Noted author Norman Mongan
was kind enough to interview this lovely, talented Irish lady for the Celtic Cafe
on the eve of her performance at a remarkable event in Paris on April 5th. The Gala, a benefit for the Ireland Fund de France, featured
Guest of Honour Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate for Literature. Click on the link
below to learn more about the evening, as well as information about the good works
of the Ireland Fund and the poetry of Seamus Heaney.
as "The Irish Nightingale", Patricia Cahill's Celtic roots run deep
In Ireland. Her O'Cahill ancestors were powerful clan chieftains at Ballycahill
Castle and, until 1650, lords of Corca Thine, now Templemore parish in the lush
rolling landscapes of County Tipperary, where there are still three townlands
known as Ballycahill.
The Dublin-born beauty has sung her way into the hearts
of people all over the world; her uniquely beautiful voice has a very special
something that transcends all musical frontiers, as her many albums and CDs aptly
demonstrate. From the Celtic folk songs of her native land to easy listening to
numbers from the great shows -- she brings an extraordinary vocal talent to her
exquisite interpretations of some of the most thrilling melodies ever written.
Recently returned from concert engagements in America, Patricia talked
to Norman Mongan at her home near Marbella on Spain's Costa del Sol about her
past achievements and her artistic dreams for the future.
does your family come from?
my parents were both born in Dublin, and they grew up right across the road from
each other in a place called Donnybrook.
My grandparents actually came from Kilkenny, just 25 miles
from Templemore in Tipperary. Some years
ago I had a letter from a cousin in Kilkenny who was selling his family home,
and he had come across a large photo-montage of my grandfather's family he had
found in his attic. It was a very large
family with many priests and nuns – quite normal in those times – many of whom
went to Americ If family history serves
me right, I think it was my grandfather's brother, Reverend Fr. Henry J. Cahill,
who was parish priest at St Paul's Church in Minnesota.
I've never sung in Minnesota – I wonder if anybody out there
knew him ?
old were you when you sang your first note?
to answer. When I sang my first note –
I can’t quite remember but I do remember the first time I sang in front of an
audience. I was going to dancing classes
with my best friend at the age of 10, as at the time all I wanted to be was dancer.
One afternoon, my girlfriend Angela said to the teacher, “You
must ask Pat to sing.” When I say this,
it is obvious that I had been singing, but I have no recollection of singing before
that. Also I only knew one song
which meant that I must have been listening to it and learning the words in order
to sing the song. So I went ahead and
sang for my first audience – consisting of the dancing teacher and a classful
of 10-year-olds – during a dancing lesson. My song was Doris Day’s “Once I Had a Secret Love”. I
might add that after this event, any charity shows the dancing class were
asked to do, I was always asked to sing, of course.
did you realise that you wanted singing as a career?
I never planned
to be a singer during all my form days to the age of 12, when I first started
to take singing lessons as the result of singing at a wedding in Dublin, and the
organist Dan McNulty (who incidentally was a very famous blind organist who played
in John's Lane in Thomas St) said to my mother afterwards, “Have you ever thought
of having Patricia’s voice trained?” To which she answered, “Do you think her voice
is good enough?” He replied, “As far as
I’m concerned it is.”
I had lessons with him for two years, after which I went to
boarding school in Co. Wicklow, where I was taught by Sr. Agnes – two wonderful
teachers for a young voice, for which I have always been very grateful.
I was called for an audition the year I left school, and I
passed the audition for a week’s engagement in the Theatre Royal in Dublin.
I had an offer from a comedian called Jack Cruise, who used to put on huge
variety shows in the theatre, and he asked me if I would sing in his show – as
I had been highly recommended by the theatre manager, who had taken my audition. I gladly said yes to this offer, and that was the beginning of my
career – I haven’t stopped singing since!
singers had the most influence on your early career?
This is a hard
question for me to answer, as I wouldn’t say that I have been influenced by any
particular singer. I loved Deanna Durbin’s
clarity of voice, Maria Callas for her passionate interpretations, and Barbra
Streisand also for her complete handling of a song – she seemed to make every
song she sang her own.
