Bill Whelan, (born 22 May 1950 in Limerick, Ireland) is an Irish composer and musician. He is best known for composing a piece for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The result, Riverdance, was a seven-minute display of traditional Irish dancing that became a full-length stage production and spawned a worldwide craze for Irish dancing and celtic music. It was released as a single in the UK in 1994, credited to "Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra". It reached number 9 and stayed in the charts for 16 weeks. The album of the same title reached number 31 in the album charts in 1995.
Whelan is a native of Limerick, and was educated at Crescent College, University College Dublin and the King's Inns. While he is best known for his Riverdance composition, Whelan has been involved in many ground-breaking projects in Ireland since the 1970s. As a producer he has worked with U2 (on their War album), Van Morrison, Kate Bush, The Dubliners, Planxty, Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane, Patrick Street, Stockton's Wing and fellow Limerickman Richard Harris.
As an arranger and composer, his credits include:
- The Seville Suite, which was inspired by the exploits of Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill from The Battle of Kinsale in 1601 until his arrival in Galicia to the welcome of The Spanish Earl of Caraçena. In addition to the orchestra, The Seville Suite includes Celtic music on uilleann pipes, accordion, bodhrán, fiddle as well as Galician harp, whistles and pipes.
- The Spirit Of Mayo, performed by an 85-piece orchestra in Dublin's National Concert Hall and featuring a powerful Celtic drum corps and a 200 strong choir and choral group Anúna.
- Whelan's latest Celtic/Orchestral release, The Connemara Suite, features the Irish Chamber Orchestra along with soloists Zoë Conway, Morgan Crowley, Colin Dunne (Dance Percussion) and Fionnuala Hunt.
In theatre, Whelan received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for his adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. He wrote original music for 15 of W. B. Yeats's plays for Dublin's Abbey Theatre and his film credits include, Dancing At Lughnasa (starring Meryl Streep), Some Mother's Son, Lamb (starring Liam Neeson) and the award-winning At The Cinema Palace.
Musical career — excerpts
Whelan's lifetime of musical endeavours include:
- 1970 Composes score for the film Bloomfield.
- 1978 Member of the jazz-rock band Stacc, who release a single on CBS.
- 1979 Joins Planxty on keyboards.
- 1981 "Timedance", composed by Whelan and Dónal Lunny, and performed by Planxty, features in the interval of Eurovision. "Timedance" released as a Planxty record.
- 1983 Whelan produces "The Refugee" on the U2 album War.
- 1984 Film score for Lamb, with Van Morrison
- 1985 Produces and performs on Stockton's Wing's Live – Take One.
- 1987 Composes The O'Riada Suite.
- 1989 Joins board of Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO), on which he serves continuously until 1997.
- 1992 Commissioned to compose The Seville Suite. Produces and plays keyboards on the Andy Irvine/Davy Spillane album EastWind. (Both albums were released on the Tara Music Label).
- 1992 Produces and performs on Stockton's Wing's The Crooked Rose for the Tara Music Label.
- 1993 Composes the orchestral work The Spirit Of Mayo.
- 1994 Composes Riverdance for interval segment of the Eurovision Song Contest. The segment is an unprecedented success and spins off into the long-running stage show.
- 1995 Invited to serve on the Government Task Force set up by Minister Michael D. Higgins.
- 1996 Composes original music for Jim Sheridan/Terry George's film Some Mother's Son.
- 1997 Receives a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album for Riverdance.
- 2000 Riverdance opens on Broadway.
- 2001 Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from IMRO (Irish Music Rights Organisation)
- 2006 Receives Lifetime Achievement Award at the Meteor Music Awards.
- 2008 Releases his Celtic orchestral album The Connemara Suite on the Tara Music Label.
As a keyboard player, or as an arranger, he has contributed to these albums:
- Rude Awakening (Andy Irvine) (1991) Green Linnet Records
- East Wind (Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane) (1992) Tara Music Label
- The Seville Suite (various artists) (1992) Tara Music Label
- Riverdance — music from the show (various artists) (1994)
- Patrick Street: The Best of (Patrick Street) (1995)
- Some Mother's Son (various artists) (1996)
- L'Imaginaire Irlandais (various artists) (1996)
- Roots of Riverdance (various artists) (1997)
- Dancing at Lughnasa (various artists) (1998)
- Riverdance on Broadway (various artists) (2000)
- Zoe Conway (Zoe Conway) (2002)Tara Music Label
- A Christmas Carol (various artists) (2007)
- The Connemara Suite (2008)Tara Music Label