Loudest Whisper

Biography by

A sort of cult Celtic prog-folk rock band with a theatrical bent, Loudest Whisper started off as another sort of band altogether. Formed in the early '60s in Fermoy, Ireland, by guitarists Brian O'Reilly…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

A sort of cult Celtic prog-folk rock band with a theatrical bent, Loudest Whisper started off as another sort of band altogether. Formed in the early '60s in Fermoy, Ireland, by guitarists Brian O'Reilly and Michael Clancey, bassist John Aherne, and drummer Jimmy Cotter (all four members shared vocals), the band was initially known as the Wizards. The Wizards played mostly covers of Beatles, Hollies, and Spencer Davis songs and after Jimi Hendrix and Cream hit, the band took a turn into heavier blues territory, changing its name to Loudest Whisper as the 1970s opened. The band also had some lineup changes, with Cotter leaving and Brendan "Bunny" Nelgian coming in as his replacement on drums. When guitarist Paud O'Reilly (Brian's brother) joined, he switched over to drums and Nelgian became the group's lead singer.

It was here that the general direction of the band changed. Brian's songwriting had always drawn heavily on American folk-rock groups like the Lovin' Spoonful and the Mamas & the Papas, but he had also been working in amateur musicals staged by a local theater group and finding his attention increasingly drawn to traditional Irish folklore as well. He decided in 1973 to fuse all of these strands and interests together in a Celtic musical based on the legend of the Irish King Lir. The resulting Children of Lir premiered in Fermoy on January 7, 1973, as a full-blown stage production, with Ron Kavanagh, a singer and guitarist who had recently joined the band, taking the lead role. With nearly 60 performers involved, Children of Lir wasn't a rock opera so much as an actual musical, and it attracted a lot of regional attention, leading to the band signing a recording deal with the Irish branch of Polydor Records and beginning to record a studio adaptation of Children of Lir in 1974. Meanwhile, O'Reilly had written and staged another musical, Perseus, based on the Greek legend, with vocalist Geraldine Dorgan in the main role.

Kavanagh left the band midway through the recording of the album version of Children of Lir, followed by Nelgian's departure shortly after the completed LP was released in 1975. The U.K. branch of Polydor rejected the LP, so Children of Lir ended up being released only in Ireland in an extremely limited edition of maybe 500 copies. Further lineup shuffles followed, with Brian taking over more of the singing and Dorgan officially joining as a guitarist and vocalist. Her voice was featured in O'Reilly's third musical, The Maiden of Sorrow, which was staged in 1975. Loudest Whisper toured throughout the late '70s but recorded very little, issuing only a few singles. Polydor released the band's second album, simply called Loudest Whisper, in 1980, which combined some of the singles with new recordings, all of which had an accessible soft rock feel. Again, Polydor did little to support the album and the band issued its next project, Hard Times, which featured a second female vocalist, Bernadette Bowes, privately on the Fiona imprint in 1982.

Loudest Whisper began to dissolve when both Dorgan and Bowes left the group in 1985, although the O'Reilly brothers continued to gig under the name in a variety of configurations, even staging another musical, Buskin', that same year. A couple of singles followed, but Loudest Whisper were barely active as a band as the 1980s closed. Brian released a cassette album, Spread Your Wings, as a solo project in 1990, with Dorgan helping out on background vocals, and the band was offered a recording deal with the Irish arm of K-Tel Records. Re-recording material from all phases of its career, the band came up with an album called The Collection. A reshuffling at the label led to the album being shelved, however, and it wasn't officially issued until 1995 on Fiona.

Following the huge success of Riverdance, O'Reilly restaged The Children of Lir with a more folky and Celtic veneer, and a version of this was recorded and released, credited jointly to Brian O'Reilly and Donovan. Buskin' was also restaged. The Kissing Spell label reissued the original recording of Children of Lir on CD, following it with the group's second album, retitled 2, and a near-bootleg quality version of The Maiden of Sorrow drawn from a 1975 live performance. Sunbeam Records released Magic Carpet in 2008, a six-CD box set that included early demos, the group's first three albums, live recordings, and assorted singles from the 1970s and 1980s. Loudest Whisper continued to perform as a trio, with Brian on vocals, guitars, and keyboards; Paud on drums and backing vocals; and Brian's son Oran O'Reilly on bass.