‘I love the idea of Frank and Walters songs with an orchestra’

Mary-Kate Geraghty has covered a lot of bases in her career — performing at festivals, in pubs, clubs and even churches, as a singer with the bands Fight Like Apes and Le Galaxie. 

Even so, being asked to perform at Cork Opera House wasn’t exactly something she was expecting. 

Geraghty, known as MayKay, is one of the soloists featuring in the Cork Proms: Heyday — A Mixtape of Irish Rock and Pop, which will showcase songs from artists such as Sinéad O’Connor, The Cranberries, The Pogues, Enya, and Thin Lizzy, performed with an orchestra.

“I am always surprised to be asked to do lovely stuff like this but I was also so delighted — and I get to be in Cork for about a week between production rehearsals and the two shows. It’s a dream.” 

She can’t reveal what she’s singing but was very excited when The Frank and Walters, one of her favourite bands, were mentioned. 

“I mean, you could sing anything by the Frank and Walters, even acapella and it would sound brilliant but I love the idea of hearing how their songs sound with an orchestra — and in Cork city. I feel very unworthy.”

Geraghty says she was definitely more punk than pop when she dropped out of college at the age of 19 to pursue life in a band. 

However, the 37-year-old says she has mellowed considerably when it comes to her musical tastes.

“When I was much younger, we were such music snobs. We were so into punk, and if somebody else had heard of a band, then they weren’t cool any more. We can’t go back and change, but now, to be asked to be part of this line-up as a soloist means a lot to me,” she says.

A native of Kildare, Cork occupies a special place in Geraghty’s heart for many reasons.

“When I was in Fight Like Apes, we did loads of gigs in Cork. Our first record label was FIFA Records, which is run by Ash [Ashley Keating] from The Frank and Walters. The only time we didn’t mind people being confused about where we were from was when people said we were a Cork band.” 

Geraghty’s late father Pat, who died in 2017, also formed a strong attachment to Cork when he worked as a media manager with the Munster rugby team for many years. Her mother Kathy Sheridan is a journalist with The Irish Times

 MayKay: "The only time we didn’t mind people being confused about where we were from was when people said we were a Cork band." Pic: Moya Nolan
MayKay: “The only time we didn’t mind people being confused about where we were from was when people said we were a Cork band.” Pic: Moya Nolan

She says that her parents’ love of music was a strong influence on her growing up, her dad’s association with one song in particular leaving an indelible impression on those who knew him.

“We were raised with music and how important it was. My dad’s party piece was ‘The Boxer’ [Simon and Garfunkel]. At his funeral, the Munster team did a circle around his coffin and sang ‘The Boxer’. It is an incredible memory, sad but so beautiful.”

The power of music to connect, and effect change, is something Geraghty has been thinking about increasingly. 

Through meeting the Cork-based volunteer group ACLAÍ Palestine, she ended up visiting refugee camps in the Occupied West Bank. 

Working with fellow musicians Elaine Mai and Faye O’Rourke, she recently released a song, ‘We Are’, which features contributions from some of the children she met there.

“When we went over the second time, I brought my microphone and asked them could I do some songwriting workshops — because these kids are unbelievable communicators. The lyrics in the song are them saying who they are — they are saying ‘we are strength, we are love, we are hope, we are victory’. At the end of the song, they say ‘no-one is free until Palestine is free’ in English, Irish and Arabic. I am really proud to hear their voices on this.

“I want people to hear these kids’ and realise they could be any of us. They are brilliant, funny and bright. They have ambitions and dreams and they deserve to have those ambitions and dreams
realised the same as anybody else”.

While Geraghty and her Fight Like Apes bandmate Jamie Fox called it a day as a full-time entity in 2016, there have been periodic re-unifications, most recently a gig at the Olympia, which went down a storm with their loyal fanbase.

“It was unreal. Me and Jamie were heartbroken when Fight Like Apes came to an end. It was such a relief to see it meant so much to other people. I’m 37 and Jamie turns 40 this year. For us to have had another go at the Olympia, which was our biggest headline gig ever, we just feel incredibly lucky,” she says. 

