October 03, 1996


Filed under: Archive,Music


Festival Centre

Adelaide, October 1, 1996.

Murray Bramwell

As their name suggests, Clannad is a family affair. The Brennans and Duggans. Or more precisely – Maire Ni Bhraonain, her brother Ciaran and twin uncles, Noel and Pol O Dugain, who form the core of a band which has variously included a songwriting brother, Pol, and a singing sister, Eithne, now known to more than thirty million record buyers as Enya.

For twenty five years and over twenty seven albums this band from County Donegal has forged a honeyed, Celtic folk pop sound which has infused contemporary music. Keepers of the traditional flame, they have blended keyboards with whistles, harps with fenders and whispery harmonies with each other. Clannad, like the Chieftains and Planxty, are the springboard for such re-formed Irish patriots as Van Morrison and Sinead O’Connor as well as, of course, the Shepherds Moon etherealisations of Enya.

There are other debts to Clannad. Most importantly they have made Gaelic available to popular Irish culture as well as a wider international audience. When theTheme from Harry’s Game made the British top five it was a significant political achievement by other means.

On this world tour Clannad is currently  a ten piece band showcasing their new album Lore,  lushly produced by Hugh Padgham and featuring songs from Ciaran and Maire. Their record company has also released a silver jubilee triple pack of signature work from the eighties including albums Sirius and Magical Ring.

It is the druidic chanting of Newgrange which opens the show. The musicians are sprayed by buttery spotlights and backlit by projections of rune-ish images. Maire’s lilting lead vocal is buoyed by the Duggans’ acoustic guitars and the sound is enveloped by synths and drumbeats. The sibilant siblings chant hypnotically and Clannad asserts its trademark. But its familiarity is also its limitation. The studied atmospherics, once so fresh, now verge on self-parody.

The sprightly mandolins on the traditional tune translated by Ciaran as The Apple are more the ticket, as is the Scottish air Alasdair MacColla given some likeable thump from drummer Paul

Moran and electric guitarist Ian Melrose. New works- Broken Pieces by Maire, A Bridge from Ciaran and Noel Duggan’s elegy to the Cherokee, Trail of Tears – are ably performed but undistinguished. Second Nature is stronger pop, but the audience lifts when whistle and uilleann pipes player, Vinnie Kilduff, steps forward for two splendidly simple solos with Ciaran on guitar and vocalist,Bridin Brennan on bodhran.

Maire’s unaccompanied Donegal air, Gaothbearra is winsome, as is  her surprisingly hesitant rendering of Yeats’s Down in the Salley Gardens. The band regroups for the hit tune In a Lifetime, Seanchas, the title track from Lore,  and a refreshingly rollicking ramble with Dulaman.

The medley from Legend Robin the Hooded Man, Herne and Darkmere – despite Maire’s lovely harp and filigree sax work from former Bryan Ferryman, Mel Collins- veers into kitsch, with bombastic synth fills from Ian Drinkwater and a generally tinkly preciosity. Then there’s a perfect replica Harry’s Game to draw proceedings to a close.

Clannad encore with a boppy drinking song, Not Yet Daytime and the musicians have a last lash to remind us of the band’s hidden depths. But this is Clannad for the faithful, all polished surfaces and no surprises. Perhaps they will stretch out as the tour progresses, but having so singularly lifted the standing of Celtic music, Clannad now sound uncomfortably like an Irish elevator.

The Australian, October 3, 1996.

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