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
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 Yeat's plays.
His work with Irish traditional music and musicians has occupied
much of his time since 1980 when he was a member of the legendary
Planxty. He also produced records for many folk artists including,
Andy Irvine, Patrick
Wing, Davy Spillane and the
Bulgarian/Irish band, East Wind.
In 1987, he wrote his first major orchestral suite commemorating
the film music of Seán Ó Riada, which was conducted by Elmer
Bernstein and performed by the Irish
National Symphony Orchestra.
His specially commissioned orchestral work, The Seville Suite,
received its European premiere performance at the Maestranza in
Seville as part of the celebrations for Ireland's National Day
at Expo '92. The last movement of this work was danced by Maria
Pagés who was later to appear in Riverdance The Show. His next
large scale orchestral work, The Spirit Of Mayo, was performed
in 1993 by an 85-piece orchestra in Dublin's National Concert Hall.
Together with the choral group Anúna, this piece also featured
a powerful Celtic drum corps and a 200 strong choir.
His own compositional work in film includes Lamb starring Liam
Neeson, the award-winning At The Cinema Palace, the emotive score
for the film Some
Mother's Son and Dancing
At Lughnasa starring
In 2007 Bill wrote a brand new score, specially commissioned for
the new print of Bob Quinn’s film “Poitín”, originally released
(with no music) in 1977 and starring Cyril Cusack, Donal McCann
and Niall Toibin.
Riverdance was composed especially for the interval act of the
1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The original 7 minute orchestral
piece conceived for hard-shoe Irish dance was televised to a
European audience of 300 million viewers. As a single release,
Riverdance spent 18 weeks at No. 1 in the Irish charts and was
a Top Ten hit in the UK.
Later that year Bill Whelan began to write Riverdance The Show
and in February 1995 it had it's first performance at The Point
Theatre in Dublin. 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.
Riverdance Music From The Show is an album of 15 inspired composition's
which marry a rich blend of ethnic influences, such as Russian,
Spanish and Irish. The album features stunning performances from
some of the finest Irish and International musicians including
Eileen Ivers, Rafael Riquini, Nikola Parov and Davy Spillane.
Bill was honoured with a 1997 Grammy Award when the Riverdance
record was named the 'Best Musical Show Album'.
Born 22nd May in Limerick to David and Irene Whelan.
Began junior studies at Presentation Convent School, Sexton Street, Limerick. During this time also began early piano lessons.
Studied at the Jesuit Sacred Heart College at the Crescent in Limerick. During this time continued private piano tuition with several teachers and finally at the new Limerick School of Music in Mulgrave Street, Limerick. During this time, had begun to play with local bands (drums) and to write songs (with Niall Connery) and instrumental pieces. Started a small record label and a commercial (very small "c") recording studio in the attic of the Whelan house at 18 Barrington Street.
Moved to Dublin and began studies for a legal degree at University College Dublin. Already had one of his instrumental pieces chosen as the theme music for a Richard Harris film "Bloomfield" starring Harris and Romy Schneider. Songwriting continued through college life, and finally was spotted by Polygram Records who gave him some money to record demos of the songs. This introduced him into the recording session scene in Dublin, and soon he was getting work as a session pianist and as a keyboard player in theatre shows. Qualified finally from UCD with a Bachelor of Civil Law in 1973, and then plunged himself completely into the music business in Dublin.
Became a very busy musican, arranger, and keyboard player in Dublin, finally moving into record production. Produced and arranged for a large range of Irish artists, including several of Ireland's Eurovision entries. Wrote music for television documentaries and films, and kept the pot boiling with many television commercials – partnering
for a while with fellow-composer Shaun Davey. Became increasingly
interested in traditional Irish music, and was finally introduced
to Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine while working on the TV series "My Ireland". Produced albums and tracks for folk and traditional artists such as Stockton's Wing, the Dubliners, Danny Doyle, the Fureys, Makem and Clancy.
At this time began a working relationship with Kate Bush on "The Dreaming" which was to extend over her following two albums.
Married Denise Quinn in September 1975 and over the next 7 years they produced 4 children – David, Nessa, Fiona and Brian.
Toured Ireland with "Jesus Christ Superstar" and also "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" as keyboard player and later as Music Director. Formed the band "Stacc" with John Drummond, Des Moore and Desi Reynolds. They were managed by Noel Pearson, and released a single on Epic⁄CBS "You Put the Love"
At this time also founded Irish Film Orchestras, which was to grow into a very successful service, attracting American and UK film composers to Ireland to record their scores. The availability of a pool of fine orchestral musicians, and the setting-up of Windmill Lane studios in Dublin was key to the growth of this service.
