CD Release: “Feels Like Home”, The Celtic Tenors ★★★★

Sean Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

Feels Like Home will press every romantic button you’ve got for just about anything – about home. Through a collection of 13 songs, The Celtic Tenors take a harmonically gorgeous trip back to where home is, and that’s usually where the heart is. Feels Like Home aims straight for the heart. The lyrics of Track 1, Going Home, begin – “They say there’s a place where dreams have all gone. They never said where, but I think I know. It’s miles through the night, just over the dawn, on the road that will take me home.” Along the way, a guy can get distracted. Like, with Red Haired Mary. Off to be getting her sweet self married she was.

Click on the cover to order on-line:
Daryl Simpson – Matthew Gilsenan – James Nelson

Barely a decade into the 21st century, the world often feels like an uncertain place. Look at any news headline from just about any continent, and the old notions of security, economic and political stability and cultural harmony all seem to be up for grabs. In Ireland and the surrounding Celtic countries, the outlook is no different, according to Matthew Gilsenan, founding vocalist for the Celtic Tenors, the three-man vocal group that also includes James Nelson and Daryl Simpson. The trio has been weaving together an eclectic repertoire of Celtic, operatic and popular songs for audiences worldwide since 2000. While some of the culture clashes of decades past may have been smoothed over in recent years, “the global financial crisis has put Ireland in difficult straits,” says Gilsenan. “The banks are struggling, and life there has become very difficult.”

In response, the Celtic Tenors have crafted Feels Like Home, celebrating the uplifting music of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, while borrowing a few songs from other cultures along the way. The songs are traditional and contemporary, but all of them serve as a reminder that the world is still a hopeful place.

The Tenors themselves are living proof of that hope, says Simpson. “Matthew’s a Catholic from the southern part of Ireland, Nelson is a southern Protestant and I’m a Protestant from the north. As little as a generation ago, the idea of people from these three differing backgrounds and cultures performing together on the same stage would have been unheard of.”

The tenors are joined by some of the most prestigious musical talent in Ireland. Their core musical accompaniment consists of producer and multi-instrumentalist Martin Quinn, pianists Colm Henry and Gavin Murphy (Murphy is also the orchestral arranger), and drummer /percussionist Andrew Quinn. John O’Brien plays pipes and whistles on several tracks. Also on hand is the Radio Teilifis Erin (RTE) Concert Orchestra (Ireland’s premier orchestra) and the Omagh Community Youth Choir. The Omagh Choir was founded in the late 1990s by Simpson in response to a 1998 car bombing by an IRA splinter group called the Real IRA in Omagh, in Northern Ireland. The bombing killed 31 people and injured hundreds of others. This commitment to harmony in the midst of discord is what underscores and inspires the recording.

The set opens with Going Home, a poignant ballad written by folk singer-songwriter Mary Fahl. “She’s not even Irish,” Gilsenan notes. “She’s American, and she’s big in the folk scene in the United States. But the song feels very Celtic, and much of America claims Celtic ancestry. It’s probably the biggest Celtic nation other than the UK. Just look at the number of American presidents of Celtic lineage.”

The spirited followup track, Red Haired Mary, is “a little bit wild, and a little bit irreverent,” says Simpson. “It’s a real Irish song. It’s not Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra. It tells the story of a cheeky half-drunk Irishman who gets in a brawl with a tinker man. It’s a fun song.”

No Frontiers is a defiantly hopeful ballad written by Irish songwriter Jimmy McCarthy, whom Gilsenan calls “the Bob Dylan of Ireland.” That’s a song that is loved by everyone in Ireland,” he says. “It’s not given to much attention in the U.S. That’s one of the reasons why we chose to record it. It came out really. I consider it one of the highlights of the entire record.”

Track 5, Silent Night, is a song by Yusef Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) with lyrics full of optimistic imagery signifying youth, rebirth and new beginnings. “We just happened to come across him in a studio in London a while back,” says James Nelson. “We sang a traditional song in our native tongue for him. He loved our harmonies and suggested this gem of a song to us. We fell in love with it immediately. There was something very positive about it.”

The rousing title track comes from the canon of Randy Newman – admittedly an unlikely candidate for a Celtic recording, but “it just seemed right,” says Simpson. “It works on many levels. We were drawn by the resonance of home and its place in our own loves. We spend a lot of time on the road, touring the world, and singing this song just seems to bring home just a little closer.”

Better, Track 7, is gentle and heartfelt, featuring a solo performance by Simpson, backed by the Omagh Community Youth Choir. “This is such a relevant song for Daryl,” says Gilsenan. “On the face of it, it’s a song about a relationship between a man and a woman. But it’s an allegory for Northern Ireland, and the idea that cultural understanding is getting better and better.”

