Clannad, the first family of Celtic music, is back with a new album, their first as a reunited group in 18 years.
Nádúr (pronounced ned-dur), is the Gaelic word for nature and the title of their new disc. It’s a fitting title as the album sees the family band – siblings Moya, Ciarán and Pól Brennan and their twin uncles Noel and Padraig Duggan – back together on record as the full original line-up for the first time since the 1989 album Past Present.
Following Pól’s departure after that album, the band continued to release four highly successful albums – the last being the Grammy-winning album Landmarks in 1998. In an extended hiatus over the following decade, there was only the rare occasional performance.
“I suppose its going back to our natural roots—going back to our sound, which is going back to the landscapes in the native Donegal,” says lead singer Moya during a long-ranging interview with the Irish Voice.
“In the music, I think we’re going back to a lot of the textures we became known for. The record definitely has the classic Clannad songs but there are these neat, juicy, new things on it as well.”
Clannad, the legendary Irish family group responsible for the timeless hit “Harry’s Game,” which was prominently featured in the 1992 blockbuster Patriot Games and a Volkswagen commercial, make a welcome return to the U.S. with tour dates in select cities across the U.S. in support of Nádúr.
After nearly two decades of calling the shots as a solo artist, Moya says she welcomed the opportunity to work with the family again.
“I think the break did us good. It reignited the excitement again,” she says of the band’s hiatus.
“We are past the point where we are walking on eggshells with one another. Everyone is sober, everyone is taking care of themselves, we’re not going until three or four in the morning so it’s a great vibe.”
“Sacred words were scratched on sacred skins/turning darkness into light/sacred words bringing message from the others,” they sing on “Vellum,” the first track about the prose found on ancient vellum parchment.
You would think it was a recording from the Druids if it weren’t for the fretless, jazzy bass that snakes through the roots of the arrangements. And with that, the magic of blending old and new that is Clannad returns as though they never left!
Nádúr is not only their newest album, it is probably their greatest — decades of performing and producing music strengthens the natural family bonds of the Brennans, bringing a deeper resonance somehow to that trademark mysticism in their arrangements.
The reunion as a functioning outfit began in 2011 when Clannad were invited to perform a series of concerts at Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral. With the intimate and historic nature of these shows Pól, who had left the band years ago, was invited along to be part of the event.
The concerts were a huge success and they were filmed and recorded for a DVD and CD which were released following airings on PBS here.
A tour of America, something this writer NEVER thought he would see, commenced last year and proved the band could still deliver the goods onstage.
“You close your eyes and you feel you’re in a state of grace,” said my friend who sat in the seat next to mine. I couldn’t agree more!
This uptick in touring provided the catalyst for the five of them to start seriously considering a new album.
“The fact that we’d toured quite extensively in the months leading up to recording really had an effect on the album,” says Moya.
“Playing live across various countries gave us a really good indication of not just what we wanted from a new album but also what the audience out there wanted to hear. We feel this record touches on every aspect of our 40 year career. Every track is different yet every track is pure Clannad.”
The band was committed not to be just a novelty act.
“We had Duke Special sitting in with us on one track, and we worked with the author Colum McCann on one track to keep the perspectives fresh,” Moya says.
“Colum did a synopsis of his new book TransAtlantic that we set to music. He had an afternoon off after promoting his book in Dublin. We sent him an idea for a melody. We didn’t expect a synopsis of the book. But that’s what he came out with and it was written as a ballad.” “I went westward toward another war and I knew what my eyes were fighting for/I watched my boy/look out for my son/he is so very young/look out for my son/my blood and bone,” Moya sings atop a mournful flute-driven melody. It is a beautiful ballad about emigration that stands among the group’s best work.
“It was lovely to go with this direction,” she says of the track. “From an artist to an artist you’re mature enough to make that happen. Colum came in with a bundle of words. We edited it down and just sang it bit by bit.”
“Turas Domhsa chon na Galldachd” is classic Clannad — ethereal Gaelic poetry sung in otherworldly harmonies, a muted bagpipe in the distance providing that extra tingle to the spine.
While the past is referenced in the new music, Clannad wisely chose not to dwell on it.
On “The Fishing Blues,” southern fried harmonica bounces along with acoustic strumming and a playful bass line that makes a Southern Comfort cocktail just that.
“Donegal is a big fishing county and the fisherman are having a hard time at the moment,” Moya says.
“The song supports them. Killybegs is the only working fishing port in Ireland. We know loads of families that lost people to the sea. The industry is going down so fast and we wanted to call attention to that.”
Moya and the lads had just returned from the Irish Embassy in London the night before our interview, and she was still lit up by the reception she got.
“Last night we went onstage and sung three songs,” she explains. “When we meet, we have no arguments at all when we are putting our set list together. We knew intuitively where we grew, what were our strengths.”
Moya acknowledges, in her words, that “the goodness of Clannad came from those first six albums — what we were about, what we were conceiving.
“This new album is a continuation of where we came from, but definitely there are elements of the first album. There was well over an album and a half of material but we kept it to the essence and theme of our music. We had such a great time.”
Plans are in place to come to America for a tour in the coming months, a prospect that excites the Brennan clan to no end.
“We will be doing a lot of the new album. I hope people buy it and prepare themselves for that. We may do a few songs we haven’t done in a while,” Moya says.
“Of course, you want to include some of the favorite songs — you can’t avoid that. It will be dotted with ones we haven’t done in a while. It will be nice to get onstage with the family again.”
Here’s the promotional video for Clannad’s new CD, “Nádúr.”