Chloe Agnew:
falling into Celtic Woman

Born into a family of entertainers, Chloe Agnew had no desire to perform.

"Music is the only thing I didn't think I'd do," she says. "I had plans to be a child psychologist. Honestly, I fell into this by accident."

The "this" is Celtic Woman, the blockbuster Irish musical production that has been touring the world -- and dominating Agnew's life -- since 2004.

When she was 14.

That's right. Agnew, one of the best-known ambassadors of the modern Irish music movement -- more Enya and Riverdance than the Chieftains or Dubliners -- embarked on the journey at a time when many of her peers were dealing with acne creams and algebra.

"It was terrifying, packing my bags and leaving my family behind," she recalls. "Luckily, I walked into another family here.

"You have to become a family to look after each other, those long months on the road," she adds. "My parents ... knew I was in good hands."

Agnew, from Knocklyon in County Dublin, is the daughter of Irish entertainer Adele "Twink" King and oboist David Agnew. She made her first television appearance on her mother's TV variety show when she was 4 weeks old. She sang on the show at the age 6.

Career aspirations aside, Agnew didn't seem able to escape music.

In 1998, she represented Ireland and won the Grand Prix at the First International Children's Song Competition in Cairo. She got involved in musical theater and joined the Christ Church Cathedral Girls' Choir.

In 2000, 11-year-old Chloe approached director David Downes -- a friend of her mom's -- about recording a song to raise money for the children of Afghanistan. That led to her debut album, with Downes' backing, in 2002, followed by another in 2004. Then he asked her to join Celtic Woman, a production Downes created for a one-off performance in Dublin. Now, nine years later, with eight Celtic Woman CDs, a few video recordings and several world tours under her belt, Agnew is the only remaining singer of the group's original vocal lineup.

"I don't know where my life would have gone if Celtic Woman hadn't turned into what it was," Agnew says.

"Looking back I wouldn't change anything. I believe this is my calling. It was meant to be."

Sharing the microphone with Agnew these days are singers Lisa Lambe and Susan McFadden and fiddler Mairead Nesbitt. "It's feel-good music, it genuinely is," she says. "You can escape from your worries and lose yourself in this music."

But Celtic Woman is a far larger production than just a front line.

"It's very much a team effort," Agnew says. "We have an incredible band, a choir -- not to mention the 20-some members of the crew who travel with us. There are 40 to 50 of us touring at any given time, including everyone right down to the bus drivers."

There might be 15 to 20 people on stage for any given number, including backing vocalists and dancers.

"You have these people in place who have the bigger picture in mind. It's important to let them do what they do," she adds. "The day you start thinking you're the queen bee, that's the time to walk out the door."

As its name implies, Celtic Woman features an all-female front line, and Agnew is pretty happy with the way it's worked over the years.

"For us to be flying the flag for Ireland, as four Irish women, all over the world -- we're very proud of that," she says. "The woman is the heart and soul of the house. Irish women are very strong, very independent. And we like to bring all of those characteristics to Celtic Woman."

Celtic Woman maintains a certain level of style in its presentation -- singers dress more for a ball or reception than a pub or mosh pit. Agnew enjoys upholding the image. "Class and elegance and subtlety in dress are still appreciated in the music industry," she says. "And it's wonderful to see young girls come along to the show and aspire to see us as role models."

Agnew plans to continue singing, with Celtic Woman and in various solo projects. She also would love to branch out into acting.

"The entertainment industry ... is just where I'm most comfortable," she says. "It's what I see myself doing for the rest of my life."

Although she moved to Los Angeles last summer, Agnew says she's "a real home bird" who hops on a plane to Ireland to visit family, friends and her seven dogs whenever she can.

Meanwhile, she's grateful for the twist of fate that put her on this path.

"You never know what lies around the corner," Agnew says. "We thought it was a one-time performance, and here we are nearly 10 years later. We're continually amazed -- just when you think it can't get bigger and better, it does.

"We're very lucky. We've had some great opportunities, and some amazing fans who've kept us going."

[ visit the artist's website ]

interview by
Tom Knapp

30 March 2013

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