit with then. So there was a bit of a break before I reformed the group with new players in 2005.'

Again, taking a new direction from Durla, Catriona recorded with Tom Jones on her album The Wexford Carols, having worked on the project over a number of years. After receiving backing for the project, Catriona asked well-known LA producer Joe Henry to produce the record, who recommended some internationally renowned artists such as Tom Jones, Rosanne Cash, and Rhiannon Giddens.

Joe contacted Tom, whom he had worked with before, and the idea immediately piqued Tom's interest, so that, in Catriona's words, it was a 'really good fit.'

Tom, Catriona says was 'lovely', and 'very diligent.' He'd come to recording sessions early and sit in the control booth for a full day listening to the songs he wasn't singing on, just to get a 'feel' for the music. He was, she says, 'very nice' and 'humble', adding that she has great respect for him and his music.

Catriona's influences, unsurprisingly, are as diverse as the music she herself has recorded. She says:

'I'd listen to a diverse range of people. One of my favourites is Captain Beefheart, Nina Simone...people who have real character in their voice. That's what I'm really drawn to, people with a soulful quality.

'I'd also listen to some delta blues singers like Skip James, Son House and some medieval groups, and also a Swedish friend of mine, whose voice I could listen to forever,'

As for keeping her own voice in shape, Catriona says she follows a simple but effective regime:

'I keep my voice in shape with lots of breathing, lots of singing, paying attention to how I make my sound, and singing things that I really really enjoy.

'I don't sing things that I don't love anymore, or things I'd do just because it's a job. Those days have long passed.'

With her wealth of experience across a range of genres, her experience of recording, touring, working with talented musicians and working in the music industry itself, Catriona offers some simple but sage advice to any aspiring singers:

'For anyone who might be interested in becoming a singer, I'd say be open-minded and explore as much as possible, but try and enjoy everything, and if you really don't enjoy it, just don't do it.

'Always be careful that you're taking care of your voice, don't be bullied into singing things that don't suit you or do you justice, and just do music you really love.'

Anakronos will make its debut in the world premiere of The Red Book of Ossory on February 20 at the National Concert Hall, Dublin in what will be a night to remember.