Clannad will embark on their first North American tour in 18 years with a series of dates this fall.
This is all part of Clannad celebrating their 40th anniversary together with a two-CD set, The Essential Clannad, along with a lush public television special called Clannad- Live at Christ Church Cathedral Dublin.
The legendary band is joined on stage in spots by Irish luminaries such as Anuna, Brian Kennedy and Maire Breatnach. Sinead Madden, a singer and violinist from Moya Brennan’s backing band over the years, joins the band as well and harmonizes effortlessly with the Brennan clan.
Clannad weaves an ethereal tapestry of sound through the 19 tracks in the PBS special Theme from Harry’s Game, which is made famous by the Volkswagen commercial.
“That television special is what really spurred us on to get back out there again,” lead singer Moya Brennan explains when asked what made the timing right to reunite the group now. “We were doing the odd thing for the last four or five years. It felt great to do it again when PBS decided to put us on.”
Clannad, the Gaelic word for family, is aptly named. The band consists of siblings Moya, Ciaran and Pol Brennan along with their twin uncles Noel and Padraig Duggan.
In weaving their unique and timeless sound, Clannad drew from the various strands of music which surrounded them as they grew up in the remote north west coast of Ireland. Traditional melodies were mixed with the pop they heard on the radio to create the sound that is ancient and modern at the same time.
During the seventies they recorded six traditional albums, each of which helped to shape and refine the band's now unmistakable sound. Their young sister Enya Brennan joined the band on keyboards for two of those albums before leaving to pursue her own highly successful solo career.
They created music for popular television series Robin of Sherwood and had their music featured in movies such as Last of the Mohicans and Patriot Games. In 1999, Clannad was honored with a Grammy for Best New Age Album.
More importantly, their influence on Irish culture is incalculable. The big acts like Riverdance, Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder all borrow liberally from Clannad’s ethereal vibes, while young singers as diverse as Ashley Davis and Orla Fallon have bowed to Moya, the rightful first lady of Celtic music.
Though the band hasn’t graced the stage as a touring unit in almost two decades, Moya says the family ties have always bound them. Tourists that make their way through the door of Leo’s Pub in Co. Donegal (the watering hole owned by patriarch Leo Brennan) have been treated to spontaneous reunions with some or all the band members over the years. This tour is for the rest of us!
The 40th anniversary of the band is not just about looking back. There is a plethora of songs written and recorded that will be edited down to a proper album in the next few months.
“It’s great,” Moya says when asked what it’s like to return to the studio after all these years. “A change is as good as a rest, that’s for sure. It’s so great to be onstage with my brothers and uncles and then record this new stuff that will build our history.
“We could have done the same old thing all the time but we decided to give it a rest and rejuvenate, and I’m glad we did.”
I’m glad they’re back and I know I’m not alone! I spoke with Moya about getting the band back together and the many festivities planned to mark the band’s milestone. Here’s how it went.
How does it feel to be back onstage with the family?
The gigs have been amazing. Friends and fans shouting out songs, the odd banjo player coming up – I love the spontaneity of it all! The boys haven’t been touring as much as I have, so it’s new to them again after 19 years or so.
We thought the new album was finished but it’s not yet due to some commitments. But we figure there’s 17 albums there and tons of new material, and we thought people would want to hear the old stuff.
I guess it’s a blessing in disguise -- you’ve been away so long that people may want to hear the hits they haven’t heard you play for so long.
You have a point. You want the new music to be heard. You have to give a good concert with a good mixture. It is a blessing in disguise. We’ll stamp the ground first and then next year, hit everything with something new.
What does the new music sound like?
I think the nice thing about it is that it isn’t a dated sound -- it’s timeless. “Am I Brave Enough” and “Hand in Hand” are some of the new songs I just love. There’s a lot of body in it and there doesn’t seem like any filler exists in these songs.
Ciaran, Pol, and myself are the core harmonies in the group and that magic is back together like we never left it. Full blooded Clannad sound. The Gaelic stuff, the harp, and all the flavors we brought to the table are there.
Are there any drawbacks in reuniting after running your own show for so long?
Drawbacks in the sense I am not doing as much. Ciaran and Pol are the main writers. Working together on songs of theirs versus working on my original stuff is also a relief in a way because there’s less pressure. You can have your say without the pressure of writing the song from scratch.
The world has changed so much since Clannad left the world stage...social media, the Internet.
I’m not a Twitter or Facebook fan at all, simply because I don’t have the time to do it. You can get into deep water with Twitter. People tweet without thinking of the consequences. But it is amazing the reach of it all and if it helps you find an audience, so be it.
I’m wondering if you assume this mystical character in Clannad versus your solo stuff, where you seem lighter.
When I started with Clannad I was so shy and so in awe of being onstage and getting paid, and so in awe of going to Europe and getting paid, I suppose it came across of being ethereal. It was just a shy girleen from Donegal not knowing how to handle it all.
So, over the 40 years or whatever, I am more comfortable in my skin. I see myself as who I am and as a solo artist, I was more open. I’m talking more at Clannad shows because this is who I have become.