Saturday 23 March 2019

Anthony: Our best living tenor

ANTHONY KEARNS, the man named as Ireland's best living tenor, might still be a singing barman if it wasn't for the the Gay Byrne radio show. The Central Bank was introducing a new £10 note in October 1993 and a 'Search for a Tenor' competition was organised to co-incide with the event. Anthony, a graduate of the Cathal Brugha Street catering college, was working as a barman and singing at wedding receptions in the Grand Hotel in Wicklow when he heard about it.

He had to sing down the telephone line for the first round. In the final stage, held in the RTE studio, he won the 'Tenor of Note' title with his rendition of 'The Impossible Dream' and earned himself an appearance on the Late Late Show.

It was the start of a globe-trotting career as a solo artist and member of The Three Irish Tenors which has put him in the spotlight in the United States, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, performing in such venues as Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall and the Sydney Opera House.

The Tenors have appeared on big T.V. shows like 'Good Morning America' and 'Regis and Kathy Lee' and their albums have sold millions of CDs in the US alone.

Anthony Kearns , now 37 years old, enjoyed a rapid rise to fame for a once-untrained singer who grew up in the village of Kiltealy under the Blackstairs Mountains.

'I always enjoyed singing but for a long time I didn't think I'd ever be able to make a living from it. It's not exactly something you'd be encouraged to do by a career guidance teacher in school,' he said.

Growing up as the third eldest of a family of six, he was introduced to music at an early age. He tried his mother's button accordion at the age of four and eventually became a self-taught and 'reasonably accomplished' accordionist.

He attended Kiltealy National School and later, at the FCJ concent secondary school in Bunclody which had no singing programme, he took up the trombone, playing in the school orchestra.

'I could have been chewing it rather than playing it I was so bad,' he joked.

It was different with singing. He loved doing it and he was good at it. He was singled out for his singing talent in school and performed at Masses and in musical productions such as 'Godspell' in 1988.

His voice training was self-taught, mainly in the seannós tradition.

He studied hotel management in college but he kept singing, at every opportunity, performing on request at weddings in the Grand Hotel and appearing in a production of 'South Pacific' in Wicklow town. Then came his radio competition break which led to Veronica Dunne, one of Ireland's leading music teachers, taking him under her wing at the Leinster School of Music. He studied for three years, continuing to compete all over the country, winning the prestigious Dermot Troy Trophy for oratorio in 1995 and 1996 . He later moved to Cardiff to attend the College of Music in Wales. 'Veronica really brought me on a lot. She's a powerful woman who instilled a lot of drive and initiatve in me and I was lucky to get to work with her at all because she doesn't just take anybody,' he said.

He didn't have a car so he hitchhiked to competitions around Ireland, usually winning a prize and then hitchhiking back to Wicklow to pull more pints. He was named Best Male Singer at the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera and in 1999, was a winner in the ESB Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition. Around this time, he met and became friends with Patrick Healy, his accompanist as a solo artist. He was studying in Wales when he heard that his name was being mentioned as a contender for a new project to put together three Irish tenors.

'I came back home for an audition and was selected. We began work straight away and selected a mix of contemporary material and traditional Irish songs and then staged a concert in the RDS which was filmed for a video.' When he is not appearing with The Irish Tenors, his solo appearances and his passion for grand opera keep him busy. He has performed at the International Opera Festival in Montepulciano in Italy, in Verdi productions in Dublin and has toured with Opera Ireland's 'Irish Ring' in the United States.

His world-wide appearances have brought him fame and fortune but the money is not his prime motivator. 'Money isn't the be all and end all as far as I'm concerned. Really, my ambition is to be remembered rather than to be rich. I would love to be known as one of the great Irish singers,' he said.

Sometimes, he has to pinch himself to make sure it's not a dream. 'I'm doing what I love and have been to all sorts of places I would never have seen if I was in an ordinary job. I suppose I might have been lucky in some ways but I was prepared to put in all the work too.'

At the end of July, he is going to Prague with the Tenors to record a Christmas album and he has a number of solo concerts lined up in the U.S., some of them in the private homes of wealthy people.

He now spends about seven months of the year travelling to and from America, where he has a home in Florida which provides easy access to other US cities.

He also has a place in Dublin where he bases himself while in Ireland and he gets back to Kiltealy as often as he can, to visit the family and have a few pints in the local pub.

He is still in touch with the friends he grew up with and they don't treat him with airs and graces. 'It's good to come back down to earth. It's a good tonic. They treat me the same as they always did and that's the way it should be.'

The travelling is the most difficult part of his career. 'You're dragging yourself back and forth. I get certain breaks during it. I was in Italy recently and I took nine days off.'

America is where most of the work is. 'In the present climate, thank God I'm kept busy but it's mainly abroad. I still do other countries but the big market is in the U.S. You have 400 million people there and thankfully, the Irish Tenors are well established.'

All their albums have been top of the American billboard charts. The Irish Tenors are so big that PBS (the Public Broadcasting Service) made $10 million in one year from a sponsorship deal with them.

Their core music is Irish -Boolavogue was a massive hit for them while they sang 'Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears' on Ellis Island in a show hosted by the actor Martin Sheen.

Anthony has never forgotten his roots and believes in giving back. Shortly after his career took off, he set up a fund to support music students in his alma mater, the FCJ.

He later established the Anthony Kearns Vocal Scholarship which was won by Wexford singer Eamonn Mulhall among others.

On August 7, he will appear in Ballygarret Church as a fundraising favour to Fr. Willie Howell who hosted a concert for him in Kilymshall in 1993. 'He gave me my first break way back. I'm doing it to support him because he helped me,' he said. The concert also featuring Enniscorthy mezzo soprano Lorna Mahoney and Ballygarret Children's Choir is in aid of Ballygarret Church restoration fund.

He believes the secret to success is the desire to succeed. 'You have to want to make it. You have to be hungry for it. Talent is not enough, you have to have fire in your belly.'