I have enjoyed these singers, but they have never had an influence
on me as a performer. I was given advice
when I was very young: never to copy anyone
else – always to get the sheet music first, learn the music and only then, if
I wanted, to listen to others – I would know exactly how I wanted to sing it.
did you get your first recording contract?
The first record
I ever did – I was asked by Willie Brady, a fellow performer in one of the shows
that I did – he was recording for Avoca records in America – and he said that
his company had expressed an interest in making an album with me.
Probably it was on his recommendation, as I don’t remember
ever meeting the management of the company involved. And my contract with this company was for only one album of Irish
songs, called Ireland’s Patricia Cahill Sings For You.
My next long-term contract was with Decca, and this was purely
as a result of my popularity in Ireland. They felt that there was a market for my singing in the country,
and with the Decca label I went on to record ten albums of various kinds of music.
And these included two singles that went into the Irish pop charts.
many years signed with Decca you recently founded your own ‘Alta Music’ label?
A few years ago
I came up with the idea that rather than travelling to different concert dates
and hoping that there would be good musicians who could play my music – I decided
to have some orchestral backing tracks made of the songs I performed in concert.
I contacted Andy O'Callaghan, an extremely talented and much sought-after
Irish music arranger in Dublin. It was
while recording those backing tracks in his studio that Andy one day suggested
we make an album of the songs. It sounded
like a great idea, as I was no longer contracted to Decca, and an ideal opportunity
to form my own label to produce future albums.
The name comes from the area where I live in here in Spain
– Alta means high, and is also the type of voice
I have. I also thought it an easy name
to remember, and so it became Alta Music. The
first songs I recorded were show tunes that I sang in my cabaret act. and these
were featured on my Encore CD. Then I decided to follow
up with an Irish album My Ireland, which included most of
the songs I am most often asked to sing – not just traditional, but songs people
loved – which is why I recorded them.
is your favourite songwriter at present?
I couldn’t pick
just one – it would be too difficult, so I’ll mention my top three. Andrew Lloyd Weber for his beautiful show tunes
– always a joy for me to sing – Elton John for his inventive and very exciting
music – “The Lion King” alone I just love, as well as most of his other songs
– a great performer; and Janice Ian, who has a nice touch of getting right to
the point and writing some very poignant songs – again, my favourite track “At
Seventeen” – just listen to those lyrics!
At the moment I'm looking for a lyricist to work with me on my new compositions.
is your favourite Irish composer at present?
Bill Whelan immediately
comes to mind. The first time I heard
anything from Riverdance was when I was listening
to the radio one day and I heard this Spanish piece, which they announced was
from the show. It was absolutely magnificent.
Bill actually appeared on one of my shows with a group he had then – with
some very talented Irish musicians, mainly orchestral players and session musicians.
On a personal note – I bought the Riverdance CD, and one of
my most enduring memories, which will always stay with me, is being in my living
room here looking out over an absolute scarlet sunset with that particular piece
playing at the same time. The association
of both was unbelievable. So thank you Bill for that moment.
unfulfilled dreams do you still want to achieve?
I think about this question, I think of famous places where I have not sung in and where I would love to sing.
And that would be Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, and St Peter’s in
Rome. That’s a crazy thought, but I have
sung in a lot of churches, so that would really be a dream!
Another dream is that I wish my voice could be heard by lots more people
around the world – as a singer from Ireland who was given a very precious gift
– and a very lovely one. And if I may
just mention the many comments from some of the people who have heard my voice,
and the emails that I have received, if I remember all those highly complimentary
letters, I only wish that many more people could experience the joy that so many
of these people have felt.
A comment from one particular man has remained with me – where
his email said he had "heard your beautiful
voice and music for the first time, and all I can say is you turned my heavy heart
into a feather floating on the breeze". I was quite touched by that remark.
you ever suffer from stage fright? How do you control it?
