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CeltCast Classic

CLANNAD – CLANNAD 2 / DÚLAMÁN (2010)

review



The year is 1973, Woodstock, the festival that gave a voice and its name to a whole generation, is already 4 years gone. Three of its most famous children, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix already passed away, the darker side of a free lifestyle.
The biggest story in the news is that a peace treaty finally ends the Vietnam war, giving the 60’s peace protesters their big victory. In the wake of the 60’s protests, a local protest against underground atom bomb trails in Amchitka, Alaska is turning into a nature protection group called Greenpeace. In the Middle East the conflict between Egypt, Syria and Israel escalates into the Yom Kippur war. The Egyptian-Syrian coalition is supported by some North African countries, Israel by the West. As a result the main oil-producing countries call out an oil embargo against the US, The Netherlands, Canada, the UK and Japan. Which means oil shortages. In Holland cars are not allowed to drive on Sundays. Can you imagine? 1973, just another year in a crazy world that is changing fast.
In the folk world things are also changing. In America the revival of folk music, that started as acoustic protest songs from artists like Woody Gutrie, Simon and Garfunkel, or Joan Baez and her protégé Bob Dylan, is starting to grow into folk rock, with The Grateful Dead, Buffalo Springfield and of course Neil Young being a few of the great names in that scene.
In England bands like Fairport convention, Planxty and Steeleye Span are doing the same thing and are laying the foundations for what will become the Celtic rock.
In France Alan Stivell is modernising and popularising traditional folk music from Brittany, an influence that can still be felt to this day. (Think of Manau’s big 90’s hit La Tribu de dana of the 90’s or more recently the lovely pop folk CD Bretagne by famous French singer Nolwenn Leroy

Right amongst all these changes, two things happen that will be significant for the future. One a bit more significant than the other. First of all a little babyboy called Alexander Sealgaire is born May 1973. A small footnote for mankind, a huge step for CeltCast, because he is one of the two founding fathers of this station. Secondly a young Irish band releases their first album, challenging the general opinion that music should be in English, rather than a local language, and that folk music should be traditional. That band of course is Clannad, and their music will, in the 80’s, spark a whole new genre, Celtic new age music. A legacy that still lives on to this day.

– One small thing I want to add before I write on. Although Clannad is an Irish band, quite often their names have been translated into English for ease of reading and pronunciation. I considered doing that too. But I decided against it. In the early years Clannad clearly made the choice to sing in Irish, even against the wishes of a record label. That is what set them apart from other bands at the time. So I wanted to honour that spirit. A second reason is that on all the albums I’ve listened to the names of the band members are written in Irish. So again, although I know it’s a bit harder to read, I found I should honour the choices the band made at the time and use the Irish names.-

HOW IT ALL BEGAN

So how did it all start? In 1970 three siblings – Máire Ni Bhraonáin, (Moya Brennan – vocals, harp), Ciarán Ó Braonáin (Ciarán Brennan – double bass, guitar, mandolin, piano, bodhrán, glockenspiel, vocals) and Pól Ó Braonáin ( Pol Brennan – Flute, whistle, bongos, guitar vocals) together with their twin uncles Noel Ó Dúgáin (Noel Duggan – guitar, vocals) and Pádraig Ó Dúgáin (Padraig Duggan – mandolin, mandola, guitar, vocals) started playing music together. Music ran through the family, as father Leo Ó Braonáin was a member of the Slieve Foy band, – an Irish show band -, and mother Máire Ni Bhroanáin (born Ni Dúgáin) was a music teacher.
It will come as no surprise that all the kids were brought up with music, encouraged by their parents to play instruments and sing. Máire as well as her younger sister Eithne, better known as Enya – were both classically trained singers.
In 1968 father Leo bought a local pub in the village of Meenaleck in the county of Donegal in Ireland. As Leo saw, during the tours with the Slieve Foy band, how the dance halls around the country were closing at the time, he decided his tavern should be a podium for bands. A business plan that would never work according to the local businessmen, bankers, solicitors and others who thought they knew better. Leos Tavern wouldn’t last more than 6 months!. Well it still exists and is run by the second generation of Ó Braonáin!



It was in that tavern that the family band came together. As Clann as Dobhair (family from Dore, a name that was shortened to Clannad in 1973.) they played their first gigs, mostly covering songs like those of the Beatles, Joni Mitchell and the Beach Boys. When they entered a local music competition in 1970, the Letterkenny Folk Festival, they played a selection of traditional Gaelic songs, arranged by them for a full band.
They won the contest and got their prize, a record deal with Philips. And so it was that in 1973 the first Clannad album, simply called Clannad was released by Philips Ireland. An LP filled with 8 traditionals re-arranged by the band, 4 covers and Lisa the only song on the album that the band wrote themselves.