The Tenors’ emotional rendition of Richard Thompson’s Dimming of the Day is enhanced by an intimate arrangement that includes a string quartet and piano. Dimming is followed by the beautiful Welsh lullaby Suo Gan, which ultimately segues into the rousing closer, Westering Home, A song whose origins span two Celtic countries. “It’s a very famous Scottish song, which is based on an Irish song called Trasna Na dTtonnta, which means “Over the Waves”, says Gilsenan. “It illustrates that there’s a very fuzzy line between what’s Scottish and what’s Irish. James and I learned the Irish version in school, while Daryl learned it as “Westering Home”. We recorded it here with the Scottish lyrics, but we could just as easily superimpose the Irish words if we wanted to.”

This kind of musical and cultural crossover is what Feels Like Home is ultimately about. “We do 150 to 200 shows every year – primarily in the U.S. and Canada, but in other parts of the world as well,” says Nelson. “We cross a lot of borders when we travel, but we find that people all over the world are similar in many ways. Almost everyone is open to good music and an uplifting message. We have so many great fans around the world. This album is, in part, for them.”


» Don’t miss a thing. Get Sentinel breaking news alerts delivered to your inbox.

See related material:

DON GIOVANNI – It’s smart and new at San Francisco Opera
PASSPORT 2011 — In The Castro, Sunday, October 23rd
“HOUDINI: Art and Magic” – At the Contemporary Jewish Museum
SHAWN MATHEY – To replace Topi Lehtipuu in SF Opera’s “Don Giovanni”, opening Saturday, October 15th
CAMERON CARPENTER – International Superstar Organist plays “Phantom of the Opera” at Davies Symphony Hall, Friday, October 30th
FLEET WEEK – The VIP Party at Pier 39
“REAL STEEL” – Reels of money-making crap starring Hugh Jackman
BERLIN & BEYOND – 16th Anniversary, Film Festival Opens at The Castro, October 20th
LUCAS MEACHEM – Former Adler Fellow to sing “Don Giovanni” at San Francisco Opera
“THE MILL & THE CROSS” – Film director Lech Majewski brings 16th Century masterpiece to life
“ONCE IN A LIFETIME” – A Charming Comedy at A.C.T.
“LUCREZIA BORGIA” – A Hard Act To Swallow at San Francisco Opera
THE “DOUBLE PLATINUM” GOES TO: The California Academy of Sciences!
EDDIE MULLER and “Fear Over Frisco” – An Interview with the Czar of Noir
CD Release – Jacques Loussier Trio – “Schumann: Kinderszenen”
LEAH CROCETTO – An Interview with “Liu” in SF Opera’s TURANDOT
SILENT FILM FESTIVAL – Joins with the American Conservatory Theatre
HENRY PHIPPS – A Conversation with Featured Boy Soprano in SF Opera’s “Heart of a Soldier”
HBO Premieres “The Strange History of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – Midnight, 9/20
“HEART OF A SOLDIER” – A Rapturous World Premiere At San Francisco Opera
THE ART OF ANATOLIAN KILIM – Now at the de Young Museum
“HEART OF A SOLDIER” – World Premiere, Tonight at San Francisco Opera
“The Glory of Love” – A Salute to Jacqueline Fontaine
MEET MAESTRO NICOLA LUISOTTI – San Francisco Opera opens 2011/12 season with Puccini’s “Turandot”
SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY – Opens Tonight and Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary
STEVE MARTIN’S “The Underpants” – Gets an airing at Gough Street Playhouse
A “WORLD PREMIERE” – Mozart’s Concerto for Horn and Orchestra
“MOZART’S SISTER” – Third string cinema
SF EARLY MUSIC SOCIETY – Season Opens with the Catacoustic Consort and Wildcat Viols
“ONCE IN A LIFETIME” – 1930 Comedy Open’s 2011-12 Season at A.C.T.
SF ARTS COMMISSION – Debuts New Public Artwork at the Ortega Branch Library
36th ANNUAL SF OPEN STUDIOS – Every weekend, October 1st—30th
SELECTED HISTORIES: Discover Latin American Art at SFMOMA
POLARIS: VOYAGE FOR ORCHESTRA – With the San Francisco Symphony
“HEART OF A SOLDIER” – SFOpera Presents World Premiere September 10th
GRANTS FOR THE ARTS – 50th Anniversary, A Free Celebration At City Hall
THE MOURNERS: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy
MEROLA OPERA’S GRAND FINALE – Meet Daniel Curran and Mark Diamond
SAN FRANCISCO OPERA – Opens with Puccini’s “Turandot”, September 9th
