We Talk to The Priests
In Conversation with 'The Priests'
Have you been to the US before?
Fr Eugene: My first visit to the US was in the early 1990s when I worked over the summer holidays in a parish in Long Island.
I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit The Big Apple and some of its riches – Manhattan, the Frick Collection, Cloisters, the churches and Cathedrals, the Lincoln Centre and the Opera House … from the outside!
I also got the chance to visit the many beautiful parts of Long Island. More recently I visited the States with Martin and David when we did some promo work for our debut album.
Fr Martin: Yes, the first time I visited the US was with Eugene to sing at the Waldorf Astoria in New York for a Belfast charity. We sang in the Ballroom, it was fantastic.
I have been on holiday to Cape Cod and Washington too.
Of course our first exposure to promote The Priests’ debut album, was in New York at a venue called La Providence. Even though we were so nervous, it was a brilliant experience and one I will not forget.
We also took part in the St Patrick’s Day Parade in 2009 which was just superb.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my limited time in the USA so far, and I am looking forward to being there again.
Fr David: My first time was in 1982 to Minneapolis. It was a working holiday, my first year after seminary. I stayed with the Columban Fathers doing odd jobs in return for bed and breakfast.
Since then I have been fortunate to return many times. A couple of times to Florida, once to California on a fly/drive holiday, taking in Los Angeles, San Franscisco, San Diego, Las Vegas and Palm Springs.
I worked as a volunteer in Ohio for a couple of summers in the 1990s and returned afterwards to holiday with friends I’d made there.
As The Priests, we have visited New York and Washington, two cities I also love!
What would be a typical day
in your parish?
Fr Eugene: The main fixed element in any day in the Parish is the celebration of Mass. There may be occasion when Mass is not celebrated on a given day but that is usual due to some other diocesan commitment when it is impossible to be in two places at the same time.
I have a diocesan job in addition to my administration of the Parish so after Mass (usually at 9am) if I am not due to visit our small parish school (30 pupils) I will travel some twenty minutes into Belfast to the Diocesan Offices where I work in administrative and tribunal work.
After leaving the office I try to get a swim before returning to the parish where I may have a meeting with a group in the parish or plan to visit someone in hospital or at home.
This doesn’t happen every evening so it’s always nice to be able to visit a friend the odd evening or rustle up a meal either for myself or for a couple of friends back at the parochial house.
Fr Martin: Like Eugene and David, a typical day begins with an early rise and a little prayer followed by Mass in the Parish.
Sometimes I have administration to deal with and preparation for future events in the liturgical calendar such as sacraments for children and high feasts and every day needs of people who come to the office.
After a quick bite to eat I call in to one of two schools I look after in my parish, to catch up with the staff and children. There is always the unexpected and this can take over. Hospital duties can be quite busy but very rewarding.
Each day can be quite frenetic and I try to build in some time for quiet and space to help me keep in touch with God.
I also need to keep in touch with my family who are quite a distance away. Eugene and my father is 96 years young, a great man. I go off to sleep very easily and gather the strength for the next day.
How do you keep in touch with your parishes
while you are away?
Fr David: Modern technology is great. We all have an iPhone or Blackberry which allow us via email and SMS messaging to keep up to date on a daily basis with all that’s going on at home. It will be a case of ‘gone but not forgotten’.
Fr Eugene: We keep in regular contact with parishioners, family and friends by text, video, MMS, Facetime, Twitter and Facebook … and any other social networking "app" available to the iPhone and iPad.
I am the gadget-
Its great fun and people really appreciate being included on our travels. Keeping in touch with people at home and abroad on a regular basis has been so rewarding for us … so a big thanks to all our followers!
Do you make special preparations
for performing live?
Fr David: I try as far as possible to be well rested, physically and vocally.
After an afternoon sound check on stage, mentally review the programme and what I want to say, do a few light warm ups, drink water, say a prayer and try to keep calm!
Fr Eugene: Preparation for each and every performance is essential. Over the years I have learnt that one can never ever be complacent.
Preparing for a concert, at least for me, means I must concentrate and focus on what I’m about to do.
I go over my words and over the music just to be sure it’s fixed in my head. I plan the introductions to my songs or to the group of songs given to me to introduce to the audience.
That said, I always facture in a degree of spontaneity. I enjoy interacting with every audience and I’m more relaxed as a result … hopefully the audience is, too … it always adds to a performance.
Then, there’s the silent period before a concert when I like to be alone with my thoughts… that’s the mental preparation.
And, of course, the voice. A gentle warm up before a concert makes sure the vocal chords are ready for action.
How has the musical success
changed your lives?
Fr Eugene: It has made our lives busier than ever expected. On top of the routine of parish / office life we are aware that our profile has been raised and we do our best to respond to the media interest in what we do and how we try to fit everything into an already busy schedule.
