Interview With The High Kings – A Look Back At The Past 10 Years

One of the most beloved Irish folk groups today is celebrating their 10th anniversary. Ireland’s The High Kings, have just released an album that showcases some of the bands incredible work over the past decade, with a couple of new tracks as well. The album, Decade: Best Of The High Kings is currently available worldwide. We caught up with members Darren Holden and Finbarr Clancy, to talk a little bit about their recent milestone and their latest release as well.

Congrats on this stunning release! How does it feel to look back on ten years of music?

Finbarr: It feels surreal that 10 years have passed by so quickly, it really only feels like we’re at this a few years. They say time flies when you’re having fun so that might explain it.

Darren: It feels unbelievable to be honest as I still can’t quite grasp that its been 10 years. We have had quite the amazing journey from 2008 to now and its been incredible to be a part of something so exciting. The album is number 1 in Ireland as I speak which is huge for us.

Was it challenging to select the tracks to be featured on this collection, or was it an effortless choice?

Darren: Our management and record label decided the track listing on what they felt were the most popular songs based on Spotify etc. All of our studio albums to date were represented except the “Friends For Life” album which is owned by Sony Records. Thats the reason “Oh Maggie” wasn’t included, as its probably the most requested song at all our shows in Europe and the USA. A huge crowd sing-along and favourite and the most played original High kings song on Spotify and iTunes. So many fans were messaging us to find out if it was on there. There are some great new studio recordings of our biggest songs in the set including “The town I Loved So Well” and “The Rare Aul Times” which are always very popular in concert.

Are there any songs you recorded that you are now regretting not including?

Finbarr: I think we pretty much covered all the songs we wanted to include in ‘Decade’. There are however a long list of songs we’ve yet to record but they’re for future albums.

Darren: Yes, “Oh Maggie” is one that should absolutely have made the album. Its always massive for us in Germany. “The leaving of Liverpool” is another. “All Around the World” should’ve been on there too. Its always difficult to include every song you feel should be included, but those 3, without a doubt could’ve been on there as they would be more popular than some of the songs included according to our fans around the globe.

Are there any plans for a tour outside of Ireland in support of the release?

Finbarr: Absolutely. But we’re kicking off this tour in Ireland, Mooncoin, County Kilkeeny Dec 8th to be precise, which is Darrens home town. We will of course tour the U.S and Canada as well as mainland Europe and the U.K, possibly venturing even further a field it’s hard to tell.

“We may possibly tour this album for 2 years before we record another studio album.” – Darren Holden

If you had to choose a single song to introduce your work to a new listener, which one would you pick and why?

Finbarr: There are so many that come to mind but if I had to pick one it would have to be “Rocky Road to Dublin”, it’s been our first song since day one and there’s a fantastic energy to it, it sets the tone for the rest of the concert and audiences love it.

Darren: “The Town I Loved so Well” is a prime example of us taking a tried and tested classic song and have the nerve and the belief to reimagine it in a way thats not been done before. I had to figure out a way to deliver this song in a fresh new way that fans hadn’t experienced before. The story is heartbreaking and uplifting and I felt it needed to start quietly and grow into an emotional climax, a song that takes the audience on a journey with me. The reaction it gets around the world when I sing it is always memorable. Its always so humbling to see the crowd rise to their feet in appreciation and I never take it for granted. The writer, Phil Coulter has called me many times to say how grateful he is for how I sing it. You can’t get a better endorsement that that.

23rd May 2017. The High Kings at Sun Studios. Photo by Aidan Oliver

A lot of younger fans have discovered traditional Irish folk because of you guys, and many older fans have rediscovered their love for this type of music, because of you as well. I’d imagine it’s really cool to have such a broad fanbase?

Finbarr: It ceases to amaze us how diverse our audiences can be. We’ve seen multi generations of the same family from toddlers to grand parents at our concerts, it feels really cool to think that our songs can be appreciated and sung by all in the family regardless of age.

It’s an incredible feeling to see so many people of all demographics at our shows. They range from 4 to 94 and each and every one of them are always so tuned in to what we are about. I grew up listening to “The Dubliners” who were the greatest balladeers and to hear so many young people and aspiring musicians say that we are their main influences is beyond explanation. So many new folk bands have started and said that we are the reason they got into the business. Thats really something special to hear. The wheel keeps turning.

What have been so of your favorite moments, or memorable experiences as a band over the past decade?

Finbarr: There has been so many but performing at the White House for President Obama for St. Patrick’s day was a particular highlight. Performing as part of a televised celebration of the centenary of the 1916 rising, performing for the President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins and getting an invitation to perform for the President of the joint chief’s of staff General Martin Dempsey at the Pentagon were all very cool thing we got to do.

Darren: I had previously performed solo at The White House in 2004 for President Bush, so I always hoped that the band would get an opportunity to do that and we did in 2011 when President Obama invited us to perform in the East Wing for St Patricks Day”. It’s a memory that will live forever. Also, perfuming a private show at The Pentagon for General Martin Dempsey in 2015 was surreal. We have had way too many to mention to be honest. Thankfully.

Celtic/Folk music is deeply tied to tradition, but your sound has a lot of personality. How do you balance following traditions, while bringing innovation to your performances

Finbarr: I’ve said many times it’s like walking a tightrope, you want to respect the song but at the same time put a little individual spin on it. I think we’ve done well so far but only because we didn’t venture too far from the message and feeling of the song, that’s the most important thing.

Darren:Irish Folk music had probably gotten a bit stale when we came along. What I mean is….you might hear a ballad sung any old way, with all the same tired arrangements that had been done for years. It wasn’t being cared for and I had an issue with that. Coming from a Broadway/ Theatre/ Rock and Pop background , I felt that while the music needed to be authentic, it also needed to be delivered in a most professional way. I have no time for singing a great song any old way. Either you feel it and believe in it, or don’t go near it at all. I believe that us shaking things up made folks fans sit up and take notice of these new kids on the block that were doing it our way. Now so many bands and singers use our arrangement when they perform live.

The Black Velvet Band, one of the tracks you’ll find on Decade: Best Of The High Kings.

Do you guys have any plans for 2018 that you can talk about?

Finbarr: Celebrating 10 years together as a band is a milestone, we plan on having the biggest party imaginable with our audiences in 2018, so come and join the party!

Darren: We will be touring the new album for some of the year in various countries around the world. The demand has never been greater and promoters everywhere are looking for us to appear in so many places. Always a good thing. I hope to be able to spend a lot more time with my family next year too as thats the most important thing for me.

Thank you so much for chatting with us, is there anything else you’d like to add for the fans?

Finbarr: We look forward to seeing you all over the course of our ‘Decade Tour’, ’till then take care and we’ll see you soon.

Darren: The fans are everything to us. Without them, there is no High Kings. Simple. As long as they want to hear us, we will be around. They will let us know when our time is up, but for now, it doesn’t look like its anytime soon!

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