Celtic Woman In Excelsius
Celtic Woman is a lush construct of popular contemporary and Irish folk music. My mad love for the collective is established beyond any doubt.
They are a hugely talented group of beautiful, sophisticated songstresses who have achieved deserved international stardom. These women are no honky-tonkin’, Jack-with-Coke back, Saturday-night karaoke warblers. These women are professionals. And to have made it into this group of women is to be in an élite group indeed.
Since Celtic Woman’s inception in 2004 there have been many permutations. The current 2016 line-up consists of four women: Éabha McMahon, Susan McFadden (an actress and singer hired in 2012), Máiréad Carlin (hired in 2013 to replace Chloë Agnew (who took a sabbatical starting in August 2013), and the only original member, fiddler Máiréad Nesbitt.
Although Celtic Woman (the big concept) is a case of the whole definitely being greater than the sum of its parts, these women (as “parts”) bring a lot of charisma with them to the Celtic Woman table.
On its surface, Celtic Woman may appear to be a democracy with no technical “front woman”, though I thought former member Chloë was a stand-out for that particular job. She was very personable on stage. Sure, she was a little chubby, but her extra layer of love didn’t dissuade me from any evil thoughts.
And then, of course, there is the fiery Freya of the Fiddle, Ms. Nesbitt. She is a whole different Celtic Woman altogether.
This gorgeous porcelain doll is some little package (andCredit: celticwoman.com she is very petite). Her stamina and energy levels are unreal. Despite how it may look as if they never break a sweat on their DVDs, these women work almost as hard as The Ramones on the road. They tour about eight months out of every year, doing five or six nights a week depending upon their schedules.
That’s roughly over 200 shows a year (not to mention all the PR and promotion work). Also, almost every woman in the group has side projects going. Lisa Lambe, for example, (one of the more recent ex-members), was an established actress; how she planned to schedule any acting work with the Celtic Woman Tour of Global Domination always in the forefront, I didn’t know.
For those who haven’t seen anything of these ladies yet, Celtic Woman’s extravaganzas of Sturm und Drang usually run a couple of hours. While the other three babes handle the vocal duties stage front, Máiréad Nesbitt spends most of her time flying around in her heels and skirts, sawing away like a mad woman on her fiddle, whirling like some golden-girl Celtic dervish. It’s quite a feat. [I don’t know how many readers play instruments, but those who do can confirm how tiring it is to manage playing and cavorting at the same time.]
Her hotness, her musical talent, and her sexy/smiling allure are why, out of all the Celtic women, I am most madly in love with Máiréad Nesbitt.
In my lifetime I have had the extremely good fortune to have enjoyed the company of several visual artists and musicians. [Any halfway hot-looking babe who can strap on a vintage Stratocaster and make it scream wins my heart instantly, but I’ve also had a flautist and one woman who played the lute, of all things.] Some creative writers and one poetess round out my artistic womanly picture (oh, and one ceramist I just remembered).
If you are a woman and you can wield a creative weapon I will do anything you say. I will even learn to love your cat, Mr. Licks ’Nads, as long as you occasionally whip out that Strat, plug in, and play the opening riff to “Back in Black”. Naked.
So the combination of the ethereal blond, hazel-eyed doll plus a fiddle is too much for me to take. And this goddess is no stand-around fiddler either. At just 5’2” she looms larger than life as she hurls herself about, storming the stage front, crouching on the runway, bouncing around to a jig.
She reminds me of Stevie Nicks in her earlier glory days, a swirling apparition in heels, lace, satin, flowing skirts, and whipping hair.
And she always smiles (except when she’s leering, and I’ll get to that).
Mysterious Maid Máiréad
Máiréad Nesbitt is an enigma.
She will readily discuss anything having to do with her music, her life as a Celtic Woman, her musical influences. She will talk at length about almost any subject except herself. Some of her silence on that count is quite understandable. Celebrities rarely enjoy moments of not being scrutinized. She takes her privacy intensely seriously, however. She is probably, in that sense, the least accessible of the Celtic women.
Anything to do with her personal life is either unknown or speculative. Máiréad’s pet privacy peeve has to do with questions about how old she is (it is not as if she is Grandma Moses by any stretch).
