Eoghan Dalton Reports
Carrick’s Michael O’Dwyer on touring with Celtic Thunder
Carrick-on-Suir has a proud musical tradition, stretching from traditional Irish music to its strong theatre scene. And with one of its latest musical sons he is able to draw from both veins when touring North America with Celtic Thunder, a group known for its theatrical live shows on the other side of the Atlantic thanks to regularly packing out stadia.
Michael O’Dywer grew up with his parents and two sisters in the town (“I’m the middle boy and myself and my dad are out numbered by women, and strong women at that”), attending college in Limerick and Cork. It was at the latter that he was plucked away to join Celtic Thunder:
“My guitar teacher in the Cork School of Music is very good friends with David Munro, the group’s musical director. The two happened to be having a conversation one day and as it turned out there was a position available in Celtic Thunder. The thing was though, I received a phone call this particular afternoon, with this opportunity sprung upon me. I was given a half hour to decide if I wanted to do an audition!
“So, naturally, I thought this was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I ended up doing a Skype interview with David and our producer Sharon Browne. After what was more of a friendly chat than an interview, I played the two a song on a piano I had set up beside my laptop and the rest was history,” Michael tells The Munster Express.
Now 25, he’s been a member of Celtic Thunder since August 2016. The group itself may be a somewhat unusual one, mixing your traditional Irish ballads (say, ‘Danny Boy’) with pop hits from yesteryear (Foreigner’s gloriously cheesy 1984 hit ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’ being just one example) for audiences from America to Australia.
Says Michael: “The concept of Celtic Thunder was to feature a group of men from Ireland and Scotland who ranged in age from 21 to 42 and sing songs that celebrate a common Celtic heritage. It’s been going strong for the past 10 years and features some original works like ‘Ireland’s Call’ – also recognisable as the Irish rugby team’s anthem. It’s a very family friendly show catering to a lot of different musical tastes and interests actually. To be honest, it’s probably one of the only shows of its kind where you might find four generations of a family at the same concert.”
Growing up Michael had an interest in several genres, from pop to metal: “I certainly have had quite a broad taste in music throughout the years! Like I love pop music, rock, jazz, soul music. Anything with a good catchy hook in it always gets me. I’ve always been a big Stevie Wonder fan, and I like John Mayer, Michael Bublé, artists like that.”
The variety doesn’t stop at the musical taste; he’s found himself down some unexpected avenues while working in music too. “I started off playing with pub bands and original bands with friends, being part of a couple of musical societies in both Carrick and Limerick. I even worked as a singing waiter in Bunratty Castle! But all of that different experience definitely had a great impact on me musically. It’s given me a broad appreciation for a lot of different musical genres, which is funny because Celtic Thunder has such a wide range of material.”
And what is it like having to go out and perform in incredible American arenas, when he was only in a classroom at the other side of the world less than two years ago? “Being perfectly honest, I still get quite nervous to this day. The less I tend to think about it the less nervous I will be, but sometimes it’s hard to turn your brain off when you’re wound up and wired for a show,” he says.
If anything, the nerves can become something to be appreciated. “I do see a bit of them as a good thing. Like, it allows a little bit of vulnerability which always brings a human touch to your performance, that’s important in a lot of the songs we perform. It’s about getting a story across to your audience and you can only do that by bringing the right emotion to a song. If you weren’t nervous and weren’t feeling anything before a show, I think that might come across in your performance,” he explains.
As for his plans for 2018, all that’s in store is a quick jaunt around roughly 70 cities throughout North America in the space of four months. “It’s not busy, we recorded our tenth anniversary show in the Helix in Dublin back in October, so that will be launching on PBS television in the States in March. Come August-September we will start into the tour.”
Seeing as how he lives in the oft-disputed Carrick Beg, it’s worth asking where his own loyalties lie. With Bulmers or blaas? “Oh, my family are out and out Tipp supporters so I’m definitely a Tipp man, Bulmers all the way! I’ve lived in Carrick Beg my whole life, but when people ask me where I’m from I do say Carrick-on-Suir,” he quickly confirms.
He later notes that returning home is always calming and refreshing for him, especially after a lengthy tour. “I think, definitely for me, Ireland will always feel like home. But I love the buzz you get from touring and waking up in a new city every day – it’s both a bizarre and wonderful experience.”
Beyond 2018, what’s in store? He hasn’t a notion. “All I know is that I’m really enjoying doing what I’m doing at the moment, and I’ve met some amazing people and made some great friends along the way. But that being said, I have always wanted to be a songwriter, writing and making my own albums.
“Playing my own concerts would be amazing to be honest. And maybe some day that might happen. But for now, I’m very happy where I am and I just want to enjoy this amazing opportunity I’ve been given and make the most of it.”