The Road to Riverdance – Hardback
By: Bill Whelan
Publication Date: 20 October 2022
The Road to Riverdance by Bill Whelan is a skilfully attuned record of one of Ireland’s most famous and influential composers.
Riverdance exploded across the stage at Dublin’s Point Theatre one spring evening in 1994 during a seven-minute interval of the Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Ireland. It was a watershed moment in the cultural history of a country embracing the future, a confident leap into world music grounded in the footfall of the choreographed kick-line. It was a moment forty-five years in the making for its composer.
In this tenderly unfurled memoir Bill Whelan rehearses a lifetime of unconscious preparation as step by step he revisits his past, from his Barrington Street home in 1950s Limerick, to the forcing ground of University College Dublin and the Law Library during the 1960s, to his attic studio in Ranelagh. Along the way the reader is introduced to people and places in the immersive world of fellow musicians, artists and producers, friends and collaborators, embracing the spectrum of Irish music as it broke boundaries, entering the global slipstream of the 1980s and 1990s. As art and commerce fused, dramas and contending personalities come to view behind the arras of stage, screen and recording desk.
Whelan pays tribute to a parade of those who formed his world. He describes the warmth and sustenance of his Limerick childhood, his parents and Denise Quinn, won through assiduous courtship; the McCourts and Jesuit fathers of his early days, the breakthrough with a tempestuous Richard Harris who summoned him to London; Danny Doyle, Shay Healy, Dickie Rock, Planxty, The Dubliners and Stockton’s Wing, Noel Pearson, Seán Ó Riada; working with Jimmy Webb, Leon Uris, The Corrs, Paul McGuinness, Moya Doherty, John McColgan, Jean Butler and Michael Flatley.
Written with wry, inimitable Irish humour and insight, Bill Whelan’s self deprecation allows us to to see the players in all their glory, vulnerability and idiosyncracy. This fascinating work reveals the nuts, bolts, sheer effort and serendipities that formed the road to Riverdance in his reinvention of the Irish tradition for a modern age. As the show went on to perform to millions worldwide, Whelan was honoured with a 1997 Grammy Award when Riverdance was named the ‘Best Musical Show Album.’ Richly detailed and illustrated, The Road to Riverdance forms an enduring repository of memory for all concerned with the performing arts.
PRAISE FOR THE ROAD TO RIVERDANCE
‘Vividly describes his singular journey from Limerick to world fame as a Grammy-winning composer … a fascinating and revealing book about the man and his music.’ Gabriel Byrne
‘Like the rest of Ireland and probably most of Europe, the Eurovision performance of ‘Riverdance’ in 1994 totally took my breath away. Bill and I have been friends for a long time now and I’m delighted to read this beautifully written account of his early life and subsequent success.’ Andy Irvine
‘Bill has written a warm, affectionate hymn to Irish music and to the men and women who gave it to the world. He is one of those rare figures who changed how Ireland felt about itself and how the world saw Ireland. He is one of our ‘greats’.’ Fergal Keane
‘Bill Whelan has led an extraordinary life. In this beautifully written book we finally get a glimpse into the life of a born musician and how his music came to symbolise an Irish cultural renaissance that resonated around the world.
Written without sentimentality, we learn of the personal and professional struggles of a man who continues to be at the top of his game. Compellingly told, with wit and intelligence. I learned a huge amount about the business of show and how it is not for the faint- hearted. It is frustratingly typical that Bill can write as brilliantly as he composes. *standing ovation*’ Liz Nugent
Interview with Bill Whelan in the Irish Independent: Read here
‘Tells the story of a life in music and the path that led to one of Ireland’s most significant cultural exports.’ Irish Independent
‘Makes for marvellous, revealing and very powerful reading. A brilliant edition to the canon, it offers a remarkable picture of a musical life lived to the full. Hats off to its maker’ Niall Stokes, Hot Press
‘What an incredible talent he is’ Marty Whelan
‘Filled with Limerick humour’ Limerick Leader
‘A terrific book’ Pat Kenny | Listen to Bill Whelan on Newstalk’s The Pat Kenny Show here
‘I loved it’ Miriam O’Callahan | Listen to Bill Whelan on RTÉ’s Sunday with Miriam here
Listen to Bill Whelan on RTÉ’s Dave Fanning Show here
Listen to Bill Whelan on Today FM’s Dermot & Dave Show here
‘Bill Whelan dances down memory lane with new memoir’ Galway Advertiser
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Whelan’s production and arranging credits include, among others, U2, Van Morrison and Kate Bush. He has worked extensively in theatre. His adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore had successful runs at London’s Old Vic, Melbourne and Sydney and received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination.
In 1989, he was appointed composer to the W.B. Yeats International Theatre Festival at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, he wrote original music for 15 Yeats’s plays.
He has also composed scores for films including Lamb starring Liam Neeson and Dancing At Lughnasa starring Meryl Streep.
His most famous work, Riverdance, was composed especially for the interval act of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. As a single release, Riverdance spent 18 weeks at No. 1 in the Irish charts and was a Top Ten hit in the UK. Since then it has gone on to play to millions of people world-wide with both the album and video topping the charts around the world. Bill was honoured with a 1997 Grammy Award when the Riverdance record was named the ‘Best Musical Show Album’. Read more here.
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