Here, in her own words, is why she never talks about it:
“I don’t talk about my age. It’s the principle, because men are never asked their age and women are. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the music.”
She’s absolutely right to take a stand on that sort of superficial questioning (you might as well ask her bra size; it’s just as irrelevant, but I’m guessing 32B anyway). But her insistence on speaking of nothing about her personal life has led to rampant rumor-mongering in Web forums (even on the official Celtic Woman site). She does not make it easy for anyone simply trying to construct a basic biography of her.
Her birth date, for example: April 18 is the day. But as for a year, your guess is as good as mine. I have narrowed it to one of three possibilities: 1975, 1979, or 1980. [Not to make her feel unnaturally older than she is, but I’m personally inclined to go with 1975 based upon her entry into higher education and the early start of her career as a professional.] The age thing doesn’t bother me (wow, she’d be all of 39 in 2014 at her oldest).
But I do need to know who she's shtupping so I can be insanely jealous. These love letters aren’t nearly as much fun if I don’t have a Jimmy Kimmel or a Tom Green to riff on. And no one seemed to know anything about her romantic relationships. She was allegedly (rumored) pregnant in 2003, but had no children. She was romantically linked as of early 2011 to some guy name Duke Spencer. For once, she didn’t hide something – she sent out her own Twitter post in late November 2011 when she married this lucky shmuck in Maui. I was devastated!! [And I still don’t know her bra size, and I’ve searched everywhere!!]
This Venus in miniature has her own Web site which helps matters not one whit. She has a story, and she’s stickin’ to it, by gum! Variations on the PR bio are about all you’ll find. She was born into a musical family named Nesbitt. She has a sister and four brothers (six kids—I did mention she was Irish, right?). She’s not such a long way from Tipperary; she was born there in 1975, 1979, or 1980 (you pick which year you like). Her family is sort of like Irish Osmonds, and they are well-known enough in their homeland to have had a television documentary made about them.
She took up the fiddle at age six. Although she cites her parents and other members of her family as influences (they are all musicians) she also mentions classical violinist Itzhak Perlman, country artist Alison Kraus, and rockers David Bowie (d: Jan, 10, 2016), Sting, and U2 as influences as well. Her formal training started at the Ursuline Convent in Thurles. She went on to The Waterford Institute of Technology and the London Royal Academy. Her post-graduate studies under a maestro focused on violin and piano.
Máiréad’s star shone brightly, very early. She is a former All-Ireland fiddle champion. She was a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland. She cut her first record at the long-in-the-tooth age of 12. Her professional career as a violinist started with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in 1991 when she was 16.
Irish Music Magazine awarded her the title of “Best Traditional Female” in 2003. Her musical reputation brought her to the attention of several bigger named artists and she has worked with Van Morrison, Sinéad O'Connor, Clannad, Emmylou Harris, Chris De Burgh, and Jimmy Webb, in addition to many homegrown Irish acts not known outside the Emerald Isle. In 2009 she was presented with an Irish Music Association Award. Her CV includes many more side projects and guest appearances on other artist’s records.
She does get around.
Her biggest break, though, came in her earlier work as a musician on several big musicals, Lord of the Dance (lead fiddler, 1996-1998), Feet of Flames (lead fiddler, 1998-2001), and finally Riverdance (played on the soundtrack. That show also featured future Celtic Woman, Lisa Kelly).
She knew David Downes (musical director of Riverdance, the man who, along with Sharon Browne, conceived of Celtic Woman). She recalls, “At the time he asked me, we were doing a play together at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He rang me up and asked me to do just one night of a concert that would be called Celtic Woman. We didn’t think it would be going on six years later.”
This gave her the chance to realize her stage persona of the wispy, ethereal, energetic fiddler. The New York Times wrote about her in 2007:
“In her corset-laced gown, her long hair whipping wildly, she positively gyrates around the stage. Celtic Woman’s gentle sexiness tips over the edge whenever she appears.”
“It was part of the plan when they asked me. They wanted a specific thing and they knew I did it, I guess . . . It just seemed to fit . . . from an entertainment point of view and from a musical point of view.”
Musically, she has traveled the globe. Her work in Celtic Woman has brought her international attention. In addition to her own web-site, there are several fan sites as well. The fan-sites, if you check them out, are awfully protective of her.