We have been asked to sing at many concerts but that is just not a practical possibility no matter how eager we may be to sing for every good cause and on every occasion. Our daily responsibilities make it impossible.
To be on tour in USA and Canada this Fall has taken a lot of organization and lots of forward planning!
Fr Martin: It has been a wonderful privilege to bring this fabulous music across many countries and we have been very excited and humbled by the response.
We are thrilled the music is making such an impact in people's lives and I hope that we can continue to get the balance in our lives so that we can do this work, a ministry in itself.
Have I changed? I have enough bother just being myself without being anything else! The day to day needs are vital and sustain and nourish what I do and indeed influence the singing so much.
How are you getting around the US
for your forthcoming tour?
Fr Martin: I believe we will be travelling from venue to venue mostly by bus. Eugene hopes it will be like Tina Turner’s bus!!!
We have never toured like this before, but I look forward to it very much. I hope we will each of us have a little space to call our own which is important.
It will be challenging as we haven’t ‘lived’ together since we were students!
I know it will be a fantastic experience and one we will always hold dear. It is a wonderful chance to experience the sights and the people of the east coast and beyond. Roll on the USA.
Fr David: In a tour bus -
Looking forward to it as a big adventure. Other musicians have told us it’s the only way to do it and it will be a great experience.
It will certainly put priestly harmony to the test. Will we still be talking at the end of the tour? Wait and see!
We have a big supply of ear plugs donated by a kind friend so hopefully everyone can get a bit of peace and quiet and a good night’s sleep!
What is your favourite song
to perform in concert?
Fr David: None. Love them all. Too hard to single out one. But if pushed, I would choose maybe Benedictus or Irish Blessing.
Fr Martin: I love all the pieces, but I have a soft spot for The Irish Blessing because it is so uplifting and we usually sing it at the end of a concert and it is so stilling.
I also love, Send in the Clowns because it reminds me so much of my mother who has been such a wonderful influence in my life in so many ways and especially in the music.
Fr Eugene: My favourite song is Phil the Fluter’s Ball… it’s hugely funny, typically Irish and the audience can and are encouraged to join in. It’s not a "holy" song, as such, but it’s great, great fun.
We Talk to 'The Priests'
During the first week of October 2009 we spoke to The Priests as they travelled to Oxford for a performance on Songs of Praise.
Over the next few weeks we’ll adding extracts from the interview here on The Priests’ official website, including news on the recording of their new album, the inspiration behind it, and we find out exactly what Harmony means to them.
Firstly we find out what The Priests were up when we spoke to them…
Q: How are you?
A: Fine, thanks! We’re in the car at the moment.
Q: What have you been up to this week?
A: We’re heading to Oxford to do a recording for Songs of Praise.
During the week, Martin has been very busy moving house and moving to a new parish, but straight away he had to come with us to today’s recording. David and I have been getting along with the ordinary demands and joys of everyday life in our own respective parishes.
Last weekend we completed the recording of our album in Rome. We stayed for a few extra days to complete the whole album.
We’re also very much looking forward to the launch event for the new album which is taking place in London on Monday (12th Oct). We’ll be performing some songs from the album to the press and industry people as well as a few fans.
Q: How are you?
A: Not too bad! Just beginning to come to terms with the move I’ve just made. I just moved house and it was a bit traumatic. A very emotional time as I’d got very attached to people and had to say goodbye.
I’ve moved to County Down from County Antrim, and I’m in a parish with 2000 parishioners.
It’s a very beautiful part of the world. There are two churches, two schools, and I’m also the Chaplain, along with another priest, to a hospital, so I’m going to be a busy wee man!
Q: You have your album launch event next week…
A: Yes, yes. It should be a very enjoyable evening. It will be nice to meet the people who have helped us create such wonder music.
Q: How are you?
A: Not too bad! We’re on our way to Oxford in the van, going to record Songs of Praise.
Q: Are you looking forward to it?
A: Yes! We’ve done it before so we know roughly what’s involved. It’s good fun.
Another interesting, pleasant experience that you wouldn’t normally have.
Q: What have you been up to this week?
A: I had an interesting visit yesterday from Father Dennis Ryan. He’s from Australia from the parish of Portland. He’s a big fan of The Priests. He has our first CD and the DVD and he has promoted us in his area.
He was over on holiday and he contacted me by e-
We went to church and prayed the rosary before mass, then we came down to the house and he brought with him a CD of a young fellow called Mark Vincent. He won X-
Dennis was telling me that the next nearest parish to his is 100 miles away. He’s the only priest in his parish -
We visited the primary school in my parish and got the children to guess where Dennis was from. They wanted to know all about the animals in Australia. Then we went for a nice walk and had lunch and then I left him to catch the train back to Dublin.
