Loudest Whisper were an Irish folk rock/progressive folk group formed in the early 1970’s led by singer/songwriter Brian O’Reilly. Best known for their debut album, The Children Of Lir, a folk opera based on the Irish legend of the same name. The original LP release of the album has become one of the most sought after records in Ireland, and ranks among the most rare and sought after records in the world. A glorious mixture of catchy melodies, soaring harmonies and biting acid guitar.
A cult Celtic prog-folk rock band with a theatrical bent, Loudest Whisper started off as another sort of band altogether. Formed in the early 1960’s in the sleepy surroundings of Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland, by Brian O’Reilly, Michael Clancey, John Aherne and drummer Jimmy Cotter, they were originally known as the Wizards. The Wizards played mostly covers of Beatles, Hollies and Spencer Davis songs and after Jimi Hendrix and Cream hit, the band took a turn into heavier blues territory, changing their name to Loudest Whisper as the 1970’s opened. The band also had some lineup changes, with Cotter leaving and Brendan “Bunny” Nelgian coming in as his replacement on drums. When guitarist Paud O’Reilly joined, he switched over to drums and Nelgian became the group’s lead singer.
It was here that the general direction of the band changed. Brian’s songwriting had always drawn heavily on American folk-rock groups, but he had also been working in amateur musicals staged by a local theater group and finding his attention increasingly drawn to traditional Irish folklore as well. He decided in 1973 to fuse all of these strands and interests together in a Celtic musical based on the legend of the Irish King Lir. The Children of Lir is a famous legend from the Irish Mythological Cycle about the Irish Gods of the Tuatha Dé Dannan. The four children in the tale represent the last of this generation, who are turned into swans by their wicked stepmother. After finally being lifted from the spell they are baptized as Christians before aging rapidly and dying. A sad tale about the love of one family, jealousy, magical spells and a curse of 900 years.
The resulting Children Of Lir premiered in Fermoy on January 7, 1973, as a full-blown stage production, with Ron Kavanagh, a singer and guitarist who had recently joined the band, taking the lead role. With nearly 60 performers involved, Children Of Lir it attracted a lot of attention, leading to the band signing a recording deal with Polydor Records and beginning to record a studio adaptation of Children Of Lir in 1974. Kavanagh left the band midway through the recording of the album version of Children Of Lir, followed by Nelgian’s departure shortly after the LP was released. The U.K. branch of Polydor rejected the LP, so Children Of Lir ended up being released only in Ireland in an extremely limited edition of 500 copies. Further lineup shuffles followed, with Brian taking over more of the singing and Dorgan officially joining as a guitarist and vocalist. Her voice was featured in O’Reilly’s musical, The Maiden of Sorrow, which was staged in 1975. Loudest Whisper toured throughout the late 70’s but recorded very little. Polydor released the band’s second album, Loudest Whisper in 1980, which had an accessible soft rock feel. Again, Polydor did little to support the album and the band issued its next project, Hard Times, which featured a second female vocalist, Bernadette Bowes, privately on the Fiona imprint in 1982.
Loudest Whisper began to dissolve when both Dorgan and Bowes left the group in 1985, although the O’Reilly brothers continued to gig under the name in a variety of configurations, even staging another musical, Buskin’, that same year. A couple of singles followed, but Loudest Whisper were barely active as a band as the 1980s closed. Brian released a cassette album, Spread Your Wings, as a solo project in 1990, with Dorgan helping out on background vocals, and the band was offered a recording deal with the Irish arm of K-Tel Records. Re-recording material from all phases of its career, the band came up with an album called The Collection. A reshuffling at the label led to the album being shelved, however, and it wasn’t officially issued until 1995 on Fiona.
Following the huge success of Riverdance, O’Reilly restaged The Children of Lir with a more folky and Celtic veneer, and a version of this was recorded and released, credited jointly to Brian O’Reilly and Donovan. The Kissing Spell label reissued the original recording of Children Of Lir on CD, following it with the group’s second album, retitled 2, and a near-bootleg quality version of The Maiden of Sorrow drawn from a 1975 live performance. Since the mid-1990’s, Loudest Whisper have been performing on and off with different musicians, including as a trio of Brian O’Reilly (guitar, keyboards, vocals), his brother Paud (drums, backing vocals) and Brian’s son, Oran (double bass). This version of the album is the CD re-issue released by Sunbeam Records. Tracks 2-14 are the original album while the bonuses include various single B-sides and demos.
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Brian O’Reilly – Guitars, Piano, Keyboards, Vocals * Geraldine Dorgan – Guitar, Vocals * Paud O’Reilly – Drums, Harmonies * Mike Russell – Bass * Producer – Leo O’Kelly * Engineer – Paul Waldron
The Children Of Lir (1974) * Loudest Whisper (1980) * Hard Times (1983) * Maiden Of Sorrow (live album recorded in 1975, released in !995) * Our World (2004) * Blue… Is The Colour of Time (2014)
The Children Of Lir
The full story of The Children Of Lir, as read by the late and great Ronnie Drew…