The Irish Tenors spread the charm thick. Bruna Zanelli is impressed and says, 'Get in line ladies'. The Craic editor looks on with a puzzled expression. Unless you happen to live on another planet, you will have heard of Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, commonly known as the Three Tenors. However, it is possible that as you read this you may not be as familiar with John McDermott, Ronan Tynan and Anthony Kearns, known as the Irish Tenors, and who are set to give the heavyweights a run for their money.
John McDermott, Ronan Tynan and Anthony Kearns are three of the world's most accomplished tenors, each with his own independent career. They have been brought together to perform much loved Irish music on their debut CD and video. When they appeared at the Royal Dublin Society Hall for a special performance, they found themselves singing to an ecstatic capacity house and receiving standing ovations. Supported by a 60-piece orchestra, the Irish Tenors were an overwhelming success. With all of this in mind, I went to meet two of the trio (John McDermott was in Canada at the time) at the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone, London and was immediately taken with their warmth, camaraderie and dedication to their art. These guys are focused and determined to be as successful as those other fellas and they have the talent and personalities to make it happen.
Bespectacled Ronan Tynan, who has a handshake like a cement grinder, hails from Johnstown, Co. Kilkenny, and lives deep in the countryside. "Even as the crow flies, you'd be hard put to find me, but I love it." He told me he had always fancied himself as an operatic tenor. "To be honest," he confessed, "I hadn't a clue. I just liked listening to the tenors. I didn't know what a lyric tenor was, or a spinto or anything. All I knew was that I enjoyed listening to Mario Lanza and Jeanette MacDonald but most of all I loved the Swedish tenor Jussi Bjorling." Aside from Ronan's beautiful high tenor voice I'm assured he can hit top Bs and Cs with ease & he is a qualified doctor with a practice specialising in spinal problems and is a physical education instructor.
He has achieved all this in spite of a condition in his ankles which resulted in both his legs being amputated below the knee when he was 20 but you'd never know it. He holds his own with the best of the rest. Tynan has never allowed himself the indulgence of self pity Instead he became a superb disabled athlete, winning numerous gold medals in international track and field events. He is also a champion swimmer and a successful showjumper. The mild manners hide a toughness and determination which are necessary in the ruthless world of showbusiness. There is a lot more than meets the eye to this warm, softly-spoken man who sees only good in everyone and whose remarkable gifts were recently featured in the acclaimed RT television documentary Dr Courageous.
So how did Wexford-born Anthony Kearns feel about his brave and talented friend and partner? Several years younger and exuding confidence but never arrogance, he reacted with humour, as is his style. "I get tired just listening to him. I don't know where he finds the time to sleep even." Ronan chuckled loudly: "When I'm around him I get very little sleep," he says, no doubt referring to the previous night's celebrations which had left both tenors somewhat sore-eyed but still in remarkably good voice, as they proved frequently with spontaneous bursts of exquisite song.
Behind all the jokes and teasing, the camaraderie between them is proof of real affection and mutual admiration. Ronan Tynan is generous in his praise of Anthony Kearns. "I came into the music business as a greenhorn but I was lucky to have Anthony. He helped me with it all, especially with the interpretation of Irish songs because he was lucky to have been brought up with the Irish culture and music. He started first as a sean-nos singer. Me, I was brought up listening to Mario Lanza and Nelson Eddy."
How did the Irish Tenors come about? Anthony explained. "It was TV Matters in New York who would have known John McDermott. Somewhere along the line there was a conversation with Radius TV in Ireland, something like: 'Look, we have an idea of getting a group of male singers together. It'll be for a show called the Irish Tenors for transmission in the States. We have one Irish tenor. Can you come up with any more?' "They held some auditions and John and Ronan were on board but they were still auditioning. They listened to me and said, 'Welcome aboard'. They took a lot on board, voice types, the way we looked..." Anthony grins, "...obviously they wanted someone good looking in the group..." Ronan bursts out laughing: "Would you listen to him!"
Kearns, who started out in hotel management, sometimes working as a singing barman, has an excellent track record of his own. He first came to public attention when he won Ireland's Search for a Tenor competition in 1993 after which he appeared on the Late Late Show to great acclaim. He is known throughout Ireland as a true lyric tenor and has performed in all the major venues. In 1995 and 1996 he won the Dermot Troy Trophy for oratorio and, on a slightly lighter note, was judged best male singer at the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera for his portrayal of Frederic in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance.
In 1996, with just 24 hours notice, he took over in Ring Up The Curtain at the Logan Hall in London, presented by Richard Baker with whom he continues to work on P&O Classical Cruises, where his Irish Evening of Love Songs is a great success. Yet he insists that the highlight of his career, so far, was singing the tribute songs at the All Ireland Hurling and Football finals at Croke Park before an audience of 70,000. With his quick wit, dark hair and Irish blue eyes, Anthony Kearns is going to be a big hit with the girls.
All three tenors are independently successful. John McDermott is a Celtic tenor whose meteoric rise to fame has become a legend in the recording industry. It all began in the early 1990s when the 40-year-old McDermott recorded a selection of Irish and Scottish songs as a surprise for his parents' 50th wedding anniversary. The recording was heard by a major record label executive who immediately offered John a long term contract. Eight years on, he has sold millions of records and continues to perform at sell-out concerts all over the world. McDermott moved his family to Canada in the mid-60s, but music has always played an important role in his upbringing.
Over the years, he has acquired a dedicated interest in traditional songs, becoming something of an authority on the subject. He has gone on record as saying, "I know the tunes that I liked and I can remember my dad's recollection of them. I have all his references as a starting point for my own research." Like Ronan Tynan and Anthony Kearns, John McDermott is thrilled by the concept of the Irish Tenors and at their success so far. They all insist that the Irish Tenors are not a clone of the Three Tenors. "It could easily have been 43 tenors instead of three," Ronan Tynan firmly stresses . "The idea was to bring Irish traditional music to the public in classical form. The number of voices was incidental to begin with." But they will be compared to the older tenors. Ronan Tynan quips dryly: "But our combined weight is probably less than Pavarotti's." He says it without malice because the Italian tenor is another of his idols. In 1996 he was thrilled to be invited to be part of the famous Pavarotti school following his winning of the prestigious Marmande Award in France.
They are generous in their praise of each other. Tynan recalls the moment he heard Kearns sing for the first time. "I heard this fantastic voice he was singing The Dream and I realised I'd have to get my own act together." In a very short time the Irish Tenors have come a long way. Their debut CD, released just two weeks ago in Ireland, is, at this time, at number 10 in the Irish charts. There are guest appearances on radio and television scheduled and soon they begin an extensive promotional tour of America. Their dream of performing at the Royal Albert Hall no longer seems far-fetched. It must surely by on the cards and I want to be in the front row on the first night. They are personable, sensitive and honest and they treat others as they themselves wish to be treated. They believe that, "If you give freely, you get it back thousand-fold".
The Irish Tenors aren't temperamental and have no egos. They simply enjoy singing I think they're going to be around for a long time to come. By the way, Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan are single. "We're open to offers." Get in line ladies."