“That gig gave us loads of confidence to move on as well. It’s hard to let go of something…our whole adult life was Fight Like Apes from when we were 19.” 

Geraghty has also been greatly enjoying her gig side of stage, as a presenter on the music series Other Voices. She has recently recorded more episodes for Other Voices: Anam, which features musicians performing in castles around Ireland. 

“It’s really lovely,” she says. “I feel really lucky with the work that I have. Filming these shows in these incredible places is just unreal,” she says.

  • The Cork Proms: Heyday — A Mixtape of Irish Rock and Pop, is at Cork Opera House as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, Wed Jun 12 – Thurs Jun 13, 8pm. corkoperahouse.ie
Killian Donnelly: "You just throw yourself into it and you’re firing on all cylinders."
Killian Donnelly: “You just throw yourself into it and you’re firing on all cylinders.”

Killian Donnelly: from Les Mis to the Opera House

Killian Donnelly is a seasoned actor and performer, having graced high-calibre musical productions from the West End to Broadway. 

His theatrical training is much in evidence when he is chatting to me on Zoom from his Dublin home. 

He may be holding a baby in one arm and gently wrangling a four-year-old with the other but he doesn’t miss a beat. 

When he’s not jetting over to London to work, Donnelly, a Kildare native, lives in Artane with his wife, the actor and dancer, Louise Bowden, and their two children, baby daughter Fiadh and son Tadhg. 

After starring roles in shows such as Phantom of the Opera,
Billy Elliot and Kinky Boots, he says the part of parent was a whole new challenge.

Donnelly is preparing to sing some of his greatest musical hits at The Proms in Cork Opera House later this month, but he says the days of luxuriating in preparation are long gone.

“Before kids you’re like, ‘I’m gonna put six hours into learning this song. Now, if you get 16 minutes, you’re laughing. It’s amazing being a parent, it’s like you’re a performer in another gang. Having kids wasn’t just another chapter in the book of life, it was a whole new book.”

One of the tenor’s biggest roles is among the most iconic in musical theatre, that of the reformed convict Jean Valjean in Les Misérables, while the driving force behind that phenomenon, Cameron Mackintosh, has been one of his biggest supporters. 

When the legendary producer asked him to reprise the role late last year, Donnelly headed off to London en famille. 

“So from 6.30am to 5pm, I was dad and husband and then I hopped on the train to London Bridge, and I was Valjean from 6.30pm to 10.30pm. I loved every second of it because the Killian of before would have been like ‘I can’t get up at 6.30am, I need to rest my voice, I need to steam’. But then you just throw yourself into it and you’re firing on all cylinders.”

The last time Donnelly graced the stage at the Opera House, it was in another revolutionary role, this time as one of Cork’s most famous sons, the Big Fella himself. 

In 2008, he was cast in the lead role of Michael Collins: A Musical Drama by the Waterford producer and director Bryan Flynn, who died in 2014 at the tragically young age of 43. It is an experience Donnelly remembers with much fondness.

“When Bryan said he was writing a musical about Michael Collins, I immediately got it, I could totally see the drama behind it.” 

When the show finally came to fruition, Donnelly had been cast in Les Mis. 

“I got two weeks off, flew home and did a three-day hardcore rehearsal. We opened it and we put it on for two weeks. It was a huge learning curve and I was very lucky. Bryan was a huge loss, him and [musical director] David Hayes have been the biggest inspiration for me.”

Next up for Donnelly is one of the biggest roles of his career, as he embarks on an extensive arena tour of Les Misérables later this year, in which he will share the role of Valjean with the famous tenor Alfie Boe, alongside another musical legend, Michael Ball, as Javert. 

He says he couldn’t quite believe it when Mackintosh offered him the arena gig during the interval of a Les Mis performance.

“It was overwhelming. And then he asked me if I wanted to go for a pint to celebrate. You couldn’t find a more rounded producer. 

He is in every single theatre he owns, still picking out the seat covers and all of that. It’s quite astounding.”

  • The Cork Proms, There’s No Place Like Home, is at Cork Opera House as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival, Wed and Thurs, Jun 19 – 20, 8pm. corkoperahouse.ie

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