|Birth name||William Michael Joseph Whelan|
|Born||22 May 1950|
|Genres||Irish traditional music, Celtic, folk, rock|
|Occupations||Composer, musician, arranger, record producer, pianist|
William Michael Joseph Whelan (born 22 May 1950) 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 piece of original music accompanying a new take on traditional Irish dancing that became a full-length stage production and spawned a worldwide craze for Irish music and dance. The corresponding soundtrack album earned him a Grammy. "Riverdance" was released as a single in 1994, credited to "Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra". It reached number one in Ireland for 18 weeks and number nine in the UK. The album of the same title reached number 31 in the album charts in 1995.
Whelan has also arranged a symphonic suite version of Riverdance, with its premiere performed by the Ulster Orchestra on BBC Radio 3 in August 2014. A studio recording was released on CD (on the RTÉ lyric fm label) in 2018.
Whelan is a native of Limerick city, and was educated at Crescent College. He gained his Bachelor of Civil Law degree at University College Dublin in 1973 and then went to King's Inns. In 2011, Whelan was awarded the UCD Foundation Day Medal in recognition of his outstanding achievements and his contribution to Irish music worldwide. While he is best known for his "Riverdance" composition and the theatrical show of the same name, Whelan has been involved in many ground-breaking projects in Ireland since the 1970s. In his autobiography he especially mentions the major influence of James W. Flannery.
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:
- Original music (1989–1993) for fifteen W.B. Yeats plays (three per season), which were produced by James W. Flannery for the Yeats International Theatre Festival held at Dublin's Abbey Theatre each September during that period.
- The Seville Suite (1992), 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 (1993), 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.
- The Connemara Suite (2009), 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. 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.
Whelan's lifetime of musical endeavours include:
- 1970 – Composes main theme 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.
- 1989–1993 – In collaboration with James W. Flannery writes original music for the Yeats International Theatre Festival held at Dublin's Abbey Theatre.
- 1990 – Produces and plays keyboards on Andy Irvine's album Rude Awakening, released in early 1991 on the Green Linnet Records label.
- 1992 – Commissioned to compose The Seville Suite, released on the Tara Music label.
- 1992 – Produces and plays keyboards on the Andy Irvine/Davy Spillane album EastWind, 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.
- 2010 – Joins the board of the National Music Education Programme.
- 2011 – Inaugural inductee into IMRO Academy
- 2022 – Whelan's autobiography The Road To Riverdance is published.
As a keyboard player, or as an arranger, he has contributed to these albums:
- The Woman I Loved So Well (Planxty) (1980)
- Words & Music (Planxty) (1983)
- Irish Times (Patrick Street) (1990)
- Rude Awakening (Andy Irvine) (1991) Green Linnet Records
- East Wind (Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane) (1992) Tara Music
- The Seville Suite (various artists) (1992) Tara Music
- Riverdance: Music from the Show (various artists) (1995)
- The Best of Patrick Street (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
- A Christmas Carol (various artists) (2007)
- The Connemara Suite (2008) Tara Music
- Riverdance A Symphonic Suite (2018)
- "Search results for 'Timedance'". Broadcast Music, Inc. Retrieved 4 August 2023.
- Much of the biographical information here is covered in an extensive interview with Marian Finucane on 16 April 2011 on RTÉ Radio 1
- "Prom 51 (part 1): Free Prom – Dvorak, Grieg, Bax and Bill Whelan". BBC Radio 3. 25 August 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
- "Bill Whelan". UL.ie. 19 February 2021.
- "Dublin International Piano Festival & Summer Academy | Bill Whelan | Faculty 2015". PianoFestival.ie.
- Smith, Andrea. "Bill Whelan and David Brophy: 'I'm always learning from Bill'". Sunday Times. Gale A718045934 – via TheTimes.co.uk.
- "UCD Foundation Day Medal for Grammy Award winner, Bill Whelan". UCD.ie. Retrieved 31 August 2022.
- Flannery gave me a sense that my work as a composer was valuable, and he encouraged me in every way he could. He praised the work. Even though I was slow to believe it, he convinced me to have faith in my skills as a melodist. He wanted me to believe I was equipped with the instinct for the dynamics of drama that a good theatre composer should have. This affirmation was an American thing at the time and wasn't found easily in Ireland.
- Meagher, John (22 October 2022). "Composer Bill Whelan reveals Riverdance rows and the joy of working with Kate Bush". Independent.ie.
- "East Wind – Andy Irvine, Davy Spillane – Credits – AllMusic" – via AllMusic.
- "Irish Times by Patrick Street - as analyzed at irishtune.info". www.irishtune.info.
- Flynn, Pat (3 March 2019). "Stockton's Wing to launch new single".
- "Richard Harris – My Boy / Why Did You Leave Me" – via Discogs.com.
- Demolder, Kate (24 September 2022). "'I still get such a buzz': Bill Whelan remembers Riverdance glory days two decades on". Irish Examiner.
- Nolan, Interview by Larissa. "Bill Whelan: Irish rebel's story kick-started my Riverdance score" – via www.thetimes.co.uk.
- "A Rare Road in Irish Music". The Journal of Music.
- Jacques, Alan. "Composer to fund studies" (PDF) – via LimerickCity.ie.
- "Bill Whelan". BFI. Archived from the original on 26 April 2017.
- "Irish Rock Discography: Bill Whelan". www.irishrock.org.
- "Irish Rock Discography: Stacc". www.irishrock.org.
- "Ceolas Profile: Planxty". Ceolas.org. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "The Refugee by U2". Songfacts.
- "Stockton's Wing – Live Take One" – via Discogs.com.
- "How the Irish traditional- orchestral fusion since 1970 has contributed to the regeneration and re-popularisation of Irish Traditional Music". LinkedIn.
- Newsdesk, The Hot Press. "Bill Whelan bursary launched". Hotpress.
- "Andy Irvine – Rude Awakening" – via Discogs.com.
- "Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane – East Wind" – via Discogs.com.
- "Stockton's Wing – The Crooked Rose" – via Discogs.com.
- "Eurovision Song Contest – Dublin 1994". European Broadcasting Union. Archived from the original on 5 October 2021. Retrieved 25 October 2021.
- "The PIANO report report of the review group PIANO to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Mr. Michael D. Higgins, T.D. January 1996 on the provision and Institutional arrangements now for orchestras and ensembles". [Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht]. 23 October 1996.
- "Written Answers. – Task Forces and Review Groups. – Dáil Éireann (27th Dáil) – Tuesday, 13 Feb 1996 – Houses of the Oireachtas". Oireachtas.ie. 13 February 1996.
- "Meteor Industry Award for Bill Whelan". RTÉ. 1 February 2006. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
- Dunning, Jennifer (17 March 2000). "DANCE REVIEW; With Fast Feet and Fiddles, An Irish Perennial Returns". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
- "Broadway Opening Night 2000". Riverdance.com. 17 March 2000. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- "Bill Whelan and Brendan Graham first inductees to new IMRO Academy". IMRO.ie. 6 April 2011.
- "Meteor Ireland Music Awards Past Winners". Meteor. 1 February 2009. Archived from the original on 1 February 2009. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
- "Director of National Music Education Programme Announced". 11 May 2010.