No, I wouldn’t
say stage fright – I don’t exactly know if I’ve ever experienced it. When other people in show business talk about
it, it's a sort of paralysis when you are about to go on stage – certainly I am
extremely nervous before I perform, whether for big or small audiences.
It’s the same with me. But once I open my mouth, and start singing
– within a minute or so – the heart begins to beat normally and I begin to really
enjoy what I am doing. John McCormack
always said he was always nervous before he sang the first note, but once he heard
the voice, he was OK. I think this is
a sentiment that most singers would agree with.
was your most scary moment performing?
I wouldn’t exactly
use the word scary, as I have no recollection of ever being scared.
More like exciting or nerve-wracking – I remember the night that I sang
in the London Palladium. That night was a dream come true for me as
I had always wanted to sing there. Sunday
Night at the London Palladium at that time was the major TV show that
a lot of artistes would have considered the pinnacle in their career. It went out live to 30 million people!
was your greatest audience response ever?
I have been very
fortunate in the response that I have received from audiences wherever I have
sung, but I can think of a particular season that I did in cabaret where on a
number of nights, the audience rose to their feet after just four songs – normally,
you might receive a standing ovation after 60 minutes, but not usually after only
you enjoy touring?
Yes – I enjoy
touring as long as I don’t have to do it too often. Travelling long distances
and staying in different hotels is not very enjoyable, but at the end of a tour,
if the audiences have been good, that's the only memory you will have.
Staying in good, comfortable hotels is all right – but there’s no compensation if the audiences
have been lukewarm. If the audience is
good the travel aspect doesn’t matter very much.
did your recent trip to the U.S. go?
Fantastic – and
I hope there will be many more of them. It
was my first time in California, and it was almost like home from home for me,
as I now live in Southern Spain and the climate is very similar to California.
I gave performances in Seattle and in Sacramento.
I couldn’t have asked for greater audiences, and I look forward to my next
Talking about churches, it brings back a wonderful memory of
singing at the Cathedral in Seattle, at the wedding of a friend, with a wonderful
organist – a marvellous experience with a completely natural voice, no technical
aids. A bit nerve-wracking but very satisfying
– hence my dream of singing in St. Peter's in Rome one day!
performed for Irish President Mary McAleese with Riverdance producer John McColgan
last year. How did that come about?
A few years ago
I had my own TV series in Ireland called Patricia, produced by John
McColgan. He produced my Songs
from the Series album at the
time. He was already an excellent producer
in his pre-Riverdance days. John is a great admirer
of Ireland’s premier comedienne Maureen Potter. And when he decided to put on a spectacular
testimonial show with all the friends she had worked with – she especially asked
for me, so I was absolutely delighted to be there for her special night.
It was a wonderful evening – a night to remember in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre.
projects are you working on at present?
I’m looking forward
very much to recording my next album. In
fact, I’m working on three albums at present; a Gospel album, an album of my own
compositions (I'm looking for a good lyricist!) – and another Irish album, as
there are so many beautiful Irish melodies to sing. In order to choose from a wider selection of
songs, I am asking people who order my albums from my website to give me an idea
of what other Irish songs they would like to hear me sing. Up to now I have been delighted with the ideas
I have received.
do you keep your voice in shape?
Well, when I
am touring, normally before a performance I do a quick rehearsal to wake up my
voice. But when I am between bookings
I usually sing to some of my backing tracks just to keep the voice in trim. I find this far more stretching for the voice
rather than doing scales.
are admiringly known as the “Irish Nightingale”. How did that come about?
That came from
a headline in an Irish national newspaper. Apparently
a journalist was writing about a theatre in Dublin, and when it came to me the
headline read Patricia Cahill -- The Nightingale of Dame
St! I picked up on this, as I
thought it was highly complimentary and sort of gave out the impression that I
would like people to have of my voice – a crystal-clear sound quality – and I
hope that people who hear my voice would agree with me on this.
do you stay in top form?
Well, I’m not
always in top form, but I certainly do try to keep well. For day-to-day living it is certainly essential
to stay in good form – as a singer it is otherwise impossible to perform.
