The Celtic Tenors have carved out a reputation as one of the most successful classical crossover artists to emerge from the Emerald Isle. SIBA MATTI spoke to one third of the singing trio, Daryl Simpson, ahead of the group's visit to the Beck Theatre on Monday
CLASSICAL music is often confined to the realms of Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, but The Celtic Tenors have achieved success in their attempts to break the traditional mould.
Since being signed on the spot in 2000 after an impromptu audition for international record company EMI, the Irish singing trio have been the talk of the music industry.
And after a few adjustments to the line-up, with Daryl Simpson replacing Niall Morris following his departure in 2006, the group have gone from strength to strength, touring all over the world and with a number of hit records under their belts.
"It has been a bit of a whirlwind rollercoaster journey," reveals Daryl, who was born and bred in Omagh, Northern Ireland.
"Matthew [Gilsenan] and James [Nelson] have been singing since they were teenagers, but I had my heart set on playing football and rugby - they were my two big ambitions at the time - until I had a serious injury when I was 17.
"After that I focused my energies on music and studied the subject at university, but I fell into singing by accident, when a friend invited me to a chamber choir. I went very reluctantly but I actually enjoyed it.
"I knew Matthew and James through our shared interest in music before The Celtic Tenors formed, and when Niall left, I was a young musical artist working in Zurich, Switzerland.
"I got a call from Matthew asking me to sign up, and I have never looked back."
While The Celtic Tenors have been influenced by music from their homeland, they have also perfected the art of adapting their sound for a whole host of genres, from classical to folk and pop music, having covered artists including fellow Irish export Samantha Mumba and Australian soft-rock duo Air Supply.
The trio's fifth album, Hard Times, which was recorded in the Hollywood Hills, reflects on the musical offerings of esteemed American songwriters, including Bob Dylan.
"Most people have heard of The Three Tenors and we wanted to put our own twist on that with high-quality Celtic songs combined with beautifully crafted harmonies, but we also try to go out of our comfort zones and experiment with different genres - that's what the whole idea of classical crossover is all about," explains Daryl.
"Hard Times was completely outside the box for us but it seemed very appropriate considering how many generations of Irish people have emigrated to North America, and the fact that we spend about four or five months in the US each year.
"The record companies have been cautious, and unfortunately the album hasn't been released in the UK yet, although British fans can purchase an earlier album, Remember Me, which was released in the country two days ago."
Despite this minor setback, the group can boast fans all over the world, including the likes of Bill Clinton, former
UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and U2 lead singer Bono.
"It was a huge buzz to perform in front of Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan, plus we have also sung for the New Zealand All Blacks team and at Glastonbury Festival," recalls the 34-year-old.
But in spite of their following, Daryl insists the trio remain remarkably down to earth: "It might sound a little bit cheesy or corny, but we are really just three ordinary lads with strong family values who love singing.
"We are just like a family, and of course we argue at times, especially when we are on the road together for hundreds of miles, but we never stay angry with each other for long."
And charity is also close to the Tenors' hearts. "We are all involved in various projects, James has a special interest in Kenya Build, which builds homes, schools and orphanages for socially disadvantaged children.
"I am also musical director of the Omagh Community Youth Choir, which I set up in 1998 in the wake of the Omagh atrocity, to promote peace and reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant communities through music.
"We are particularly proud of the fact that The Celtic Tenors combines members from both Northern and Southern Ireland.
"Singing together in harmony is a symbol of that. Twenty years ago, tensions in both states meant that might not have been something we could have accomplished."