Clannad wasn’t an instant success. The label had doubts that a band singing in Irish would sell, so they didn’t renew the contract. Even in Ireland itself there were sceptics who laughed at the idea that a Gaelic speaking band would be succesful. But, as their father/uncle Leo before them, Clannad believed in what they did and stuck to their guns, so the next two albums, Clannad 2 and Dúlamán were again in Gealic. This time released by the small Irish Gael linn label. A label connected to the Gael Linn organisation, non-profit organisation, founded in 1953 to foster the Irish language and promote artistic events.
Intensive touring over Europe in 1976 and later America in 1979 meant that they slowly gained popularity, but it wasn’t until 1982 when they signed with big label RCA and accepted the invitation to write a song for Harry’s Game, a television drama, that they got their big breakthrough, while still making the music they believed in.

THE DEBUT ALBUM: CLANNAD (1973)

Back to 1973 and the debut album Clannad. There is so much to say about this debut. As with most young bands Clannad didn’t have a fully developed sound yet. Instead the album is filled with songs reflecting the influences and ideas, that would melt together into the band’s signature sound on their second album, Clannad 2. The first album is still a collection of styles, Irish folk, pop folk, a touch of medieval music, a sniff of the Beach Boys and even jazz folk! Jazz folk you say? Yep! It’s a new one for me too, but I really love it.

The opening track on Clannad, Níl Sé Ina Lá, is such a jazz folk song, and straight away my absolute favourite. The very first thing you will notice are the vocals. Máire has a warm, crystal clear voice that immediately stands out. You can clearly hear the years of classical training (Máire was destined to be a musical teacher, just as her mom). But she is not the only gifted singer in this band. The whole family is, so after Máire’s first opening lines, the whole band joins in for a short a cappella intro before the percussion picks up the rhythm and we are drawn into a lovely Joan-Baez-meets-Irish-folk-type of mid tempo song. Or so you think. As I’ve written earlier, Clannad does Irish folk their own way. To be honest, Níl Se Ina Lá is not a folk song at all. It’s a jazzy late 60’s pop song with an Irish folk feel to it. First there is the choir in the chorus that reminds me of the Belgian band the Wallace Collection and their big hit: Daydream. Then there are the solos, those are also not the typical cheerful folk melody lines running up and down the musical ladder. No, they are laid back, almost improvised jazz solos of flute, guitar and even double bass. The moment the band drops down to only a double bass and percussion is pure jazz. The whole song can be described as, ahm, lets say Sweet Smoke (a late 60/early seventies psychedelic jazz rock band.) meets Joan Baez meets the Wallace Collection to do some groovy folk tunes.



Luckily there are more of these jazz folk songs on this album, cause I really like them. Siúbhán Ní Dhuibhir. is one. A jazzy melody line played by Máire on harp. Again we hear a lovely laid back flute solo, in this case reminding me of the Moody Blues. The jazzy harp sound returns on An tOileán Úr. This song really takes me to that late 60’s psychedelic jazz sound, especially with that Wallace Collection type choir running all along the song.

Besides these jazzy psychedelics there are many more surprises on Clannad. There is Brian Boru’s March for instance. Brian Boru was a High King of Ireland, who on the 23th of april 1014 defeated the Viking king Sigtrygg, who ruled over Dublin at the time. Brian won the battle, although he himself got killed. The battle made the Vikings relinquish their claims on Ireland, and had turn their focus more on Scotland and England. Legend has it that this tune was first played as Brian’s men carried his body to its final resting place.
The song starts with some rather dark percussion and double bass sounds. A sound similar to Hinter Der Brombeerhecke from Waldkauz. Even after the intro this dark slightly jazzy traditional keeps showing similarities with Waldkauz. Come to think of it, this song would nowadays surely be called instrumental pagan folk. A tantalising mix between (psychedelic) jazz folk, a waltz, medieval influences and, because of the way the mandolin is played, Greek folk music. There is one more song on Clannad with this medieval/baroque chamber music feel to it, the instrumental Mrs. McDermott, people who like Imbue’s music might want to check this song out.

Clannad-the album- is not only filled with late 60’s folk crossover experiments, it also contains some beautiful contemporary ballads, honouring the bands Irish roots, and featuring the beautiful voice of Máire. An Mhaighdean Mhara for example is a lovely ballad sung by Máire, only accompanied by acoustic guitar.
The Pretty Maid is the first English spoken song on Clannad, and is a duet between Máire and one of the lads with some gentle guitars as accompaniment. A lovely song. Actually all the ballads are tastefully done. Máire has, as I said, this beautifully trained, crystal clear voice. She constantly reminds me of the equally brilliant Joan Baez. Fun fact, just as with an old 60’s album I have of Joan Baez, you can hear that the microphones at the time were not capable of handling those powerful high notes that both of them could sing, making them sound even stronger.
My favourite ballad comes at the end of the LP and is called Morning Dew. It’s a lovely pop folk ballad, originally written by Bonnie Dobson. But the Clannad version is equally beautiful. Early Clannad at their best.