As everyone knows, life is much more enjoyable when you have lots of energy
to enjoy it.
I watch my diet, and my diet is eating a bit of everything
and not too much of anything. Living where
I live in Spain means that I get a lot of fresh air. Even if I don’t go for long walks, there is
lots of fresh air coming from the open windows and I pay the odd visit to the
it true that you mostly use homeopathic medicine?
Yes – it is the
only medicine that I use. Since I was
first introduced to homeopathy about four years ago, I have never even taken an
aspirin for a headache since. I’m only
sorry that I wasn’t introduced to homeopathy much earlier on, as I know I would
have enjoyed my singing career more by feeling far more relaxed and in charge.
I spent years taking antibiotics when I got sore throats and colds in order
to get rid of them quickly. I didn’t realise
how damaging this was, so homeopathy has made a huge impact on my health, and
of course my life.
are your albums doing in the US market?
I’m very happy
with my album sales, as most of my website sales are from America. And of course, as the web is world-wide, my
records are being sent to countries all over the world, which is a thrilling idea
for me – that somebody might be listening to my albums in Africa, Australia, or
China. Without my website they might otherwise
never have even heard of me.
Your albums are also on sale on
the Twobigtoes.com Bestsellers Chart at present?
enough, it’s important for singers to reach as many people as possible.
On the web you have to be very specific as to what category you place yourself. My kind of singing has always appealed to a wide cross-section of
people, so it’s difficult for me to choose between classical, traditional, easy
listening, Irish/Celtic, as I sing all three in my performances, not just one
kind of music.
In order to reach the audience on the web, companies like Twobigtoes.com
and others like them are important in spreading the word. One of the advantages with this site is that
if people want just one track rather than the full CD, they can have that for
just 99 cents. Sometimes I have bought
a CD just to listen to one song, never playing the other 9 or 10 tracks again. It’s good to know that someone who does not
necessarily want to pay for a full album can still hear my voice.
For me the Internet is undoubtedly the way of the future.
you prefer concert performances or studio recordings?
– anything live! I’ve always felt quite
restricted in a recording studio, and one of my wishes for the future would be
to do a live performance album. I always sing better, and with more emotion, when I have an audience
in front of me, and I love the rapport that I can achieve with an audience.
are your favourite tracks on your latest Encore or My Ireland albums?
track on Encore – because it was unusual for a woman, and a song I chose
by accident rather than by plan – was Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma”. Then “At Seventeen” comes a close second.
(Janis Ian – when are you going to write another song like this – please?)
My favourite track on the My Ireland album is “Macushla” – a song I’ve always loved, but was always considered a man’s song.
But when you read through the lyrics, you wonder why other women have not
been singing it. After all it's about one’s mother.
When are you going to do a Greatest Hits album?
is another project that I am working on, but the problem is to get these things
done – along with all my other commitments. The
idea is to take my favourite song from each album that I have done, and to make
a new composite album.
I have recently discovered recordings of songs I sang when
I was just 14 to 16 years old, and I am now going through the process of seeing
how they might be remastered digitally for inclusion in my new album – I’ll have
to keep you up-to-date on that. If technically
possible it really would be an amazing thing to do.
about your future work?
Right now, I
am putting a lot of time into my new albums, as well as singing for quite a few
private functions, here in Europe.
One performance I am really looking forward to is in Paris.
I have been invited by the Ireland Fund de France to perform at their Gala
Banquet in Paris in early April, where the Guest of Honour will be Irish Nobel
Prizewinner for Literature, Laureate Seamus Heaney.
They raise monies every year for very deserving charities and
cultural projects in Ireland, so I'm delighted to be able to contribute to that
event. I will also be back in America
in 2002 for more dates so watch my website.
Norman Mongan is an author/journalist, musician, documentary
filmmaker and long-time Paris resident, whose book The Menapia Quest traces the history of the Menapiii, the oldest Celtic
tribe in Europe.
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