Ashley Davis had a lot to celebrate last month. She was not only getting the opportunity throughout the East Coast to air the beautiful songs on her new “Down by the Sea” disc, she would be doing so as special guest on the tour of her idol, Clannad’s Moya Brennan.
But fate stepped in with a cruel blow, robbing Davis of her voice and forcing her to bow out of the tour opener in Washington, D.C.
“My voice is about 80 percent there,” she whispered nervously as we stood at the bar in the back of the large banquet hall of Rory Dolan’s in Yonkers on May 21, where the Celtic chanteuses would share the stage in one of two New York area appearances in front of a small but appreciative audience.
Because of the intimate size of the crowd, Brennan stood by the merchandise table and personally greeted many of the old friends and fans that came to see her (while Davis paced the stage and prayed for the god of vocals to deliver a miracle).
Some fans broke into the Gaelic tongue immediately, much to the delight of this legendary singer. The poetry of that ancient dialect was one of the key ingredients in Clannad, and it is cultural treasure that her family keeps close to its heart.
That was evident in the DVD Brennan pressed into my hand. During the last interview we did, she promised me a copy of an Irish language documentary of the Brennan family (they not only spawned Clannad but Enya as well) that culminated in a Clannad reunion in the U.K.
This was a sweet home movie of one of the most seminal clans in our culture, which was a real viewing treat for this long-time fan. The narrations and interviews are done entirely in Gaelic, which made this reviewer thankful for subtitles!
Before I go on, let me deliver mad props to Rory Dolan’s. Being the Jersey Shore boy that I am means that I don’t get onto McLean Avenue very often, and I must admit to forgetting what a great place it is.
Not only is the food at Rory’s great and the craic mighty, stepping into an Irish pub where everyone in the place actually has a brogue is a rare delight indeed.
Davis borrowed Brennan’s band and took the stage. “This is the same group of musicians that recorded much of “Down by the Sea” with me, so it is really a thrill to play it live again,” she announced, her face beaming.
The voice did not let her down as she delivered a haunting read of “Raglan Road” and an original called "Wedding Song (Beannachtai),” a delicately beautiful track written for her brother's nuptials.
I’ll say it before and will say it again -- this is the kind of tune that should be played at every Irish wedding, so take note all of you June brides out there! "May you always have work for your hands to do/may be pockets be heavy and your heart be right/may the moon follow you home on starless nights," Davis sings.
Brennan mounted the stage without much fanfare and delighted the crowd with a mélange of her ethereal vocals and lush harp playing.
The goose bumps rocketed up everyone’s arm when she led her talented young band through Clannad classics like “Harry’s Game” and “I Will Find You.” The band broke out into spontaneous melodies of airs and reels from both the Scottish and Irish traditions, interweaving witty stories about the histories of both nations.
Even though many of the choruses were in the ancient tongue, Brennan inspired sing-alongs anyway. The audience, which included members of WFUV’s popular “Ceol na Gael radio program,” Andy Cooney and Cherish the Ladies’ Joanie Madden, happy obliged.
Brennan also included a surprise in her set. “I hate taking requests from friends of mine that ask me to sing at their weddings,” she said. “One of my friends asked me to sing ‘Songbird’ by Fleetwood Mac. It’s a beautiful song and I’m glad I did it.”
After hearing her version of the song, I think I can speak for the audience when I say we’re glad she did it as well!
Brennan mentioned during our last interview the song has renewed an interest to interpret other people’s songs for a future project. The rendition she did at Rory’s that night actually eclipsed the original, and if that song was any indication let’s hope this project sees the light of day sooner rather than later!
The choral thrill ride of “Dulaman” brought the crowd to its feet, so Brennan brought the temperature back down with a spine chilling version of “Danny Boy.” Midway through the tune, though, the unthinkable happened -- she forgot the words!
I don’t think that has ever happened during any show I have ever reviewed. Cue in Joanie Madden, who hollered out the words from the back of the bar.
“Well, folks, at least we know this isn’t a Memorex taped moment,” Madden shouted to thunderous applause. Brennan shrugged, shook off the red face, and ended the song with grace and poise.