Today’s column touches on a lot of my personal musical preferences that include great vocal harmonies and Celtic music. It is served up by a quartet of gentlemen from Ireland — Finbarr Clancy, Brian Dunphy, Paul O’Brian and Darren Holden — known as The High Kings. When I discovered that they were heading to the Waterville Opera House, which has been canceled, and after I’d listened to some of their performance videos, a phone interview was a must-have event, as far as I was concerned. Fortunately, a conversation was arranged that found Darren Holden calling me (with that great Irish accent) to chat about his band and their upcoming show in Waterville. I began by relating how I came to love Irish music.

Q: I’ve got to tell you, when in high school, my Sunday afternoons and evenings found me playing penny-ante poker and listening to The Clancy Brothers.
Holden: Oh, cool — very, very good! Like many others, I imagine.

Q: I’m not sure about the penny-ante part, though. But it was those incredible close vocal harmonies, Celtic melodies and high energy that was so enjoyable, and you guys have all of that in spades, for sure.
Holden: Yeah, it’s just a thing with us — it was sort of our signature sound that we put on the band when we first started. It was the very first time we got together in a studio in Dublin back in 2007. We literally just sat down in a circle in the studio and just started to sing in four-part harmonies — an instant connection with each other musically — and we just kind of felt the magic and connection there. We felt that there was something special with it because just singing without music is always a special thing. I love harmonies.

Q: I agree completely. That has always been a big part of the music that I have listened to all my life.
Holden: I love harmony groups in any genre of music, but it’s always sort of extra special to be in a band that could do that and just stop all the music a couple of times during a show and do a cappella — people seem to really react and connect to that, too.

Q: You’re right! I don’t care if it’s thrash, speed metal, pop, rock or Gregorian chant — it makes no difference as long as it’s close vocal harmonies, that’s all that counts.
Holden: Exactly, and I remember being 11 years old and on a road trip in the United Kingdom with my older brother, who played the Beach Boys the whole, entire trip. I had never heard of the Beach Boys before, and I was absolutely sold immediately from that day on to this. … It’s just incredible, really.

Q: Where are you calling from, if I may ask?
Holden: I’m in the back of the tour bus outside the venue here in Chicago, Illinois — we’re here for two nights and we have two sold-out shows here, so it’s going really, really well. We just literally started our 40-day American tour on Wednesday last in Kansas City, Missouri. … It’s just been a real pleasure so far. It’s always daunting to start a very long tour abroad, but the audiences over here in the United States make us feel incredibly welcome, and they’re very generous to us. … We’ve had people who have already come to every one of the shows so far — we’ve done four — so it’s incredible over here.

Q: Have you ever played up here in Maine before?
Holden: I don’t think we’ve done Maine at all, actually, but I know it’s quite beautiful up there. I was there years ago with the Broadway musical, “Movin’ Out,” and I think we did “Riverdance” up there about 18, 19 years ago, also — myself and Brian Dunphy from the band were in “Riverdance.”

Q: Well, I would say that The High Kings seemed poised to make quite a mark for themselves in the world of music. You four guys have formed a musically profitable alliance.
Holden: Yeah, it has been since it was formed almost 13 years ago. Most bands have a shelf life but I think it’s probably the genre of music we’re doing — Irish folk music — it’s storytelling, it’s the real connection. You know, songs about hard times, good times, sad times, happy times — everybody relates to an Irish song in some way and they can apply it to their own lives. We are actually enjoying the most successful period of this band, which is phenomenal, really, because you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s probably time to start winding down and maybe going on to the next thing, but there’s absolutely no signs of this slowing down. We just did an Irish tour that has been the biggest, highest attended Irish tour that we’ve ever done, and on this American tour a lot of dates have been selling out already — and dates have been added for the summer and for next year already. So, you really have to pinch yourself sometimes, but I guess when you enjoy what you’re doing and you become better and better at it, you know, it’s a really privileged position to be in. It’s just really magic for us.

Q: So, this is going to be not only a venue debut but a State debut for The High Kings.
Holden: Yeah, and that’s always special for us … the way we look at it now is that it is all about breaking new territories and here in the states there’s still a few territories for us to break. We haven’t performed in five or six states around the country up to now, so I think we’re going to be doing them on this tour. The reactions we’ve been getting so far have been wonderful … and we’re so grateful for it.

Q: Is there anything you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Holden: You can just tell them that we’re very, very excited to come to the area, and tell them to bring their singing voices and just be prepared to have two hours of fun with four crazy Irish guys who just love to do what they do.

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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