Tucked away at the end of Méav’s beguiling new album, The Calling is her beautifully-poised version of the folk classic Black is the Colour. The song is clearly the most adventurous track on an album of complex and layered musical treatments, which occasionally echoes Clannad in the harmonies but is built on a personal, unique template.
Méav was influenced by Nina Simone’s version to sing her version of Black Is The Colour, athough she was wary of trying to match the legendary chanteuse.
"She is the goddess, when you listen to Nina singing it makes you want to sing," says the chatty and unpretentious singer. “It just seems to come from her gut, you just believe her. I always regret not hearing her live, she was here quite late in her career. I was gigging at the time, doing classical stuff, so I missed it.”
The Calling also includes inventive treatments of classic songs like The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, Wayfaring Stranger and Shenandoah, with new adaptations of Galician and Breton melodies.
Méav co-wrote the track The Songline to Home with producer Craig Leon, with lyrics set to an air by the 16th century harper Carolan. “I wanted to have that like an emigrant song, but not to be as specific as that. There are so many songs like that, songs like A Stór mo Chroí, which explore that sense of isolation and alienation when you really feel disconnected from your roots.”
Méav is a classically-trained vocalist, skilled harpist, fluent Irish speaker, and law graduate, who grew up in Donnybrook in Dublin. As an up-and-coming singer, she went by her full name Méav Ní Mhaolchatha during her early years with Anúna in the mid to late nineties.
Eimear Quinn, Róisín Dempsey and Julie Feeney number amongst many other fine Irish singers who spent their apprenticeship with Anúna, one of the most bewitching contemporary choral ensembles ever to see the light of day. Brian Kennedy also sang with Anúna, “a decent guy,” as Méav recalls.
“I made so many great friends and brilliant times on the road,” she says. “It was a great way of learning lots of new music, working on blend, singing with other people.” The connection continues and two guys she met with Anúna feature on backing vocals on The Calling.
In those heady late nineties days, Anúna used to perform an annual Christmas concert in the college chapel at Trinity College. “We were so comfortable in the chapel, I got married there,” she says. Her husband is Tom, who was an actor when they first met.
“He thought I’d be a lawyer and I’d be sensible, and he could be the flighty one. Somewhere along the way he got into financial matters, and now he’s in wealth management and I’m the flighty one."
She performed with the Irish Chamber Choir in Sweden and in Brazil. Julie Feeney was with the choir for the latter trip. “Julie was great craic, she’s a super-bright girl, she keeps all those balls in the air,” she says of the Galway girl who has driven her career to the enviable position it is at today. In terms of her own management, Méav’s husband helps with much of the administration.
The Chamber Choir organised children’s workshops in Brazil and she loved the concert audiences. “It’s so visceral, the Brazilians will give you a standing ovation in the middle of a gig, no problem, they’ll let you know. In other places like Sweden, they’ll be terribly reserved until the last minute.”
She reckons that she has performed in almost all of the states of the USA with Celtic Woman, the project she joined when it formed in 2004. Sometimes the response in the smaller towns was even more amazing than in the big cities. “We might be playing in a football stadium - it wouldn’t be a purpose built concert hall - but the response from those audiences was just unbelievable.”
Méav has two daughters, Anna (8) and Catherine (4). “Anna was seven months old when she went on the road with me,” she recalls. It sounds mildly unfeasible, but Méav managed to be Celtic mother as well as Celtic Woman, with the help of a nanny. She also worked out a job-sharing arrangement with Hayley Westenra, who was also a leading light in the Celtic Woman tours.
Among her many illustrious achievements, Méav sang very early on in Riverdance, and performed Where the Sunbeams Play in the Disney movie Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure. She also devised the Love Theme for the BBC TV series The Aristocrats.
As regards The Calling, she will be showcasing the album at a gig in Dublin's Sugar Club shortly and there is some UK work coming up too. “I definitely want to go back to the States," she says. The future looks good and The Calling is Méav’s perfect calling card.
The Calling is released on Warner Music.