True to their hearts9/2/2015
Irish musical act Celtic Thunder has graced these pages before, having brought its highly theatrical show to the Civic Center last November. But in addition to touring and recording with the larger group, two of Celtic Thunder’s members have been engaged in a much more intimate act for the past three years and change.
“The way it came about was completely accidental,” explained Neil Byrne of his pairing with Celtic Thunder mate Ryan Kelly. “We used to go to the States and do PBS promo tours. For that, they would usually split us into pairs to go to individual stations, and Ryan and I were paired together for one. People started saying, ‘Your voices are really good together; have you ever thought about touring together?’ ”
Byrne & Kelly serves as a dramatic counterpoint to the flash and largess of Celtic Thunder’s stage
show. In many ways, it serves as a return to the roots of both performers. All of Celtic Thunder’s members got their starts in the same way most musicians do, playing small bars and clubs in front of intimate crowds. Now, after years of playing sold-out shows in arenas around the world, Byrne & Kelly are returning to those smaller, intimate settings for their two-man performances.
“I truly enjoy the intimate shows,” Byrne said. “I remember doing some of the meet and greets for Celtic Thunder. Those are so popular with fans, because people get to meet you and really connect. With Celtic Thunder, you obviously don’t get to interact much with the people, because the show is always going. But with the duo, we chat a little bit between songs about who we are and where we came from.
“We have found that the audience for our shows come for that level of intimacy. We’ve gotten busier and busier with Byrne and Kelly because we love it so much. We don’t want it to stop.”
Luckily for them, the pair’s momentum shows no signs of abating. To the contrary, the duo has fully invested in the act, continuing to work on an album of original material, something Celtic Thunder has never really allowed them to explore.
“One of our (Celtic Thunder) musical directors knew that I used to write a lot of music. Ryan, as well, has some albums that he’s released. Our first (Byrne & Kelly) album was mostly Celtic classics, and he said, ‘It would be really interesting to see what you guys would come up with if you wrote together.’
“It was a really interesting venture to go out on. Eventually we said, ‘Let’s try going out and writing some originals. We may get nothing useful to work with out of it, but let’s try.’ We booked this small cottage in Ireland; it’s out of the way, and there’s no Wi-Fi or anything. So we set up all our gear out of the way and just jammed together to see what would come out the other side.”
As of this writing, the pair had completed five tracks and is using the spare time to polish others. But whether Byrne & Kelly are performing their own songs or traditional Celtic classics, the most easily translatable lesson they’ve taken away from Celtic Thunder is to remain true their hearts.
“I grew up listening to American funk and rock,” Byrne said. “It wasn’t until I got a little older when I discovered Celtic music and learned just how magical it can be. You really want to give an honest performance, and you do that by playing the songs that you love yourself.” CV