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Thread: What Exactly Is an Irish Tenor?

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    Moderator Nereffid's Avatar
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    The person I immediately think of when I hear the phrase "Irish tenor" is Frank Patterson:


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    Senior Member Figleaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    Interestingly, being able to sing in Gaelic doesn't mean you have to speak Gaelic. My mother's family came from the Donegal Gaeltacht but she had no Irish. The one Gaelic song she did sing was the"Cockle Gatherers" which is Hebridean and she probably picked this up from the singing of the Orpheus Choir in Glasgow.

    Father Sydney MacEwan came to St Aloysius College in the 1960's to do some recording in the church. The whole school (self included) were wheeled down as "background". At the end of the recording, when the take was played back there was a round of applause which was discouraged by the Fathers - this was a church not a concert hall!

    Scots Gaelic is taking off. There seems to be a big push in the Scots Gaeltacht areas to teach Gaelic and this is spreading as part of a general Scottish nationalism. The Irish picture is a bit different. Many people were taught Gaelic since it was a requirement for the Civil Service and University. It was disliked because it was a minority language spoken in "backward" parts of the country. However, it has become a badge of Irish identity so people will name their children Grainne or Pronsias even if they can't properly pronounce them.
    Wow, did you meet Sydney MacEwan? What was he like? I read that, once he entered the priesthood, he focused on his parish and only made records to raise money for the church. I wonder whether that recording with you in the background is still available? I tend to listen mostly to his early recordings from the 30s when his voice was at its most angelic- by the LP era it had become thinner and somewhat nasal sounding, the sort of sound that hpowders makes fun of in his post upthread- but he was a great singer of songs and even his late recordings are probably worth seeking out.

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    Senior Member Figleaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nereffid View Post
    The person I immediately think of when I hear the phrase "Irish tenor" is Frank Patterson:

    Thanks Nereffid- I haven't heard Frank Patterson for years (I think he used to get some airplay on Radio 2 in the early 90s, maybe on Desmond Carrington's show which young fogeys like myself listened to religiously) and I had forgotten how very beautiful and unmistakeably Irish his voice was. I still feel that, like Burrows, his song interpretations could have benefited from a little more vigour though...

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Figleaf View Post
    Wow, did you meet Sydney MacEwan? What was he like? I read that, once he entered the priesthood, he focused on his parish and only made records to raise money for the church. I wonder whether that recording with you in the background is still available? I tend to listen mostly to his early recordings from the 30s when his voice was at its most angelic- by the LP era it had become thinner and somewhat nasal sounding, the sort of sound that hpowders makes fun of in his post upthread- but he was a great singer of songs and even his late recordings are probably worth seeking out.
    No we didn't meet him. Hopefully that record never made it into production, or if it did, they ditched the background. Ingélou says they should have paid me not to sing. I don't think he had the voice that Spike Milligan described in Puckoon - "that high nasal Irish tenor, known and hated the world over."
    Last edited by Taggart; Feb-11-2016 at 14:25.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member Figleaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taggart View Post
    No we didn't meet him. Hopefully that record never made it into production, or if it did, they ditched the background. Ingélou says they should paid me not to sing. I don't think he had the voice that Spike Milligan described in Puckoon - "that high nasal Irish tenor, known and hated the world over."
    That's a shame, though still a great privilege to have heard him in sing live.

    Haha- Spike was a comedy genius, but he was clearly bitterly jealous of the fine (if not Irish) lyric tenor voice possessed by his Goons colleague. As part of a blind test of tenors singing Puccini arias, I once listened to a young Harry Secombe (previously known to me as a hymn-bawling codger) and he wasn't that bad at all, though Puccini isn't my bag. I guess we're still waiting for the definitive Irish tenor recording of that classic 'I'm walking backwards for Christmas (across the Irish Sea)'- this could be an opportunity for Michael Crawford, who has established himself as a bona fide comedy genius on a par with Milligan, but has yet to display his 'Irish tenor' credentials.

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    Senior Member Bellinilover's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Figleaf View Post
    That's a shame, though still a great privilege to have heard him in sing live.

