I'm spending a week at the gorgeous Tyrone Guthrie Centre, finishing ghosting a book, and John McGlynn from Aunua is here. Lovely guy - he hasn't much changed since I met him in 2001. THis is what I wrote back then.
Michael and John McGlynn.
Interviewed By Sue Leonard.
Published in the Irish Examiner, 2001
“I’ll be on time, and John will be late,” predicts Michael McGlynn, founder and co-director of the spiritual Celtic choir, Anúna. I sit in the salubrious member’s bar of the Royal Dublin Society in Ballsbridge for 15 minutes before either of the McGlynn twins appear. And John arrives first, sauntering across the bar in his brown leather jacket; sweating profusely after his bicycle ride. He’s followed by an embarrassed Michael. “I had a call. It couldn’t wait. I hate being late,” he says, finding himself a chair.
“We’re two sides of the same coin,” says Michael when I remark that although alike, they don’t appear identical. John is a more extreme version of Michael; he is bigger, has longer hair, and wears glasses. (Michael had surgery for his sight last year.) Michael sits sipping Earl Grey tea, putting thought into everything he says. John leans back, casually throwing in remarks. Michael took a music degree at UCD and is traditionally trained; John studied architecture, and was once in a punk group called ‘Dead Drunk.’ Michael married Lucy last year, and says he looks casual, ‘because she made him wear something clean.’ John won’t disclose his girlfriend’s name, but she’s a dancer on ‘Riverdance.’
The twins have just released Anúna’s eighth album, and John’s debut solo album, ‘Songs for a fallen Angel,’ which has received critical acclaim.
“John’s a brilliant guitarist,” says Michael. “He’s created a whole new language. It’s closer to modern jazz but resonates with other things.” Michael has sung with many famous bands, and is currently working with choirs around the world, where his choral works are being performed.
John was the lead singer on the original ‘Riverdance,’ and Michael was Anúna’s producer on it. When I mention that historic Eurovision night back in 1994, they exchange wary glances.
“We had a lot of experience before Riverdance,” says Michael. “The Eurovision to us was just another gig.” But it made them a household name? “Anúna was already ingrained into the Irish psyche, but ‘Riverdance’ changed people’s perception of us.” But surely they reached more people? “It hasn’t made any difference because those people only know us in relation to Riverdance.”
It was a mutual decision to leave the show after two years.
“Although there were elements of an ‘Anúna’ show in Riverdance, we simply could not do just that night after night.,” says Michael. “There has to be some artistic value. We decided enough was enough.” However lots of Anúna singers decided to stay in ‘Riverdance,’ and even now members are auditioned and chosen as lead singers. “It’s very hard for us to keep singers. Simply put we’re a free training ground for singers to ‘Riverdance.’”
Fiercely proud of Anúna, Michael feels it has gone as far as it can.
“It’s a worldwide success and we’ve no state aid or state grants. What we’ve done is unique and it came out of Ireland where there is no choral tradition. In 1999 when we played at The Albert Hall to 4,000 people we were the first Irish group to be asked there. I stood there and thought, ‘this is it. There’s nowhere to go from here.’”
Musical from birth, the boys were put in front of a piano before they could talk.
“We were singing outrageous harmonies at the age of four,” says Michael, who went through the grades in piano. “John got to Grade five,” he says, and John cuts in insisting it was only Grade one. Sitting between the bantering twins is like umpiring a game of tennis. Yet Michael seems perfectly happy when John implies that he’s boring, whilst perceiving himself as the wild socialite. “On a scale of One to 100 I’m 100 socially, and Michael’s not even on one!” says John. Are they good friends? “No, we’re stuck with each other.”
Michael elaborates and says it’s hard to dissociate the fact that they are twins and have that inherent understanding that makes the relationship unique. He recounts a time when he walked into a hotel bar and ‘knew’ John was there, even though he couldn’t actually see him. John agrees.
“Yeah, and stuff like going to films. We arrive at exactly the same time. Like Titanic!” They both laugh. “We ended up sitting together and we glanced at each other in the middle, and said, ‘We’re leaving.’”
Anúna started out as ‘An Uaithne,’ a choir of classically trained singers specialising in medieval and contemporary European music. John wasn’t involved until Michael introduced his own compositions, and John demanded changes.
“At the punk gigs we had three minutes to entertain the audience, and if we didn’t we got egged off the stage. And with Michael’s crowd I had to sit through two hours of unendurable pompous garbage. I said, ‘get them to loosen up.’ We took away the sheet-music and the conductor, and added costumes. Now it’s a visual representation of the music with a good sound system and we treat each venue in a different way.”
“John brought in a different background,” says Michael. “Half the classically trained singers left, and from there I brought in folk and rock singers and we blended the whole thing together.” The twin relationship helps enormously, he feels. “We’re constantly in different venues like a church or a field or a concert hall, so many things can go wrong.”
“And boy do they!” laughs John, remembering a performance in the Pepper Canister church where he kept walking on and off the stage. “People found it distracting, but I’m taking scraps of carpet and sticking them in a jeep that’s parked across the road because the car alarm’s gone off. I have to do it. With those looks he’s giving me I know exactly what he’s saying.”
I ask Michael about his work for the Gate Theatre’s production of ‘The Three Sisters,’ starring the late Cyril Cusack with three of his daughters and he smiles broadly.
“I’m gutted,” he says. “It’s the first time anyone’s asked me that.” John wants to cut in with a Jim Sheridan anecdote, but Michael won’t let him. “I had never worked in the theatre and here I was with Adrian Noble of the Royal Shakespeare Company and all these extraordinary actors. It was a shock.”
“I had to teach Sinead Cusack how to whistle,” he says, with a fond smile. “Niamh worked in the symphony orchestra here, and I think Sinead had lost her confidence because she had been told, ‘you’re not the musical one.’ She didn’t know how to whistle and she was the playing the musical sister. We had to battle for hours.”
“Can I do the anecdote,” pleads John, as Michael continues to talk about the Gate. “Can I get my bloody Jim Sheridan out of the way or I’ll explode!” he says, minutes later, and tells me that after Jim Sheridan worked with Michael on ‘The Risen People,’ he approached John several times in ‘the wee small hours,’ assuming he was Michael. “When I corrected him he thought I was Michael taking the piss. The final time he spent two hours telling me of a great idea for ‘The Boxer.’ He was talking to the wrong person and I hadn’t the heart to tell him!”
©Sue Leonard 2001