‘We’re lucky... here and in US’, say The High Kings ahead of Cork Opera House show

Ronan Leonard chats to The High Kings’ Darren Holden about songwriting and touring ahead of their Cork Opera House show.
‘We’re lucky... here and in US’, say The High Kings ahead of Cork Opera House show

Ronan Leonard chats to The High Kings’ Darren Holden about songwriting and touring ahead of their Cork Opera House show.

While The High Kings had planned to be touring Ireland for the next two months, they did not expect to be having a Christmas song hit while doing it, Darren Holden, who plays the accordion, mandolin, guitar and keyboard as well as singing with the group, explains just how things have skyrocketed, “we were down in Cork’s RTE Studios playing ‘Christmas The Way I Remember’ on ‘Today with Maura and Daithi’, and we’d gone straight to the top of the Irish iTunes Chart by the time we drove back to Dublin.”

Darren didn’t even intend to write the song, “it sort of came to me by accident, we had just finished up a two month tour in America in September and we were driving to JFK airport, I was just looking out the window thinking and all these words started coming to me rapidly; they were all centering around being away from home, Christmas, longing for family and things like that. I had three verses and the chorus written in about fifteen minutes I’d say. I sung it to the lads, they all liked it and were asking when I wrote it, and I said ‘just there on the bus on the way to the airport’. When we got back to Ireland, we booked a studio and recorded the song and the video on the same day. The response has been great, people seem to think it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done, and it’s good timing as well for the Irish tour.”

Their tour of the country is very thorough as opposed to just playing the cities, that is important to The High Kings explains Darren, “we prefer to play all over Ireland, there’s 21 different venues on this tour they’re all selling very well. We are very mindful of that, despite playing a lot of gigs all over the world, The High Kings started in Ireland and those who supported us then still want to see us. We’ve also started noticing some of the kids who came to see us with their parents, are now grown up and coming to see us with their boyfriends or girlfriends, the audience has been growing up with us. It makes us feel a bit old of course, but it’s really great to see that they’ve stuck with us.”

The band’s work ethic could be traced back to the influences of the band’s family as Darren listed off their connections to working musicians, “in The High Kings, Finbarr - his dad was in The Clancy Brothers - and Brian’s dad was Sean Dunphy, who was in the Eurovision in 1967. So they’d have seen the idea of going out on the road to earn a living. My dad reckons my connection to that is my great-grandfather, a fella called Jim Byrne, he was a travelling Uillean Piper, he’d set off on foot over the length and breadth of Ireland to play and teach anyone who wanted to learn in towns and villages around the country.”

Darren credits that hunger to play for giving The High Kings an additional connection to their audience, “people relate to us I think, we put in the graft and we play. We really thought the recession would put us off the road when it kicked in, but we found we were busier if anything, we had people coming up to us after the shows saying ‘we saved up for the tickets, and this is our one night out this month’, it was quite an honour to hear things like that. You’d be forgiven for thinking bands like us would have had our day, but it’s grown and grown, we are lucky not just here but in America too. We get one week off after the Irish tour and then we are off to the States for two month tour, it’s crazy, and later in 2020 are going to Australia and Japan for the first time.”

The band has a new member now and Darren credits him with geeing up the band, “Paul O’Brien came to see us in Cork Opera House a few years ago, I knew him as a solo performer playing different pubs, an incredible multi instrumentalist. When Martin left the band a while back, we lost a lot of the traditional sound in the band. I suggested to the lads that we bring Paul in to jam a bit and see how it goes, after the first hour Finbarr and Brian were saying ‘where did you find him, he’s brilliant’ so he sort of joined the band without any fuss, he already knew the style and songs, he’s very unassuming, He’s sort of re-energised the band in a way, after thirteen years things could get a little jaded but he’s had the opposite effect. He’s had a great effect on the material we are working on for the next album, which we’ll be releasing in the new year.”

The High Kings play Cork Opera House on Friday, January 24. Tickets available from their box office or www.corkoperahouse.ie

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