HELP IS ON THE WAY XVII: Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance!
Previewing two exhibitions coming to the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor
NEW ON CD – “Live from the Marlboro Music Festival”
100th BIRTHDAY – San Francisco Symphony throws free concert bash in Civic Center Plaza, September 8th
KEVIN SPACEY IS “RICHARD III” – At the Curran, October 19th—29th
FOUR SAINTS IN THREE ACTS – Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson’s Experimental Opera at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 8/18–21
3rd i’s QUEER EYE – August Festival focuses on the South Asian LGBT experience
BALI: Art, Ritual, Performance – At the Asian Art Museum until September 11th
FOLGER COFFEE BUILDING – Becomes Downtown Hub for University of San Francisco
“STUFFED AND UNSTRUNG” – The Henson Puppets, Totally Uncensored – At the Curran, 8/18—27th
San Francisco Opera and Musicians Union – Ratify new 3-year contract
DIANA ROSS – One Night Only! – At the Golden Gate Theatre, 9/16
SAN FRANCISCO OPERA – Free Concert at Stern Grove, August 21st
TURANDOT – San Francisco Opera Opening Night Gala, September 9th
“THE BARBER OF SEVILLE” – Presented by the Merola Opera Program, 8/4-7
KIRK DOUGLAS – On Stage At The Castro Theatre
“CASABLANCA” – The SF Symphony accompanies screening
“HE WHO GETS SLAPPED” – A conversation with composer and pianist Matti Bye
ABEL GANCE’S “NAPOLEON” – San Francisco Silent Film Festival to present complete restoration by Kevin Brownlow in 2012
SEPTEMBER 11th – “Opera In The Park” – The City’s Civic Observance of the 10th Anniversary of 9/11
SAN FRANCISCO OPERA – Single tickets go on sale Sunday, July 10th, at 10 AM
THE CASTRO AMBASSADORS – Got questions? Have answers!
MARY GIBBONEY – An Interview with the star of “ABSOLUTELY SAN FRANCISCO”
“BILLY ELLIOT” – A high flying hit at the Orpheum
HEIDI MELTON – An Interview with “Sieglinde” in San Francisco Opera’s DIE WALKÜRE, 6/29
“DAS RHEINGOLD” – The slippery steps to Valhalla
“BILLY ELLIOT” – Leaps Into the Orpheum June 27th
PICASSO — Now at the de Young Museum
SONDHEIM’S “ASSASSINS” – Ray of Light Theatre is right-on target
“TALES OF THE CITY” – Totally Sensational, Totally San Francisco
“THE STOPS” – At NCTC – Come On and Get A Faith Lift
BRENDEN GUY — British Clarinetist In Concert, June 2nd
SILENT FILM FESTIVAL – Opens July 14th with re-discovered film by John Ford
THIS GUN FOR HIRE, 1942 – Looking at “Now you see it, now you don’t” sung by Veronica Lake
Seán Martinfield YouTube with Janet Roitz – ‘Marked Woman’ (1937) and the song that gave it pizzazz – ‘My Silver Dollar Man’
“Would You Like A Souvenir?” – Sean Martinfield and Janet Roitz explore a song from Film Noir classic NORA PRENTISS (1947)
SFMOMA — The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde
“ASSASSINS” – Ray of Light Theatre presents Stephen Sondheim’s controversial musical, June 2–25
VICE PALACE – All Singing! All Dancing! All Hedonism!!!
PICASSO: At the de Young Museum, Tickets on sale 5/11
BETH WILMURT – A stunning “Alma” in The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, at the Aurora Theatre
THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER – Les yawns, les sighs
CD: ZUILL BAILEY, Cellist – Brahms Works for Cello and Piano
TIIT HELIMETS – An Interview with “Prince Edvard” of SF Ballet’s THE LITTLE MERMAID
NO EXIT: A Helluva Great Time at the American Conservatory Theatre
KIRK DOUGLAS – On stage at the Castro Theatre, July 24th
NEW CONSERVATORY THEATRE CENTER – Announces 2011-12 Pride Season
NEW PUBLICATIONS: PUBLIC TRUST BETRAYED. An Interview with author and real estate appraiser, James E. Manning
NEW CENTURY CHAMBER ORCHESTRA – Presents “Mastery of Schubert”, Featuring Soprano Melody Moore
FLORAL DESIGNER NATASHA LISITSA – Creating the Fantastical in the Wilsey Court for “Bouquets To Art 2011″
ZHENG CAO – A Conversation with A Miracle Artist
MELODY MOORE – Soprano shines in SF Ballet’s “Nanna’s Lied”
MARNIE BRECKENRIDGE – An Interview with “La Princesse” of Philip Glass’ Orphée
AVENUE Q – A Totally Fabulous Place To Be

Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at:

Comments are closed.