Other than that I’ve been doing parish visits to the sick and attending to parish business.
In part 2,
The Priests talk about the recording process of ‘Harmony’ – including their visit to Abbey Road -
Q: So tell us about the recording process…
A: We recorded for the most part in Amberville Studios, which is in a location equidistant from all our parishes in Northern Ireland. It’s in a little village called Cullybackey, where we actually had recorded our last album.
We travelled more recently to Abbey Road to record with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who are providing the orchestral tracks on the album. That coincided with the choral tracks, which were sung by the Brompton Oratory School and the choir called Coro, both of whom have sung with us in the past.
Coro sang with us during our live show in Hammersmith last June, and we sang with the Brompton Oratory School in February in St Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast for the performance of The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins, and of course one of the tracks on the album is The Benedictus from that very work, so it’s a piece that both the choir and ourselves love very much.
Then, after the orchestral tracks, we journeyed out to Rome. The first time we heard the tracks all together with their final mixes was a very proud moment.
Q: What did you think?
A: We were very pleased with the final cut.
We had recorded more than was required so we had to make the difficult decision of what will be on the album, but the others will be available online or on iTunes.
We’ve chosen the final tracklisting and the order of the songs now. It was very democratic and we all agreed on the final decision.
Q: How did you find recording the album?
A: It has been a fabulous experience! I would even say that this year’s experience was very different from last year. It was intense and we were very doing much more – producing harmonies, assisting with the arrangements. It was very uplifting and very rewarding. We also sang in different languages. We recorded pieces in French, Spanish and German.
Q: Do you speak any of those languages?
A: A little French, yes. Not the Spanish. It’s fascinating singing in a different language though. A great experience!
Mike Hedges produced this and the first album (along with Sally Herbert), so it was nice to work with the same people again. A great team, great expertise.
Q: Have you enjoyed the process of making the album?
A: We knew what was ahead of us, so it wasn’t so strange going back into the recording studio. It was nice that we were familiar with the recording set-
I think for the first album we were more familiar with the songs already, so this time we did some songs we weren’t used to singing together. That tested us a little bit. We weren’t as comfortable with the music and had to be very focussed. We had to work out the arrangements as we went along.
Ahead of their album release this coming Monday, we asked The Priests for an insight into what makes ‘Harmony’ different to their previous offering.
Q: How does this album differ from
the last one?
Father Eugene: ‘I think, because over the last year we have been singing to so much, our voices blend better and our sound has matured.
There’s an even greater sense of synergy with the voices, and we’re more confident, too. Even as a professional singer, you never stop fine-
Father David: ‘It seems to be bigger, bolder, more confident. There are some very powerful classical pieces on it.’
Q: What’s been the most unforgettable moment
of recording the album?
Father Martin: ‘The whole process has been quite amazing!
There was a little moment that I’ll always remember. We went to Abbey Road, and just as we walked into the studio we heard the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing the piece that we had composed, King of Kings. It was the first time we’d heard the orchestral arrangement and it was a moment that was so uplifting and enjoyable, almost like we’d given birth to this beautiful piece of music! For us it was really special, I’ll never forget it.’
Following the release of ‘Harmony’, we asked The Priests to discuss the meaning behind their new album title.
Q: What is the meaning of harmony
Fr. Martin: ‘Harmony essentially for me is about -
Maybe this harmony will enable us to be at peace with ourselves and with the world, and maybe be a bit more alert to the beauty of the world and the beauty of people, and God obviously as well in our lives.
All of that is what harmony means for me and what we wanted to convey in the album title -
Fr. David: ‘Harmony means to me to blend and get together in a positive way. Unity, togetherness and peace.’
Q: What do you feel
is the inspiration for the new album?
Fr. David: ‘Again, it’s music that we love, songs we wanted to record. We feel it’s music that people will also love.
There’s some music that people are familiar with already, some real favourites like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. That one was very popular at the concert we performed earlier in the year, so we put it on the album.’
Fr. Martin: ‘I would say it is essentially our love of music and I think that we enjoy the singing very much indeed. We enjoy the blend, and the harmony somehow reflects the blend.
It’s like a fermentation process that’s been going on for 35 years.
It’s great that we’ve been able to open up the repertoire even more. We’ve had to learn new pieces but all of these will hopefully lift people’s spirits.
Harmony, I hope, will be a title that people will latch onto.’
Q: And also,
do you have a message for the fans?
Fr. Eugene: ‘We hope that they like the album. We’re thrilled to have had the opportunity to make a second album. We never dreamt that would happen.
We got to write a song of our own, so ‘King of Kings' is written by ourselves and it’s ideal for choral singing. We hope the fans will like it and might like to sing it.’
"It is a wonderful gift to have the opportunity to lift people's hearts.
They need to go out after the concerts with a wee lift in their step.
That’s our hope."