Priests take leap of faith with debut album

Fri Nov 21, 2008 7:59pm EST
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By Hazel Davis

LONDON (Billboard) - It's not every day that a music industry executive compares a group of singing clergymen to a superstar rapper.

But when he talks about the Priests, an act he recently signed to his label, Epic Records U.K. managing director Nick Raphael insists that "they're just like Jay-Z."

The comparison between a trio of parish priests and one of the world's most influential hip-hop artists may not be an obvious one, but Raphael sees parallels.

When Raphael was working at Northwestside Records, the label he founded with Christian Tattersfield, he signed the then-unknown Jay-Z "because we loved his work and we wanted to be cool. We weren't expecting him to become the seminal artist he now is."

In April, Raphael signed three clergymen from Northern Ireland -- tenors Eugene O'Hagan and his brother Martin, plus bass-baritone David Delargy, their childhood friend -- in the belief he was facilitating a lifelong ambition of his friend, producer Mike Hedges, to make a recording of a Latin Mass.

But when the trio signed its 1 million pound ($1.5 million) deal on the steps of Westminster Cathedral, the Jay-Z effect took hold.

"The media suddenly went ballistic, and we realized they had the potential to be huge," Raphael says. "Here are three men who are going to remain priests, who have fantastic voices and who sing with conviction."

The priests have been singing together since they were children and attended the Seminary in Belfast and the Irish College in Rome. When they lived in the Italian capital, the priests were invited personally by the papal master of ceremonies, Monsignor Magee, to sing for the pope in the sacred liturgy.   Continued...