As my cunning mother always says, it’s always the quiet ones that you really have to watch…
Take Fiachra Trench – unassuming, always smiling, always hiding back just a little in the crowd, and yet, were you to hear the music that swirls around this man daily, you’d soon be shouting his name from the rooftops.
Over the past 50 years, the quiet man of Delgany has worked his magic with pretty much the full A-to-Z of music, from the bould Altan to Hans Zimmer, from Joan Armatrading to the zany George Ivan Morrison.
As with all great musicians who make it their business to play with other great musicians, Fiachra’s midas touch can be heard on young Van’s 1989 comeback album, Avalon Sunset, his string arrangements taking the Cypress Avenue crank to ever greater heights of fancy many times over the years. It’s there too on one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time, Fairytale of New York, our boy’s strings taking this drunk tank singalong into the widescreen sweep of a Hollywood classic.
When you’re dealing with a 50-year-career, there’s a million twists and turntable hits to try and squeeze in – music studies in Dublin and America, playing the US Air Force and NATO bases in Germany and Italy with his damn Yankee band, then becoming a session-pianist-for-hire in London before all that classical training finally found an outlet as an arranger and director for the CBS label.
Thin Lizzy were the first big clients (with solo Phil later becoming a regular collaborator), followed swiftly by such notables as Paul McCartney and Wings, The Boomtown Rats, Elvis Costello, Finbar Furey, Kate Bush, The Corrs, The Chieftains, Paul Brady…
You get the picture. And the surround sound. The man has worked with some of our planet’s finest artists, whilst still finding time to compose soundtrack music for the likes of People’s Century, A Love DividedandThe Boys & Girls From County Clare, and also orchestrating the film scores for dozens of others, including Die Hard, Into The West and Pearl Harbor.
And the fecker’s still going strong. A fact that will be plainly obvious at The Whale come Valentine’s night, when Fiachra joins sirens Carmel McCreagh and Flo McSweeney return to The Whale for another round ofLove Bites, a celebration of the classic love song down through the ages.
In the meantime, we asked Fiachra to tell us about those songs that have managed to make him break down and cry, as well as, firstly, how the hell he got suckered into this dumb line of work in the first place…
Music was all around me as a child. Records, the radio. Classical, light music, Irish traditional.
Both my parents were amateur musicians — they used to play piano duets together. My mother gave me my first piano lessons and later showed me how to play gentle stride piano — cocktail piano style, I think it’s called.
In primary school and secondary school, making music and listening to music were definitely a big part of my life. Then when I was at Trinity studying science, I was also studying music at the Academy and playing in bands. Much to my amazement, and to the science faculty’s amazement, I finished and graduated. But music won out…
Salvador Sobral Amor Pelos Dois (comp. Luisa Sobral) After years and years of unremarkable, indistinguishable Eurovision Song Contest entries, along came Portugal’s surprise winner in 2017, a beautiful ballad in ¾ time, an impassioned plea to a lost love. Accompanied by piano and strings only, with jazz-flavoured harmonies reminiscent of Brazil’s bossa nova.
Elbow One Day Like This Two standouts – Guy Garvey’s gorgeous vocal and his simple, but highly effective string arrangement.
Sarah McLachan In The Arms of an Angel Beautiful, poignant, from a singer with the voice of an angel. So pure, yet so emotive. Likewise, Alison Krauss, Kate Rusby, Rita Connolly…
Joni Mitchell Both Sides Now The title track of Joni Mitchell’s stunning 2000 album with sumptuous orchestral arrangements by Vince Mendoza. Here she re-visits and re-interprets a song she first released in 1969. Majestic.
Paul McCartney and Wings The Note You Never Wrote Great opening line: ‘Later on, the story goes, a bottle floated out to sea‘. It’s as if we have come into the middle of the story. The song is Paul’s, but Denny Laine sings the lead vocal. I was helping Linda McCartney with her keyboards role in Wings around the time this track was being recorded. Paul asked me to write an arrangement for strings.
Van Morrison Coney Island I’ve been privileged to write orchestral arrangements and sometimes play keyboards for Van for 30 years — 50-plus tracks across 11 albums. On one session we recorded the strings for Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, Coney Island and I’m Tired, Joey Boy. Have I Told You Lately may be the best known, but I have particular fondness for Coney Island — the voice and the backing track had it all; I just added some sweetness.
Miles Davis Blue in Green (from Kind of Blue) Elegant piano intro by Bill Evans, then Miles’ charateristic trumpet with mute — achingly beautiful.
Count Basie Orchestra Lil’ Darlin’ (from the album The Atomic Mr Basie) The epitome of relaxed swing from one of the greatest jazz orchestras. The entire album was composed and arranged by Neal Hefti.
Jay Leonhart It’s Impossible To Sing And Play The Bass I’m always astounded how bass players who also sing lead vocals can do both so proficiently. Think of Phil Lynott, Sting, Mark King (Level 42), Rob Strong… Here’s Jay Leonhart humorously telling us that’s it’s impossible, while demonstrating that it is, actually, possible.
Shostakovich Piano Concerto No. 2, Andante The exquisite slow movement from one of my favourite works by one of my favourite 20th century composers. A nod to Rachmaninov, but distinctively Shostakovich.
You can find out more about Fiachra, Carmel & Flo’s Love Bites at The Whale on Thursday, February 14th here. You can also catch our ramble chat with Fiachra and Carmel in October 2017 right here.