Celtic Women awed by success

The all-female Irish music ensemble Celtic Woman has found success beyond its wildest dreams on North American shores.

In just five years, Celtic Woman has sold more than five million albums including two Top 10 album debuts on the Billboard Top 200. The group has racked up three gold and platinum albums, four Top Five releases on the Billboard Top Video chart and a million concert tickets sold.

In light of such success, it is hard to believe that the group and its production were originally conceived to be a one-night show. David Downes, who worked as a musical director on Riverdance, assembled the group for a show in Dublin that was recorded for broadcast on PBS in the United States in March 2005. The runaway success of the group’s PBS special would help keep its debut record on the top of the Billboard World Music Chart for an astounding 81 weeks in total.

From her home in Dublin, Celtic Woman’s Chloe Agnew admits that the group has achieved success well beyond anyone’s expectations in North America, due in large part to the group’s PBS special.

“Nothing really could have prepared us for the amount of success we have been fortunate enough to receive in North America,” she says. “The fact that Celtic Woman was supposed to have been a one-night show, and then having watched us grow since then to where we are now is just amazing.

“We are rather flabbergasted by the welcome we have received all over the world. Just when we think things can’t get any bigger or better, they somehow do!” the affable singer says.

Having recently returned from a tour in Australia, Chloe is enjoying her down time at home, and “adjusting to normality with my family” before hitting the road again to tour North America.

Indeed, the very prospect of being home is almost a foreign concept to the musician. She estimates that she has spent no more than a collective three weeks at home due to the band’s busy schedule in 2010. And despite the fact that Celtic Woman’s schedule is booked solid right through to September, you won’t hear any protests from her.

“We had never been to Australia as a band and it was such an incredible experience. We have had such great success in the United States and Canada, we were a little apprehensive about essentially starting as a new’ band Down Under but we learned that we had very loyal fans there, which was extremely heartening to us.”

To date, Celtic Woman has found some success on their home continent of Europe but that pales compared to what hey have encountered on North American shores.

“We have toured through Europe,” Chloe says, “but it was almost two years ago now. It is definitely in the cards to tour throughout Europe again but, to be completely honest, our schedule has been so busy, we just haven’t been able to find the time to do so.

“We haven’t been intentionally ignoring European audiences but I think it is natural for us to gravitate towards where the demand for our music has been the greatest. To date, that has definitely been the U.S. Our success there has totally taken us by surprise and we are very thankful for it.”

Asked why she feels that North American audiences have been faster to latch onto the band when compared to their “home” audience, Chloe says, “I think Europeans are somewhat used to being surrounded by Celtic music; it is more the norm to audiences there.

“In the United States though, audiences seem to have this never-ending thirst for Celtic music. We have toured through some cities in the U.S. two and three times in the past year and the audiences don’t seem to be getting tired of us.”

Indeed, if there is one aspect of being in a band that the ladies in Celtic Woman have become accustomed to, it is life “on the road.” It is a hectic lifestyle but judging from the enthusiasm beaming through the phone line from overseas, it doesn’t sound as though Chloe would have it any other way.

Essentially living shoulder-to-shoulder with 50 other people, including her bandmates Lisa Kelly, Lynn Hilary and Alex Sharpe along with Celtic violinist Máiréad Nesbitt, as well as the crew responsible for ensuring their shows run smoothly, one might assume it would be difficult to constantly be surrounded by others.

“To an outsider looking in at how we live, our lives probably look a little crazy,” Chloe laughs. “To us, it’s a routine though and we have become rather accustomed to it.

“On the road, living with the amount of people we do 24 hours a day, seven days a week, everyone is very respectful of one another when cabin fever might be kicking in. Everyone is respectful of giving each other space when they sense that someone might be having a bad day.

“Even on our days off though, everyone scatters to do their own thing early in the day but it is completely typical that by the time dinner comes around, everyone starts reaching out to one another to see what the others are up to,” Chloe laughs.

“The dynamic amongst us is much like a family. If you need some time to yourself, you get it, no questions asked.”

Article published in July 13, 2010 edition of the Times & Transcript