Since the breakthrough crossover success of the legendary Three Tenors in the 1990s, many groups have tried to replicate their success. With more than a million album sales their credit and a truly international reputation as great live performers, The Celtic Tenors might just be the inheritors of this legacy.
For nearly twenty years, The Celtic Tenors have been Matthew Gilsenan, James Nelson and Daryl Simpson. What sets them apart is that they offer more than just beautiful voices and musical excellence to their audience. They bring humility, charm, and a sense of humour to boot.
“We have an eclectic mix,” says tenor Nelson. “We don’t take ourselves seriously. People think because of our name, we just sing Celtic songs and that is not true.”
The group is actually musically fluent in many genres from classical to folk and even pop music. By stepping away from their classical roots and adding a more contemporary edge, they seem intent on continuing to broadening their appeal.
“Even though we’re essentially a classical/crossover act, we don’t like to be labelled in that way because what we do in the show is so different,” Nelson explains. “We do Nessun Dorma but the next minute we’re doing Whiskey in the Jar, Danny Boy or even The Boxer. The mix is so eclectic, there really is something for everybody.”
This eclectic mix makes for a unique stage show. The intent is to mix the music with charisma, personality and banter.
“We are seeing younger fans than in the past,” says Nelson. “We hear from people, ‘I dragged my husband to the show and he loved it.’ We also hear, ‘Oh, my grandmother loves your music.’”
Winning people over has been the group’s strength since the beginning. An impromptu audition for a record executive at EMI London landed them their first record contract. Since then, they have gone on to repeat this feat with major labels around the world, such as Universal Records, Telarc and Concord.
“I can’t believe we are still doing this,” says Nelson. “Our tour dates for 2019 is, by far, the busiest we have ever had.”
The group is on the road for at least seven months out of the year and make time beyond this to record new music whenever they can. In fact, the group plans to release a new record, their eleventh, in the coming year.
“I keep thinking I’m getting too old for this,” Nelson laughs.
In addition to their usual setlist, one can certainly expect some holiday fare from a December performance by the Celtic Tenors. Each year, the group dusts off stunning versions of Oh Holy Night, Silent Night, The First Noel and a few other surprises along the way too.
They genuinely love what they do. Whether they’re performing Danny Boy (former president Bill Clinton called their version his favourite) for the thousandth time or recording brand new music at Abbey Road Studios in London, the group knows that they’re part of something special.
“I pinch myself all the time,” says Nelson.
The Celtic Tenors perform at the Flato Markham Theatre at 8 p.m. on Dec. 19. Visit www.markhamtheatre.ca for more details.
Photo (L-R): Matthew Gilsenan, James Nelson, and Daryl Simpson.