Music News & Reviews

Ever-changing lineup provides Celtic Woman freshness with fans

In much of the music world, personnel changes can spell the end of a band’s career. Even if a group survives a change in a key member, there’s no guarantee fans will accept the new edition of the group. But in the world of Celtic Woman, which this winter welcomed Susan McFadden, the ninth singer to join its ranks, change may be an asset for the group.

At least that’s how Chloe Agnew, one of two remaining original members of the Irish-accented vocal group, sees it.

“I think when people come along to see us, they know that. Celtic Woman has new faces all the time,” Agnew said. “It’s ever-changing, it’s ever-fresh, it’s ever-new. And I think some people are still glad to see that there are still two originals left there, myself and (violinist) Mairead (Nesbitt). We love it. We stuck it out, and we’re so happy to be here.”

A huge part of Celtic Woman is embracing the new combined with the old, she said.

In fact, Agnew said, being able to change and evolve as new members come and go may be the thing that enables Celtic Woman to have a far longer life than the usual music group.

Certainly the evolving lineup hasn’t hindered Celtic Woman — which performs April 12 at Wichita’s Century II — so far.

Originally, Celtic Woman was created for a one-off television special filmed in Ireland, and musical director David Downes and producer Sharon Bowne essentially recruited four singers and fiddle player Nesbitt to perform that single concert. Instead, PBS picked up the film of that performance, and it became a popular fundraising program for PBS in 2005. This helped pave the way for the release of the show as a concert DVD that sold more than 1 million copies. In all, the group has sold more than 6 million copies of its CDs and DVDs.

The success has been sustained as the lineup has seen singers leave, and others join and then depart. Original member Lisa Kelly, expecting a baby in May, stepped away, and McFadden joined Agnew and Lisa Lambe (who joined Celtic Woman last year) as the singers in the group.

Kelly, though, was still on board for the newest Celtic Woman project, “Believe,” released Jan. 24. It’s a dual release, with a concert DVD capturing the live debut of the “Believe” material when the group performed it last fall at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, and a CD featuring studio versions of the new songs.

Agnew said the “Believe” project offers something fresh for Celtic Woman fans.

“I think with ‘Believe,’ we decided to choose music that would inspire,” she said. “It can be a very stressful and troubled world we live in right now, and I think the idea behind ‘Believe’ was choosing music that would inspire a little bit of hope and a bit of faith in these troubled times. We chose music like ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and these powerful songs that are very moving, and they mean a lot to people all over the world. I think that was the idea behind this particular ‘Believe’ album.”

Audiences can expect the show Celtic Woman is taking on tour this year to feature many elements of the concert that was filmed for the “Believe” DVD.

“With this particular show, I mean, the set is quite similar, the lights, the costumes, it’s all pretty similar to what you see on the DVD,” Agnew said. “So it’s great to have those elements that people know, they they’ve seen it on the television (the DVD was aired on PBS in December) and now they want to see it in person.

“We’ve taken a lot of the music we’ve recorded, and we’re going to be performing all of that new music live,” she said. “Of course, we’re going to be mixing it up with some of our fan favorites and some of the old classic Celtic Woman songs that people love to hear.”

A key difference, of course, will be McFadden’s presence. Although she’s stepping into the slot held by Kelly, audiences shouldn’t expect McFadden to be a carbon copy of Kelly within the show.

“She is a completely different voice to myself and Lisa Lambe,” Agnew said of McFadden. “And she has a musical theater background and theater training, so that’s her approach to music. It’s a little more theatrical, and it’s a different kind of performance to myself and Lisa Lambe.”

Agnew knows McFadden from being in productions as kids. While Agnew has made quite a name for herself in Celtic Woman, McFadden has had major success in theater and television.

“We lost touch over the years, and she kind of grew up and she moved to London and performed over there,” Agnew said. “But I always, always followed her career and followed her wonderful success and am a huge admirer of hers. So I’m a little in awe of her joining us now and a little bit star struck by her being around us. It’s fantastic to have her with us. I know she will bring something new to Celtic Woman. She brings a whole new beauty and a whole new musical beauty to Celtic Woman. I’m very excited to actually get on stage and perform with her.”