"CELTIC FOLK MUSIC'S TOP 3 MOST ICONIC VOICES"
Updated: May 5
The human voice is an incredible thing. Of all the things it can do, I find singing to be the most interesting. Each voice has its own distinctive character, flavour, range, etc that makes it its own. It can be so iconic that it is easily recognizable by just hearing it for a brief moment. The fascinating irony is that you can have a beautiful voice and not be able to sing on key, and conversely, one might have perfect pitch but not have what is considered to be a beautiful voice. Hmmm...
I remember my partner once asking me something like, 'If you didn't have your voice, and could trade with any Celtic Folk singer, who would it be?' What an interesting topic of discussion! After pondering it for a moment, my zeal was halted when I realized it was nearly impossible to answer and that limiting myself to one mere choice was highly unfair. Nevertheless, I accepted the challenge. As soon as I thought I had accomplished this seemingly Herculean task, it dawned on me that I felt less like Hercules and more like Sisyphus when my next potential best answer rolled back down the hill and crushed its predecessor. I asked if I could do a Top 3 List and my request was generously granted. Even this was an effort, but I think I came up with three solid choices based on the criteria of people who sing exceptionally well, whose voices have beautiful timbres, and whose music has impacted and inspired not only me but countless others as well as my choices' determining factors. To see my picks, in no particular order, please continue reading.
Andy M Stewart - A multi-faceted Scottish musician from Perthshire who played banjo, mandolin, and tin whistle, his work as the lead voice of Silly Wizard was nothing short of remarkable. It had such a purity to it and conveyed such emotion in the songs he sang. He was such a beautiful ballad singer. Give a listen to "If I Was a Blackbird", "The Valley of Strathmore", "Sweet Dublin Bay", and "The Queen of Argyll". But he was not limited to balladry. Tunes like "Donald MacGillavry" and "The Ramblin' Rover" will get your toes tapping. I was fortunate enough to meet him once at the Brantford Folk Club way back in either the late '90s or early 2000s when he was touring with Gerry O'Beirne. He signed one of my Silly Wizard CDs and I remember thinking that if he weren't a singer, he could have easily gone into stand-up comedy. Sadly, he passed of a stroke in 2015.
Stan Rogers - How could Hamilton, Ontario's native son and his robust baritone voice not make everyone's list? Perhaps not if you're a lady I suppose, but I reckon most men would love to have a voice like his. Its clarity and booming power in his so very Canadian songs was like liquid gold. Just listen to "Barrett's Privateers", "Fogarty's Cove", "Guysborough Line", or "Northwest Passage" to experience this man's vocal gift. Tragically, he passed in a 1983 airplane fire so I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I have had the pleasure of meeting his wife, Ariel. Not surprisingly, numerous Stan Rogers songs can be found on my Celtic Folk playlist.
Fergus O'Byrne - Dublin, Ireland's Fergus O'Byrne is likely best known as being one third of Ryan's Fancy. Aside from singing lead and harmony, he also played banjo primarily, but also played guitar, bodhran, mandolin, and concertina. Listen to his vocal work on "Go To Sea No More", "Johnny, I hardly Knew Ya", "The Rocky Road to Dublin", "Greenland Whale Fisheries", and "I's the B'y" among others. Simply magical. I was lucky enough to meet and get a picture with him in July of 2022 while he was performing at O'Reilly's in St John's.
So there are my top three...a Scotsman, a Canadian, and an Irishman living in Newfoundland, two of whom I've had the good fortune to meet. It would appear there's something to be said for accents. Ironically, all were very active in the '70s, which some might assert is the golden age for this genre of music. I'm sure your lists differ from mine so I'll pose the same question to you. Who would your top 3 choices be and why? Tell me in the comments section below.