Singing at the tops of our hearts
Sunday, August 4, 2019 at 3:10PM
John O'Connor

Just having pledged to support the crowdfunding campaign for singer/songwriter Pierce Turner’s new album I remembered writing a short piece for Ruth Fleischmann’s 2005 book celebrating the Cork International Choral Festival. Here it is.


John O’Connor, Dublin, Former Member of the Newbridge College Boys Choir, Co Kildare reminded of the Cork Choral Festival by Pierce Turner1

It is a dark, smoky, club in Dublin some time in the late 1990s. The magical Pierce Turner is halfway through his set and he has us in the palm of his hand. This singer/songwriter’s peculiarly unique style of performance is well suited to the intimate atmosphere of Whelan’s. Pierce likes it up close and personal so he spends most of the gig running up and down the tables in the club: face to face with his audience. What you see is what you get with Pierce Turner. And he gives all he’s got. Meanwhile, his frenetic energy is balanced by the calm of the string quartet supporting his performance.

As he starts into You Can Never Know the sweat is high and the concentration intense. The first chorus is a nod to Lou Reed’s Take a Walk On The Wildside:

It felt so good to hear those coloured girls sing...

But the second time around the chorus has become

It felt so good to hear those choirboys sing.

Following on from:

You can never feel what it felt like standing in the church
Full of boy sopranos all singing
Faith Of Our Fathers at the top of their hearts.

As the song draws to a close Pierce gently begins the hymn and, before long, we are all drawing on our childhood memories of Sunday morning Mass to join with him. After a few bars we are belting it out at the tops of our hearts and, as I sing, I am transported back to the Newbridge College Boys Choir. I am a twelve-year-old soprano, singing at the Choral Festival in Cork. The hairs rise up on the back of my neck and the sheer joy of singing with a choir is awakened.

Our choir never actually sang Faith Of Our Fathers. Our repertoire for Cork in 1973 contained more of Back and Mozart. But most vivid now is the excitement of singing with the choir: the beauty of the music and the force of our combined voices really did lift the soul. That experience was even more important than the fact that we won the schools section of the competition.


  1. Pierce Turner, from Wexford, now lives in New York. His first album in 1987, It’s Only A Long Way Across was produced by Philip Glass who also contributed what some have said are the most gorgeous string arrangements in rock history. Liam Fay of Ireland’s answer to Rolling Stone, Hot Press Magazine, enthused: ‘Joyce with a voice, Yeats on skates, or Brendan Behan with an electric guitar, Pierce Turner is a great artist.’ Christy Moore has notably championed Turner by performing many of his songs.

See Pierce Turner's website for details on how to support his crowdfunding campaign.

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