Hilariously, one in particular advised that if you plan on posting or using her name, to please make sure you use the accent marks properly above the first “a” and the “e”, because anything less is misspelling it. They even helpfully set up a couple of flash key options for you so the ordinary illiterate can get the proper spelling done right. [The thing that makes this funny was the tone of the directive, sort of like “If you don’t spell her name right, you’re scum, and you can’t play with us”. Chances are, it may mildly annoy her for her name to be misspelled, but I’m sure it’s something she’s dealt with all her life, and can’t possibly care that much.] Also, her fan-sites generally follow her privacy issues, and I spotted several threads that got cut off right smart when the poster started into the “is she married” sort of thing.
Máiréad’s played on the soundtracks for Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, and Feet of Flames. She’s covered three world tours as the original lead fiddle in Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames. She tours with her own band, and has played and recorded with a fusion outfit, Afro-Celt Sound System. She’s also given a private performance for one of the British Royal Family, Princess Anne, in Dublin in 2004. She’s done the original music for the Disney movie, Tinkerbell (2008; kind of proper given Máiréad’s diminutive stature). She played on the sequel to this movie’s soundtrack (2009), too.
Irish music is typically improvised or played by ear. Classical music is extremely disciplined, a by-the-book operation. It includes a vibrato sound atypical of traditional Celtic music. Máiréad brought that warbling to her playing, however.
This melding of styles led to one particularly scathing review I saw of her first adult record, Raining Up (released in 2001 in the UK; 2006 in the US). The argument by the early Irish News reviewer was that the work wasn’t traditional Celtic music. [I’m pretty sure she has never claimed to be a purist. Like many versatile musicians she borrows and alters and discards what works for her needs. It’s called creativity.] He also bellyached about a particular instrumental for which she called in two of her brothers to fiddle with her.
His confusion probably comes from her interest of blending styles of classical and Celtic, and I think this guy just didn’t get it. That record is no more “traditional” than Celtic Woman’s music is. Even in their performances one can hear some jazz inflections in her playing in addition to the classical bowing and the flat out jack-hammering of the truly traditional. Both Celtic Woman and Máiréad as a soloist use elements of Irish folk (sometimes playing it straight) but more often twist it into something slightly different. No crime there. It’s okay not to like something; just make sure you dislike it for the right reasons.
You want purity of form, buddy, go call Clannad.
The Fifth Ramone
As noted by anyone who’s ever seen her on a stage Máiréad had energy to burn.
Credit: celticwoman.comFrankly, she wears me out watching her: racing the length of the runway separating the orchestra from the main stage at a full run, her hair flying, her slitted skirts swirling, revealing a thigh cut of pure alabaster, its every muscle taut as an Olympic gymnast’s. [One more reason why Celtic Woman’s DVDs watched at home with your thumb on the “pause” button is wayyyy better than seeing them live!!] Máiréad’s gams are seriously toned. I guess they’d have to be, considering the work out they get almost nightly (mmmmm . . . workouuuttt).
And, yes, I’m pretty sure there’s a bad girl under the quasi-sweet exterior. She has a subtle sensuality edged with a slightly fevered sexiness when she’s whipped into a fury. Look at this picture and tell me that leer doesn’t scream there’s a bad girl just under the surface. [Now if I could just get her to wear a tool belt on-stage . . . ]
She has enough moxie and energy that she could have played with the Ramones, and I really think she could have kept up. That’s a tough job; Clem Burke (Blondie’s excellent drummer) was a Ramone once literally for two gigs (under the name “Elvis Ramone”). As great a drummer as Clem Burke is, he could not hang tough with The Ramones!
But I think she could, so I hereby dub her an honorary Ramone. I can just see her in my head, right now, screeching out a brilliant fiddle solo in the middle of “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg”:Credit: Vic Dillingerâ„¢, Â© 2011
Stradivarius sexpot, honorary Ramone—Máiréad Nesbitt is the artistic type that makes my blood boil. I know it’s no vintage Stratocaster, but I’ll just bet you if she played the opening riffs to “Back in Black” on that fiddle of hers, naked, it would be hotter than anything I could imagine.
It’s why I am madly in love with Máiréad Nesbitt.Credit: celticwoman.com