Fr David says: “We are delighted that we have had the opportunity to record a new album. The last one was 2010, so it’s been a while. The whole process of trying to identify suitable music and arrange it so that it’s suitable for us has been very stimulating. It’s been good fun to be back in the recording studio. We come to it now with a good bit of experience behind us. We are more relaxed about it, now we just enjoy it. And we can’t wait to get out and play some new songs for our American friends”.
“The first album signing was all a bit of a whirlwind,” says Fr Eugene. “It was really accidental rather than by design. We went from obscurity to being very well known.” One minute they were sitting in confession, listening to the troubles of rural parishioners in Northern Ireland. The next they were collecting gold and platinum discs from Ireland, the UK, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, France, Norway, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. One minute they were making their way to isolated farms to meet members of their local community, the next they were being flown to St Peter’s Basilica, to record at The Vatican.
The Priests were an instant success. Their debut album was released in more than 40 countries and was the subject of TV documentaries in the UK and USA. It became the fastest-selling UK debut for a classical act and sold more than one million copies in Ireland alone. That record still stands.
David says: “We were very busy the first couple of years, recording and releasing those albums. The albums were released internationally which meant there was a lot of travel, which took us around the world. It was very interesting and pleasant but very demanding and tiring as well. We were trying to make sure all our duties in the parish were covered. After three albums, we decided it was time to reduce our travelling and spend more time in our parishes.
Martin says: “We didn’t expect that level of success at all. It was somewhat meteoric. It developed over a very short and intense period of time. Sony initially approached us and offered us a contract for the UK and Ireland. Then they decided to go global. We were absolutely flummoxed and delighted and intrigued. It’s safe to say, we were not your average boy band! We insisted that the Sony contract ensured our parish duties were not compromised. And, to their credit, they agreed.
The Priests are pleased that since then, they’ve had time to catch their breath and make sense of their extraordinary rise.
While The Priests might have been forgiven for leaving behind their pastoral duties and enjoying the jet-set life of global stars, they did precisely the opposite. At the top of their priority list was the needs of people in local villages and towns, who wanted to hear the gospel.
The Priests view their music as a force for good. It has a unifying quality that brings together people of all faiths.
Eugene says: “We came out of a very troubled environment in Northern Ireland and we always found that music was a great healer. It gave people the opportunity to meet people from other traditions. Music always created a very safe environment, particularly during The Troubles, which were raging when we were going to college. Today’s world is topsy turvy and there are still serious threats on the world stage. It’s a bewildering place for people. Music gives people a sense of calm, serenity and hope.”
Martin agrees: “Music is a language all of its own. It can speak where words cannot. I am totally convinced that in our history here with The Troubles, music was always a bridging point. Through it all, across all the different faiths, and none, music was a considerable help in concentrating people’s goodness and proclaiming a positive message. It has been an important medicine in bringing healing and peace in this part of the world.
Fr David adds: “We’ve tried to be ourselves and to be natural and I think maybe that has given people a different perception of religion than they might have been used to, and a positive one I hope. But we haven’t set out with an agenda to do that. That wasn’t part of our thinking. If that’s happened, it’s good, but it’s not been part of our process.”
The Priests have found a happy medium, where they are able to balance the responsibilities of parish life with maintaining a global career. By co-ordinating their diaries, seeking the support of colleagues and devoting their energies to their music, they remain at the forefront of religious and secular music.
The classical music trio have more ideas in the pipeline and hope the release of their fourth album will be followed by a feature film, called Raising the Roof. The movie is currently in pre-production and could give them the opportunity to enjoy a red carpet premiere. After their US tour they have a Christmas tour of Ireland planned, a celebration of their 10 years of being a bonefide group.
Martin says: “When we perform live we have a wonderful opportunity to engage with the audience. We find it very uplifting and reassuring. But I always keep in my mind that there will be people in the audience who need a good night out – it’s not a vigil. There is humour and banter and we sing secular pieces as well. The audience goes home with a spring in their step. And so do we!”