Journal Interview - Keith Harkin - ‘It’s not every day you go to work in Abbey Road!’

With legions of fans and a blossoming solo career, Keith Harkin is fast becoming one of Derry's finest exports... (308JC2 Photo: Paula Gillespie)
With legions of fans and a blossoming solo career, Keith Harkin is fast becoming one of Derry's finest exports... (308JC2 Photo: Paula Gillespie)

With scores of fans all over America already clamouring for news of Keith’s self-titled debut album, it’s no surprise that it went straight into the No1 position in World Music over a month before its official release on September 18.

Speaking exclusively to the ‘Derry Journal’, Keith, who was born in Derry and raised in Donegal, admits that even he is surprised at the interest that’s building in his solo material.

Keith hits the top spot on World Music chart before his album even hits the shelves. (308JC3)

Keith hits the top spot on World Music chart before his album even hits the shelves. (308JC3)

He recalls with some amusement how he discovered he’d hit the top spot in the charts.

“My mate from the States was buying a CD online and saw my face on there and since then it’s just went up and up,” Keith laughed. “But I haven’t had time to look it up again since! It’s kind of crazy, but I’m just happy the album’s getting noticed, to be honest.”

Nowadays, Keith divides his time between Derry/Donegal, touring and living on a boat in Los Angeles. In November 2011, he signed to Grammy Award-winning, Oscar-nominated producer and songwriter David Foster’s new label Verve, with Universal Music.

Having written six songs on the new album, he is understandably delighted at the buzz surrounding it.

Keith pictured with his fellow Celtic Thunder stars, including fellow Derry native Damien McGinty on the left. (308JC1: Photo: Celtic Thunder)

Keith pictured with his fellow Celtic Thunder stars, including fellow Derry native Damien McGinty on the left. (308JC1: Photo: Celtic Thunder)

“Of course I have high hopes for the album,” he says, “There’s been so much time spent on it, since October until last Friday so it’s just about done.

“We’ve worked hard to get here. Last month we were in the Abbey Road studios with a 48 piece orchestra – in Studio One where the Beatles recorded! It was amazing and I brought my mum and dad over and they were just sitting in there, nearly in tears! It’s not every day you go to work in Abbey Road!”

Last year, Keith was the first signing to legendary producer Foster’s new Verve label, and he reveals with a giggle: “And I hear their second signing is Rod Stewart! That’s mental...”

While on the subject of revelations, he has another to share with ‘Journal’ readers too: “After the album is released, Crosby & Nash are apparently interested in doing some kind of duet with me - on a song I wrote!”

He also duetted with Grammy-award winning singer Colbie Caillat. “She’s amazing and we do a duet on the album,” he says. “We recorded it in a private studio in Malibu and it’s co-produced by Jochem van der Saag, who’s a bit of a legend in the business and has been really easy to work with, a proper genius.”

With fans in high places and all sorts of ambitious plans for the future, Keith is determined to make the most of every second. But rather than kick back and enjoy the rock & roll lifestyle, he prefers to work in pursuit of his dream and is currently holed up in a Dublin studio, recording the latest Celtic Thunder album.

“It’s always great being back home, but it hasn’t been a break – I’ve been bombarded with stuff I have to do and meetings and all that. So although I’m home, and delighted to be home, I’ve just been either gigging or in the studio flat out!”

“We’ve been doing the final mixes on the album too,” he goes on. “I’m heading away on tour soon and that’s me booked from now to April! I’ll be doing the Celtic Thunder tour and juggling my own album and trying to promote that too in between times.”

In autumn 2008, Keith embarked upon a coast-to-coast US tour as part of the musical phenomenon Celtic Thunder, performing to capacity crowds in major venues, including Radio City Music Hall in New York.

The show made Keith a household name all over the United States and also starred a fellow Derry man, teen heart-throb and now star of ‘Glee’, Damien McGinty.

Meanwhile, Celtic Thunder album I and its follow-up, album II, featuring original compositions from Keith himself, both reached No 1 in the World Billboard Charts.

As part of Celtic Thunder, Keith has now toured the United States and Canada a staggering seven times, as well as a tour of Australia, which saw them perform to 5,000-6,000 people on almost every night. Such is the phenomenon created by this touring eulogy to Irish culture, Celtic Thunder has achieved a Gold Album in the US, two Gold Albums and one Platinum Album in Canada, two Platinum Albums and one Gold Album in Australia. He also performed in the White House for US President Barack Obama!

Despite his now bourgeoning solo career, Keith has no intentions of leaving Celtic Thunder.

“I still love doing Celtic Thunder and I’m writing songs for it now too, which is amazing, and so I’m going to keep doing both for as long as I can. Besides, we’re like a family now after being on the road together for Celtic Thunder for five or six years. It would be strange to leave all that now...”

Keith has also set up his own independent record label at home in the North West - Busty Music – to which is supremely talented younger sister Rebecca Harkin is now signed - with Keith producing her debut album in between his own projects. He’ll also fly back to LA shortly to shoot a video for the album’s first release.

“I do love America,” he admits. “I love the standard of life there and the fact that there’s always something to do on your days off! And because it’s 20 degrees there every day too, some change from Ireland! But home is home and I’m never too far away.”

The amiable local man also has high praise for those who helped him along the way.

“So many people have helped me get to this point. I’d have to say some very big thanks to Sharon Browne in particular, she’s the producer behind Celtic Thunder and she’s just brilliant. She’s helped me a lot over the years.”

While courting the international acclaim now heaped upon him, Keith is also understandably grateful to have such strong family ties back home.

“My mum and dad, and the whole family in general, have supported me all the way and that’s been so important,” he muses.

“After all, it was my mum and dad who gave me my taste in music and that’s what got me where I am today! So really, it’s all their fault!”

Keith’s album ‘Keith Harkin’ will be in the shops and available online from September 18.