Off The Record by Mike Farragher
Moya Brennan’s a home girl at heart
Posted on Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 09:47 AM
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Public television usually gets green during the month of March, in more ways than one.
It is the month that they raise cash during their telethons and to do that, they appeal to the sizable Irish and Irish American audience with programming from the Emerald Isle. In years past, this exposure has launched such successful shows as Celtic Woman and Celtic Thunder.
Music of Ireland--Welcome Home, this year’s main PBS Irish show, is a fantastic documentary that tells the definitive story of contemporary Irish music, focusing on the Emerald Isle's greatest musical exports, their influence on America and the music's global impact.
Hosted by Clannad's Grammy Award-winning Moya Brennan and produced by the Elevation Group's Denny Young (producer of concert specials from Duran Duran and Counting Crows), the program is nothing short of a national treasure, Music of Ireland--Welcome Home premieres nationwide March 2010 on public television, including WLIW21 in New York (check WNET.ORG for listings)
An exclusive public television bonus CD will be available during the broadcasts to viewers who make a donation in support of their local station with a DVD purchase. The CD bonus tracks include additional songs by Órla Fallon (formerly of Celtic Woman), Ronan Tynan (formerly of the Irish Tenors) and others.
Barnes & Noble, the show’s exclusive retail partner, promotes the program with a deluxe CD and DVD pack, both of which are an indispensible addition to the collection of any Irish music fan.
Beginning in 1960 with the Clancy Brothers, Music of Ireland--Welcome Home traces the origins of Irish music, and features exclusive interviews with U2's Bono and Adam Clayton, Michael Flatley and Bill Whelan of Riverdance. Brennan is the ultimate music insider, which enables her to conduct intimate interviews with Ireland’s brightest stars.
“I remember being backstage with Bob Dylan at Slane Castle, and he is talking about how the Clancy Brothers and the McPeake family were huge influences, and I was like, ‘Who are they?’” Bono says with a laugh.
Perhaps the most emotional point of the broadcast comes at the end when Liam Clancy looks into the camera (filmed right before his death) and talks about how each second of his life is just as valuable as a second of his life in his teens. It is just one priceless moment in a priceless documentary.
“I agreed to do this with the provision that I wouldn’t come to these musicians with a set of interview questions written on a paper,” said Brennan during a New York interview that is part of a press tour.
“I wanted to just have a conversation that was natural, and I assured the producers that I would be able to get more footage that way. Many people we interviewed don’t normally chat with anyone and would only talk here because it was me doing the interviewing, which was very gratifying.”
Brennan’s revealing interviews are laced with breathtaking scenery from her native Donegal, sing-alongs at the Brennan family pub, and never-before-seen archival performances by the Clancys, the Dubliners and U2.
"This is about a country, its people, their undeniable spirit and the amazing music that has transcended generations. There is no place like Ireland," stated executive producer Denny Young.
"For such a small country to produce such amazing talent and the way their music defines the people, is just extraordinary. It has fascinated me for most of my life and is something I wanted more people to be in tune with."
The sequel to Music of Ireland--Welcome Home is planned for late 2010 spotlighting more recent artists including U2, Celtic Woman, the Cranberries, the Corrs, the Irish Tenors, and singer/songwriters like Glen Hansard and Damien Rice, as well as the rise of Irish music festivals and the use of Irish music in film and television.
It is a time capsule of our musical culture narrated in a contemporary way, and Brennan is proud of the exposure that American audiences will have to Irish musical giants like Donal Lunny, Paul Brady, and Christy Moore that are relative unknowns in the U.S.
“I had a fight on my hands getting some of the lesser known people included in this project,” she says. “The whole point of doing this was to show the different branches of this tree that is our musical heritage.
“Donal’s work influenced Riverdance and so many others and it was so important to show Americans where this music lives. I mean, Donal and Christy are like the godfathers of our whole scene. We tried our best to get as many of them on camera in this two hour program.”
Here are the best bits from our chat:
You had amazing access. I wish I had your Rolodex!
Bono plays the Rose Bowl on the Internet, then goes to the UN and then has coffee with Obama. For him to give me the afternoon and be so generous with his time was amazing.
I had no idea the respect I carried in the music business. I was amazed how everyone took my call. It was so good for me. You play your own thing for 35 years on your own, and for me to be embraced like this in the Irish music community was great.
It gave me an excuse to get back in touch with some old friends, which was a joy. I got some new friends in the deal as well! Glen Hansard (Frames) worked on the CD with me and we got to be very close.
The time you devoted to the Clancy Brothers launch in America was significant, and rightly so. It was also great to include interview footage of Liam right before he died. Ending the first part of the documentary with him was very moving.
It was the turning point of where a lot of Americans became aware of Irish music. When they hit the Ed Sullivan show, they shot into Carnegie Hall immediately after and they were able to launch a lot of people behind them. It was the start of Irish music in the popular form.
One of the people notably absent from the documentary is your sister Enya. Should people read into that? How is your relationship?
I am just after seeing her at a cousin’s 50th birthday party before making the trip here and we had a great time! We have a great relationship as sisters that has nothing to do with music or the business side of things, which is handled through her management.
We approached them about having her be part of this and it didn’t work out, which is a shame. I bent over backwards to make these interviews work for everyone’s schedule.
I cut a German tour short to fly back to Dublin to grab Bono and Adam Clayton, flew to Vancouver to speak with Bob Geldof, but couldn’t get it together with my own family (laughs). We even tried to do a Clannad reunion, but one person was sick and one person was gone when the other felt better, so there you go.
It was amazing to see in the documentary the archival footage of the Chieftans jamming with Chinese musicians and you realize how much we have in common with their music.
I think no one illustrates that quite like Paddy Moloney and the Chieftans. His genius is finding that common denominator in roots music in Asian and Spanish cultures.
It goes back to the tree analogy I was talking about. Doing this documentary gives you an appreciation of how Irish music sprouts. You see that when the Rolling Stones fly to Dublin for a jam with the Chieftans.
Our music is such a treasure, and how it expands to influence other cultures is amazing. We have such a strong musical root in our culture.
Who did you know the least? What conversation surprised you most?
If the documentary hadn’t seen light of day, the biggest thrill to me would have been to talk to Pete Seeger. He is such a legend, such an agile man that is so with it, giving me the history of the Clancys and Irish music through his eyes. I was so privileaged to meet him. It was worth the whole experience to me.
I knew Frank McCourt but didn’t know Malachy. He is an amazing character, a great writer. I knew of Damien Rice but met him through this. He really is a great talent.
I loved watching you interview your father. I watched this advanced copy with my father; he really enjoyed that. I loved how you brought it back to your family’s pub.
He’s 85. There are so many families that perform in pubs. That is part of our culture.
When you saw the finished product and how Clannad was placed in the narrative, did it make you feel proud of your contribution to the culture?
It did! We took our influences from Los Angeles -- Mamas and the Papas, Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac -- and added that to the Irish music we played in Donegal. That ethereal sound of layered harmonies in Clannad was the blueprint for Enya, my solo work and a whole genre of singers.
We created a new branch of this tree I mentioned, and that feels good.