Ten very busy though financially rocky years as a producer and arranger in Ireland and abroad. Produced and arranged a number of Eurovision winners, including Johnny Logan's "Hold Me Now" and Shay Healy's "What's Another Year".
Produced an album by the band "Minor Detail" which was then signed to Polygram in the USA, becoming the first Irish band ever to be signed directly to a US label.
Joined Planxty and played on two Planxty albums, while touring with the band and extending his experience in traditional music.
In 1981, co-wrote "Timedance" with Donal Lunny, which Planxty performed on the Eurovision, and for which the band signed to WEA records.
Produced for U2 on the "War" album, and set up a music publishing company with Paul McGuinness – McGuinness⁄Whelan.
In 1986 with Van Morrison wrote and produced the score for the film "Lamb" starring Liam Neeson.
Orchestrated the "O'Riada Suite" a concert suite of O'Riada's film music, which was conducted by Elmer Bernstein as part of the 1987 O'Riada Retrospective, and then produced the subsequent three albums of music recorded at the live event at the National Concert Hall in Dublin.
At this time was also very active in the organisational end of the music industry, setting up the Irish Association of Songwriters and Composers, and becoming a founder member if the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO).
In 1989 produced, arranged and presented a television series "An Eye on the Music" for RTE, where he assembled an eclectic range of musicians and performers to work with the orchestra – Prefab Sprout, Beverly Craven, Lloyd Cole, Jimmy Webb, Midge Ure, Hothouse Flowers, the Corrs (first TV appearance), Altan, the Chieftains, Brian Kennedy, the Trio Bulgarka, Elmer Bernstein, George Fenton, the Indian sarod virtuoso, Krishnamurti Shridar, Machanic Manuruke from Zimbabwe, all participated in this unique series. John Hughes, his friend from Minor Detail, co-produced the talent end of the show which was directed by Ian McGarry.
Took on the role as composer to the WB Yeats International Festival at the Abbey Theatre. During those five years, he wrote music for 15 Yeats plays and worked with a wide range of actors such as Ciaran Hinds, Fionnuala Flanagan, Olwen Fouere, and wrote music for dance, movement and puppetry for these productions. James W. Flannery directed.
At the same time, he also wrote "The Seville Suite – From Kinsale to La Coruna" a 45-minute orchestral work for traditional musicians (Irish and Spanish) as part of the Irish cultural presentation at EXPO '92 at the Maestranza in Seville. This also incorporated Irish and Spanish dance, which was later to re-appear in Riverdance.
In 1993 wrote the large-scale "Spirit of Mayo" which incorporated a symphony orchestra, a 200-piece choir, a corps of drummers, traditional instruments and the chamber choir Anúna. Many of these elements were to appear in Riverdance, as well as Michael Flatley and Jean Butler who danced at the Spirit of Mayo concert.
In 1994, Moya Doherty who had seen the Spirit of Mayo, invited Bill to compose a piece of music for the centrepiece presentation of the Eurovision which she was producing for RTE. For this he wrote "Riverdance", a title he gave it to make the connection with "Timedance", which he wrote with Donal Lunny in 1981. The subsequent performance was to receive a phenomenal response, which resulted in the record sitting at No 1 in the Irish chart for 18 weeks. The album of Riverdance the Show reached the top of the Billboard World Music charts for months and resulted in Bill receiving a Grammy award.
Then followed the scores for two films, "Some Mother's Son" starring Helen Mirren, and "Dancing a Lughnasa" with Meryl Streep. He also contributed a song for the animated film "A Christmas Carol" which he wrote for Charlotte Church and an instrumental piece for Vanessa Mae for her album, "Choreography". He produced the very highly regarded first solo album for Zoe Conway which he recorded at his own studio in Roundstone, Co. Galway.
Bill also wrote the "Connemara Suite" - three pieces for the Irish Chamber Orchestra which has just been released on Tara Records. It features Zoe Conway, Fionnuala Hunt, Michelle Mulcahy, Colin Dunne and Morgan Crowley. The work was inspired by the natural beauty of the area around where he lives in the West of Ireland.
He is currently working on an opera⁄musical for the New
York Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Centre Theatre.
Bill serves on the boards of Berklee School of Music in Boston, the University of Limerick Foundation, The Irish Traditional Music Archive and the cutting-edge Crash Ensemble.