Clannad performing An tOileán Úr, at the Embankment Tallaght, Dublin in 1978

GENTLE POP FOLK BEAUTY: CLANNAD 2 (1974)

So,the initial idea was to make Clannad -the album- our first CeltCast Classic. But after listening to it a few times I just knew there was way more to come. Don’t get me wrong, Clannad is a charming album with some brilliant moments on it. But it is also clearly the album of a young band. In the end I just had to discover how this went on, so within a week I had bought Clannad 2 and Dúlamán, the third album Clannad brought out, both by Gael Linn records. Conveniently Gael Linn re-released both albums as a double pack CD in 2010 and this is what I chose as our first CeltCast Classic.
Both recordings are must have albums if you like 70’s Irish folk music. Both albums I would describe as pop folk. The songs follow the normal ‘rules’ of pop music arrangements, guitar, bass, drums, vocals (most of the times) and a nice solo at two third of the song. The folk part is in the instruments they play. Bodhrán instead of drums, flute solos instead of electric guitar and double bass instead of electric bass. It’s also in the song choice, many Irish traditionals and of course in the Gaelic language that is used. Clannad 2 has more ballads on it and therefore has a more relaxed, evening feel. Dúlamán is in general a bit more up tempo. But let’s dive into them in more detail, starting with Clannad 2.

The opening song on Clannad 2, An Gabhar Bán is a feet stomping, hand clapping sing-along kind of balfolk favourite that will get you going every time you hear it. Especially Pól Ó Braonián’s flute melodies and solos will put an instant smile on your face. There is nothing like an Irish flute player to make you happy. It will work nowadays just as much as it did back in the day. It is instantly clear that this sound is much closer to traditional folk than the jazz folk that opened the first record. Not that it matters, An Gabhar Bán is just as strong an opener as Níl Se Ina Lá was on the first record! I have to say, Clannad are good at that, picking the right song to start with.

With second and third songs Eleanor Plunkett and Coinleach Ghlas An Fhómhair we get into the ballad part of this CD. Especially Coinleach Ghlass An Fhómhair is a lovely, lovely song. Folk pop at his best. (So good Clannad decided to record it one more time on their breakthrough album Magical Ring) Máire excels in this wonderful love ballad, but I also love the arrangements, the subtle guitars, giving this ballad a singer-songwriter quality. And then there is that wonderful 70’s stereo effect, the guitars come at you from both the left and the right, really drawing you into the song. I just love that old stereo sound, makes me wonder why it nowadays it is done so rarely. Such a shame. But I digress. I was sifting through my favourite songs on this CD and this is clearly one of them.



My next favourite is another ballad called, By Chance It Was. Everything I said about Coinleach Ghlass An Fhómhair is true of this song too. Máire is a pleasure to listen to, the flute solo is lovely and delicate. Fans of Imbue’s flute player Remy Schreuder, or of SeeD’s Koen van Egmond or, of course, the vocals of Joan Baez need to listen to this song, you won’t regret it.

The sixth track, Rince Briotánach starts with a gentle slow guitar riff so I settle in for another lovely ballad. Not so! Just as I concluded for myself that Clannad chose to discard the jazz influences that were so predominant on the first album, the guitar picks up speed fast and the song turns into a cool, full speed, instrumental, jazz folk gavotte. Clannad learned this song from the Breton group Triskell, who most likely played it a lot more traditional. But this version is fine by me, I just love this unique jazz folk sound, for me personally the highlight of Clannad 2. Period!

Or is it ? Dhéanainn Súgradh makes me doubt that statement straight away. I actually can’t decide. Originally Dhéanainn Súgradh was a choral work song from Scotland sung by women when refining coarse cloth. Ironically the lead vocals of Clannads jazz folk version of this traditional are sung by a man! The harp intro is lovely, the chorus a definite earworm, but what makes the song for me is the last part. A sophisticated slightly distorted electric guitar crawls in followed by Pól on flute. Together they go into a cool, jazzy, late 60’s improvised solo, mixing the best of Jethro Tull and the Moody Blues in their own sound. Cool, just cool.

And these highlights just keep coming. If Dhéanainn Súgrad is an instant earworm, then Teidhir Abhaile Riú is even worse, this must have been a crowd favourite during concerts in those days. It makes me wish I could speak Gaelic, so I could truly sing along, not mumble half-heartedly as I do now because I know I will sound silly. Not only that, I would love to really understand the lyrics because it is a song where the parents of a young girl are pleading with her to come home again and marry an eligible piper. Now that is a conversation I’d like to hear.



A last ballad, Chuaigh Mé ‘Na Rosann closes this album in style. As I said, overall Clannad 2 is a relaxed CD full of wonderful ballads, with some nice uptempo moments in between from a band that luckily hadn’t compromised their musical ideas for quick succes. An album that will appeal both to fans of Irish folk and, at times, to those that like melodious pagan folk, played by bands like Emian or Waldkauz.

THE SIGNATURE SOUND IS FORMING: DