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The start of the Voyage

Time to get back to business. I haven’t aggravated anyone in a while. At least not on here.

Since the time has come for the second Voyage DVD from Celtic Thunder to be released, I suppose it’s time for a few comments about the initial release. The fact that there are even two releases will be explored again a little later. Actually, I have several subjects to get into I guess, so I’ll just lump them all into one post.

I can’t say that I was terribly impressed with the way this show opened. Atmos, Druids, Deas Meus is pleasant enough, if not very stirring. This transitions into Dulaman which is uninspiring, apparently even for them. They look bored to death. The song also has a Broadway-ish feel to it. I thought I was about to see West Side Story from the perspective of a different nationality.

Fortunately, this was quickly followed by Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears sung by Emmet Cahill who did a fabulous job, as he did later with Kindred Spirits as well.

Actually, the rest of the performances were all wonderful, as he have come to expect from these guys. The band was stellar also, although I wish they would quit playing musical chairs with some of them. I do have to add that these two new musicians, one in particular, should not be allowed to move. Just play and let it go at that. Have Nicole Hudson do the dancing about, she is extremely capable.

The “special guest” for this show, Daniel Furlong was an interesting addition. On his own singing Over the Rainbow, he did very well. Most of his participation was in the group setting, and his animation there was quite engaging. However, vocally he didn’t mix that well with the group because his voice is too different from the others. On the other hand, the rest of them during ensemble numbers don’t have the fullness and depth that we once heard from this group because, are you ready for it, their voices aren’t different enough.

This is quite a nice show from the performance side. It’s the shortcomings from other sides that detract a lot from this concert.

  • Various cameras are a different resolution quality. Some shots are nice and crisp, others are fuzzy.
  • The cameras placed on the stage pretty much just suck. They are too “in your face” literally and the quality isn’t very good.
  • The lighting is a bit quirky again. Lights going on and off for no apparent reason.
  • The plastic-looking steps are distracting.

The biggest anomoly is Girls, Girls, Girls. Again, the performance is fine, but the fact it was even included is a real head-scratcher. It simply doesn’t fit. It also underscores this 2-DVD silliness. One second we see the guys in casual outfits, 2 seconds later they perform this song wearing suits; quite nattily attired in my opinion. As soon as the song is over, we have George back in a casual outfit for the next number. Sharon Browne, the producer of CT, has always had a problem with continuity, and this is a glaring example. The choppiness we get by breaking this into 2 DVD’s doesn’t even give the feel of an actual concert. It’s more like a bunch of separate clips spliced together, like you would get with a “best of” scenario.

Dammit!!!!! These guys are good!! They deserve a lot better management and artistic decisions than they get!!

I also wonder if the audience has to give persmission to be shown doing some of the strange antics that we see. I have seen a couple of promo clips for the upcoming DVD and summer shows that has an audience shot that always leaves me with my hand over my mouth and jiggling with laughter.

On the whole, the Voyage DVD is quite a nice show. With some real production “vision,” it could be a lot better.

As far as the 2-DVD release format, I’ve visited this subject before. Since Sharon restated her flawed reasoning for doing it, I reserve the right to restate my refutation of it. She says that it’s all about the royalty fees which are paid differently in the U.S. than they are in Europe. She says she lost money on the first DVD because it was the full 2-hour show and the royalties were too much. First of all, I don’t really think she lost money or this venture would have been sunk right off. Second, the inferrence was that the European system was superior. Could be. It doesn’t matter. She was not trying to market her merchandise there, and still is not after nearly 5 years. If she wasn’t aware of how the system worked in the U.S. then she simply was not doing her job. Third, it doesn’t matter if you bring it out on one DVD or nine of them, the royalty payments are the same. It is a set amount per song. Having 2 DVD’s with 10 songs each would be the same fees as one DVD with 20 songs. And by the way, you brought the second DVD out in the same full-concert format. Hadn’t you learned your lesson yet by that point?

Then she, unwittingingly apparently, proceeded to lay out all the reasons why this scheme is more expensive for everyone involved, her and the consumer. There are twice the number of discs to buy, twice the number of cases. Burning the content onto the discs would be more than twice the amount of time. More shipping, more artwork, more printing, more marketing.

Now……she may have been making a reasonably valid point on one issue. She doesn’t do it very well, so it can be difficult to tell. She may have been trying to say that DVD’s don’t tend to sell well above a certain price-point. That is a real possibility. The American consumer isn’t nearly as smart as they think they are. They do think it is better to buy 2 DVD’s at $12.99 each than one at $22.99. That’s why they purchase at one supermarket, then drive 12 miles out of their way to go to a second one because they can get a can of beans for 3 cents less. This is why Madison Avenue thrives.

While the point may be valid in general, I don’t think it applies well in this case. The Thunderheads are going to buy it anyway, and to be honest, you’ve pretty much shot the moon already. The size of the fanbase just is not going to grow all that much under the present promotional arrangements. Sure, if you actually do branch out globally you will add plenty of fans. You will also lose some in other areas because of lack of attention to them, and the marketing of merchandise might be done in a totally different way in those new areas. As far as the U.S. market, if you really hope to grow the base, you’ll have to move past PBS. I like PBS for a lot of things, but you are limiting yourself way too much to rely on them as your main promotional outlet. Many people just don’t watch it at all and many only watch on a limited basis. Even if it is only on a fairly obscure cable channel, to get their concerts on something other than PBS could be a boost. Getting on these morning shows hasn’t done much good either. Who the hell watches them other than unemployed people? Not exactly your target audience at concert ticket prices.

In the end, Sharon Browne is not going to lose money on this. The consumer is the loser. More money out of their pocket and a less than top-notch production because of crappy editing.

Concerning those summer shows, it’s a nice idea, but I’m not all that sold on the location. This is the second special event that is in a sub-prime location in my opinion. When they filmed Heritage and the Christmas show in Poughkeepsie, I was really surprised after doing a little research. No airport, or even one nearby. Anyone outside the area would have to do some pretty serious driving. Now they are doing a series of shows this summer in Atlantic City. A little research again and…..there is an airport but it is only served by one, fairly unknown, budget airline. Isn’t Atlantic City supposed to be a pretty big tourist destination??? Well I’m sure not driving there. I do hope things go well for the shows, but it’s another puzzler in my mind. I suppose you could be hoping to pick up some fans by folks attending one of the shows on a whim. But then they won’t be familiar with the songs and the Thunderheads in attendance will think them awful people for not standing, screaming, and clapping at every move the guys make.

Sometime in the near future I’ll be picking up the second DVD. I’m rather looking forward to George’s Cat’s in the Cradle. I’m not looking forward to the strange production values we are sure to see.

I had one more topic I was going to cover, but I’ve grown quite weary of Sharon Browne….so it’s on to other things.

Paul

Oh, those rose-colored glasses!

Over the course of the past few months, I have had a ton of queries about why Phil Coulter left his position as Music Director with Celtic Thunder. One person even landed here asking “Phil Coulter wants to sink CT.” That one really burns my buns!!! What an utterly absurd notion! I can’t say exactly what was said, I wasn’t there. We can talk about what was put out there, and what wasn’t. I’ll probably go off on a tangent or two as well, just because that’s my style. It’s the curse of my mother.

We all know there really wasn’t any announcement from CT management that Phil was no longer with the group. I’m sorry, but an obscure phrase in one of Sharon Browne’s (CT producer) blogs:

…this years MD David Munro and I…

does not qualify as an announcement. Not that Phil was out, or that David was in. It certainly was not a move screaming with integrity. A number of people directly questioned whether this meant Phil, or the gentleman who usually acted as the Music Director on tour, Dave Cooke. Even though she likes to tout herself as someone who listens to the fans, there was no reply. She did think it was important for fans to know that Emmet had to wear Damian’s kilt on QVC. I just couldn’t have lived without that knowledge.

Due to circumstances I was not able to attend the concert for which I had a ticket. In some ways I’m not that disappointed. From all the reports of noise and screaming, that’s an experience I don’t need and it would have reduced my enjoyment. I don’t want to hear hear screaming teenage girls and therefore don’t go to Beiber concerts. I don’t want to hear screaming middle-aged women who seem on the verge of wetting themselves either. The fact that this apparently was encouraged from the stage doesn’t doesn’t speak well of the show. Now I’m definately all for showing appropriate appreciation for a performance. With a good amount of dignity.

There was also no way to know what you would see. More than halfway through the tour and they were still “tweaking” the show to get the flow right. If you hadn’t figured it out by that point, give it up and work on it in the off-season. Some of the reasoning was, once again, listening to what the fans want. Bull!! I didn’t see anyone ask that Kindred Spirits be removed from the show, but it was. I kind of hate to bring this one up because it involves someone who does post rather often in the CT forums, it’s just that the posts are rarely coherent. Anyway, this person didn’t object to Kindred Spirits being removed because “it’s been done and recorded.” It’s true, it had been recorded as an introduction for Emmet since he joined the group after the Heritage DVD was filmed. I guess I’m making an assumption here but I’m thinking the “done” is in reference to it being filmed. It wasn’t. This person, and a number of others, did request that Gold and Silver Days be added to the tour. It wasn’t. Are you listening?

If you look at those two songs, there is a common thread. That’s right, they are both Phil Coulter compositions. There was one other of his songs listed in the program which was never performed on the tour. The list for the Christmas portion of the tour lists that same song, along with another of his songs, which would be completely new. They have approximately 2 hours of music to condense down to one hour. I really doubt they will add a new song. Well, you never know.

On the other hand, I don’t remember anyone providing a list of what was performed for the filming. Maybe because they aren’t sure what they did see. I also recall a mention that some songs were filmed in the afternoon before the performance, like Ireland’s Call apparently was for the Heritage DVD. I know, there are some who seem to say they saw that being performed. There are others who expressed surprise to see it on the DVD since they didn’t do it night of the filming. I wasn’t there, but I will go with the latter based on my observations. First, their bewildered and bored expressions at the beginning of the song, like they were staring at an empty venue. Second, I know they don’t allow people to stand up during filming, but have you ever attended a show where they are doing this song and the audience is NOT rhythmically clapping along?? Personally, I find it rather deceitful to show people reacting to a song they didn’t even see, and possibly didn’t even enjoy. I’ll bet that if those pre-filmed numbers are included, we’ll see some of those reactions though.

By the end of the regular part of the tour, there were only two Phil Coulter songs left in the show. I rather doubt Noreen will be done for another tour anyway, and I wouldn’t bet much that Ireland’s Call will remain their “signature” song next year. That would sever all ties with Phil and complete the sweep.

I know, I’ve strayed quite a bit, but I have a couple more things to say before switching to the other side of this.

Sharon got a little dig in at the beginning of the tour with the statement about the new musical director doing;

…a great job and the sound is rich and full and real.

The “real” part is something you have to work out on your own. It’s always been a little bit of a challenge since they’ve used musical enhancements all along for tours. As I said earlier, I wasn’t able to attend a show so I’m using limited info, but I have to take some exception with the rich and full part. At least on some songs. They did post a video of some behind the scenes activities with the new version of  A Place In The Choir as the background music. To me it sounded rather thin and I didn’t particularly care for the way they used Daniel in it either.

Finally, I think it was completely unprofessional of Sharon not to at least acknowledge the huge contribution that Phil has made to the success of Celtic Thunder.

————————————-

Now, to the other side of this matter. Again, I cannot relate conversations, and quite frankly, I’m not sure I’d want to repeat some of the things that likely were said. I can only give you some of the responses from Phil, which to me, convey his disappointment.

I WANT TO SAY A HUGE ‘THANK YOU’ TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU WHO HAS E-MAILED OR POSTED MESSAGES. I AM OVERWHELMED AND TOUCHED THAT HUNDREDS OF YOU HAVE TAKEN THE TIME AND THE TROUBLE TO MAKE CONTACT TO REGISTER YOUR SUPPORT, AND YOUR SADNESS. THE CHANGES WITHIN CELTIC THUNDER THIS YEAR HAVE INDEED BEEN DRAMATIC AND I CAN UNDERSTAND YOUR CONCERNS. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU KNOW THAT I DID NOT SIMPLY WALK AWAY. THAT IS JUST NOT MY STYLE. – 8/25/2011

 I have to confess that there are times that I really do miss being involved with Celtic Thunder, the lads,the music and the great adventure…… but not the other stuff. It irks that my departure was abrupt and less than cordial, but life goes on and I’ve taken great strength from all the messages of support I’ve been receiving.I love the fact that folks are taking the time and trouble to make contact,from Celtic Thunder fans to diehard Phil Coulter fans to old friends from my University days. Bless you all. – 9/27/2011

When I opened my e-mails this morning,on my first day back at my desk, I was overwhelmed and not a little upset.Literally dozens and dozens of messages from fans across the US to say how bitterly disappointed there were with the new Celtic Thunder show.They’re telling me that I am missed,asking me why on earth did I choose to leave and would I not think of coming back. Let me deal with those one at a time.As for my being missed,I only wish that the original Celtic Thunder could have continued for years and I would have been happy to have been as big a part of it as I ever was.Sadly that was not to be. Why did I choose to leave? The simple answer is “I didn’t” . As for my going back I’m afraid that is never going to happen. I wish the boys well,(after all I signed each of them,with the exception of Daniel) and hope that their careers blossom. – 10/31/2011

These have been copied directly and not corrected. With what has been said, what hasn’t been said, and what hasn’t been done, I think it’s pretty clear who was driving this situation. I don’t think you will be seeing any tie to Phil in the future. Wouldn’t want him getting any of those royalties you know!

While I’m in a “downer” mode, let’s just get this one out there too. Start getting used to it people, Keith will be gone soon as well. He is just now wrapping up his recordings for his new CD in Los Angeles with the big music producer, reported to be David Foster. Of course Sharon was going to say he isn’t leaving, there was no reason for it yet. He hadn’t done any of the recording. I would expect it won’t be out until the Spring, at which point he will be gone. Unless this CD turns out to be a big bomb, and that just isn’t going to happen, he will have no choice. Hang in there Aussies, he should still be able to make that tour though.

I think my buns have cooled a bit, so it’s time to wrap it up.

Paul

The New CT Lineup

Some quick thoughts on this subject, then on to a post I’ve been trying to do for a month or so.

The new tour has started for Celtic Thunder and, as usual, there is some battling going on between fan groups. There are some who aren’t too happy with the songlist. I don’t have much of a problem with it. It’s going back, overall, to more of a mix. Heavier on the Celtic flavored songs, but some other pop type of songs as well. Personally, I think this has always been the best combination. There are a couple I wouldn’t do. I’m not much of a Country music fan so I wouldn’t go that route. The one that really puzzles me is George doing “500 Miles”….again.??.?? I do love the energy he puts into it, and he obviously loves doing the song, but…..c’mon….I’m absolutely positive he knows more songs than that. This will be the third show for it. The George fans are already upset at his smaller participation in this show as it is.

There are also the Ryan fans who want more from him in this show as well. Since he, seemingly anyway, stepped back into the picture pretty late in the game for this tour, I think we have to cut Sharon Browne a bit of slack on that one.

It appears I was right when I said some time back that they don’t want to be using the “Heritage” label any more. Apparently they are just using the “Voyage” title. Kind of makes things confusing when you put the “Heritage” name out to all the ticketing agencies, promoters, and PBS stations back in the early spring. They are all calling this the “Heritage Tour.” This is just another piece of evidence of one of the main problems I believe that CT management has, lack of continuity in just about everything.

The lineup of singers has also been a point of contention for some. Emmet Cahill we have known about for quite a while now, and of course Neil Byrne was promoted, once again, to principle singer. The “surprise” singer turned out to be a 13 year old lad named Daniel Furlong. I can’t say that I’m surprised at Sharon doing this, but I do find it rather cliché. I’m pretty sure I remember an interview from her near the beginning of CT saying that they hadn’t been looking for a 14 year old boy during the original auditions, but the talent of Damian was impossible to pass up. Seems that a youngster is now a requirement. I have to say, the kid has a ton of potential. I’m not sure I’m up for all the “cutesy” stuff that is in store for us knowing Sharon. It worked once, but it can be overdone. I personally think it’s extremely cliché to have the lad sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” but none of these things are his fault. I also have to take a bit of umbrage, as have a few others, at Sharon calling him the new “baby” and using him to fight her empty nest syndrome. Hey, that is her sentiment, read her blog.

There is still no announcement on the date and location for the filming. The original target date was Oct. 3rd. Almost a month ago Sharon said that the arrangements were almost done but just waiting for everything to be finalized. If it is to be done on that target date, then it better be announced soon, and anyone wishing to travel better have a boatload of money for flights and hotels. There won’t be any “early booking” discounts. I think at this point, a lot of people are going to be disappointed in the resulting DVD, just because they haven’t read what is going to be produced. It wouldn’t sink in for some if they had read it. Her explanation of what is going to be produced was buried, as I recall, in a reply to someone’s comment on her blog. The entire show will be filmed, but it will be edited down to an hour for airing on PBS. That means it will be approximately half of the show, and another half-DVD.

Using that information, I think we can safely rule out “500 Miles” from being on the DVD. That will give George even less exposure and rile up his fans. I can pretty much guarantee that “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” will make the final cut.

Paul

What do you really know?

Probably not as much as you think, particularly when it comes to the workings of Celtic Thunder.

I guess there needs to be a little history here. Last spring there was a sudden announcement posted that CT would be holding auditions in Ireland for a second touring group of five men. Naturally, that set off a bit of a firestorm from the faithful. Had me wondering too. The explanation was that they were going to be releasing previous DVD’s and CD’s in other parts of the world and the original five would not be able to tour everywhere and still keep the American fans happy. It was also stated that with Damian maturing, he wouldn’t be able to do some of the songs he did in the original show. Actually, I think it is more a matter of him not wanting to do them again. In reality, he isn’t any older than the people who did those songs originally. In any case, this whole idea was extremely unfair to just about everybody involved. Those guys had certainly earned the right to experience doing the show in other parts of the world, and the people in those parts of the world certainly had the right to see the original members. You know, the ones they had seen on the DVD’s and had become attracted to.

It didn’t take long for this explanation to morph into something else. Something that would seem to be more palatable to the masses. Now the reasoning was the need for understudies in case there was any problem along the way such as illness or family obligations. There’s some definate reasonableness to that.

Before expanding on this second concept, I have to interject something. It was at this point that there was just extreme ridiculousness being spread about. A certain, small group of folks would attack with a vengeance anyone who expressed any concern or disagreement with these ideas. Their premise was that if you disagreed with Sharon Browne, the producer of CT, about anything she did, then you just weren’t a true fan. If that’s the case, then CT would have died very soon thereafter for lack of support. These people seem to think they are going to receive some sort of great, personal consideration if they prostrate themselves before Sharon in adoration. Who knows, maybe they do. Not my style. I don’t blindly follow anyone or anything. I have a mind and I will use it.

Now, back to the understudy situation. We were told that they would need to have 5 guys because all of the present members were unique in their style and voices. Absolutly agreeable. The thought of five similar guys made a lot of sense. Leading up to, and for months after, we were given nothing. No idea how the auditions went, whether they found anything remotely close to what they were looking for, or even if as many as five guys showed up.