    Haha- Spike was a comedy genius, but he was clearly bitterly jealous of the fine (if not Irish) lyric tenor voice possessed by his Goons colleague. As part of a blind test of tenors singing Puccini arias, I once listened to a young Harry Secombe (previously known to me as a hymn-bawling codger) and he wasn't that bad at all, though Puccini isn't my bag. I guess we're still waiting for the definitive Irish tenor recording of that classic 'I'm walking backwards for Christmas (across the Irish Sea)'- this could be an opportunity for Michael Crawford, who has established himself as a bona fide comedy genius on a par with Milligan, but has yet to display his 'Irish tenor' credentials.
    Musicals have always been more Crawford's thing, of course. He was actually singing that Irish medley I mentioned in tribute to his Irish grandmother, who helped raise him; I've never heard him sing anything else Irish, though of course he's sung plenty of religious music. As for operatic tenors, I've just ordered the CD on the Nimbus Prima Voce label devoted to John McCormack as I've decided I really like his timbre. It must have sounded somewhat unusual in an era when the popular idea of a tenor was Caruso.
    Last edited by Bellinilover; Feb-11-2016 at 17:07.

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    Senior Member Figleaf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bellinilover View Post
    Musicals have always been more Crawford's thing, of course. He was actually singing that Irish medley I mentioned in tribute to his Irish grandmother, who helped raise him; I've never heard him sing anything else Irish, though of course he's sung plenty of religious music. As for operatic tenors, I've just ordered the CD on the Nimbus Prima Voce label devoted to John McCormack as I've decided I really like his timbre. It must have sounded somewhat unusual in an era when the popular idea of a tenor was Caruso.
    Fantastic, you won't regret it! For me, John McCormack is probably the greatest singer of songs who has ever made records. In his prime, his voice was celestial; in vocal decline he continued to grow as an artist, so that his late records of songs such as 'Bantry Bay' and 'No, not more welcome' are as good as anything he recorded during his prime. I think it's significant that he sought and received the friendship of Caruso: both artists realised that the other was too different from himself to be a direct threat. (I don't know if either was especially magnanimous towards rivals: Caruso famously feuded with Alessandro Bonci, while McCormack reportedly snubbed both Richard Crooks and James Melton, two young singers who admired and learned from him).

    It was rather a surprise to see Michael Crawford mentioned here, just as it was surprising when he originally turned his talents towards the music of Lloyd Webber. For Brits of my generation who grew up with 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em', Crawford the singer was the victim of Crawford the comedian's success: he was simply so tremendous at physical comedy that it became impossible to imagine him as the leading man in a 'straight' musical. One expected him to say 'Ooh Betty' at any moment, and fall through a ceiling. The only folk song I've ever heard him sing is the English song 'Early One Morning', in character as Frank Spencer. He can certainly hold a tune and he's amazingly talented, but you can see why I have trouble taking him seriously:


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    Senior Member Bellinilover's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Figleaf View Post
    Fantastic, you won't regret it! For me, John McCormack is probably the greatest singer of songs who has ever made records. In his prime, his voice was celestial; in vocal decline he continued to grow as an artist, so that his late records of songs such as 'Bantry Bay' and 'No, not more welcome' are as good as anything he recorded during his prime. I think it's significant that he sought and received the friendship of Caruso: both artists realised that the other was too different from himself to be a direct threat. (I don't know if either was especially magnanimous towards rivals: Caruso famously feuded with Alessandro Bonci, while McCormack reportedly snubbed both Richard Crooks and James Melton, two young singers who admired and learned from him).

    It was rather a surprise to see Michael Crawford mentioned here, just as it was surprising when he originally turned his talents towards the music of Lloyd Webber. For Brits of my generation who grew up with 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em', Crawford the singer was the victim of Crawford the comedian's success: he was simply so tremendous at physical comedy that it became impossible to imagine him as the leading man in a 'straight' musical. One expected him to say 'Ooh Betty' at any moment, and fall through a ceiling. The only folk song I've ever heard him sing is the English song 'Early One Morning', in character as Frank Spencer. He can certainly hold a tune and he's amazingly talented, but you can see why I have trouble taking him seriously:

    As an American, I'd never heard of "Some Mothers Do Have 'Em" until this year when I looked it up. Though I was well aware -- via HELLO, DOLLY! and a production of BARNUM which I saw on TV -- that Crawford had comic talent, my main idea of him was as that singer with the chillingly pure voice who sang the Phantom in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, since I basically grew up with that musical.

    Not only is his voice exquisite for a pop-like tenor, it's also extremely evocative and emotional, at least to me. It strikes me, too, that his phrasing is superb. One reason I've never cared for Colm Wilkinson -- the original Valjean in LES MISERABLES and another "Irish tenor," since he was born in Dublin -- is that his phrasing sounds "choppy" and random to me; Crawford, by contrast, has a beautiful legato line. He studied singing with Benjamin Britten, so maybe that has something to do with it.
    Last edited by Bellinilover; Feb-11-2016 at 20:31.

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