When the Christmas DVD came out in late November, we had our first clue. Okay, I am going to admit right up front….I am weird. My therapist would be so proud of me. Yeah, I’m one of those strange people who actually looks at the credits at the end. Right there were listed two names as Principle Understudies. Only two, not five. Economically speaking, that’s understandable.

Within a week of that release, one of the members of the group, Paul Byrom announced he would be leaving CT at the end of the tour. A little later, it was announced one of those understudies, Emmet Cahill would be stepping into the vacated spot. This made sense since both of them are classically trained tenors. What we found out later didn’t make sense at all. Turns out he was also the understudy for Damian, who is a bass baritone. Who’s idea was that?  It showed what a strange decision that was on QVC on St. Patrick’s Day when he took the bass part in All God’s Creatures. Lost every shred of impact.

Not too long after that is when we were informed that Damian was part of the The Glee Project. Of course, that whole thing was completed by that point, and it was known whether he won or not. They just couldn’t tell us yet. A couple weeks after that, we get another little piece of poorly explained news. There is going to be a surprise performer. I have several issues to cover on this. First, it may just be the cultural difference, the different way of saying things that causes some problems. The way Sharon states it makes it sound as if this person will only appear at the first show. I really don’t believe that. Why would you do that? Why have someone only appear in one show like that, unless, of course, your intention is to whizz off all those people who will be attending the other 59 concerts. Since what was supposed to be the first show sold out and a second one was scheduled at that venue for the day before, then the people who thought they had bought tickets to the first show could be really peeved. That’s a problem I don’t think you want to address.

I really believe this person is going to be around for the duration of the tour. The question in my mind is when did this come about? I suppose something could be arranged rather quickly if things happen to fall into place just right. I think it would be more normal for negotiations like this to take a bit of time. Was this person brought on board to fill Damian’s spot as necessary, or was it just a fortuitous happenstance to have that extra person at the precise moment needed? In any case, I think a large part of this person’s presence is to insure that at least 5 guys are on the stage. And I’m not ruling out the departure of others either. It does make me wonder if poor Neil might find himself as “just a member of the band” again at some point.

I also wonder about the “surprise” aspect of this. To me, that mean’s this person is known by most, or at least many. Otherwise, what’s the surprise? If it’s just another new performer, it becomes simply a matter of, “Oh how nice, who the hell is that?”

Indeed, I still opine at what has happened to that other understudy. Is he still around? Has he just been passed over for whatever reason? Did they decide that whatever compensation he was receiving for sitting in the bullpen was unjustified? Did something else more satisfying come along for him. Where are you, lad?

Recently, we got another couple snippets that intrigue me. Apparently no one else is interested, so that bolsters my confidence that it could be of significance. There is mention of getting the recordings of a choir, for mixing into the CD and backing tracks on tour. I’ve talked about those extra tracks you hear at concerts before. It seems no one else notices these things. No, really Doc……I’m sure I don’t hear voices!!

It is completely understandable that there won’t be a choir along on the tour. It’s awfully hard to justify the expense of X number of people for one, or two, songs. Wouldn’t be surprised if one is present for the taping of the show.

The other thing that interests me is……well, I’m totally surprised that Sharon even made this statement.

“…safety vocals in case anyone gets sick on the tour “

Now that has some implications, and brings up some strange images in my head. Does this mean we might hear the song, but just be looking at an empty stage? Might we be enjoying a song only to see one of them break out into a coughing fit, while the song continues on? Is this to be used in an ensemble number where one of them has a solo line, but won’t actually be up there? I don’t know, I think my therapist is going to be getting a couple of boat payments out of me this week.

The underlying point of all this is…..we really don’t know squat!! I don’t think I have actually answered any questions, just posed a whole bunch of new ones. For all of you who love to use that abominable phrase that Sharon is so good at “keeping us in the loop,” well……just keep going around in circles.

Paul

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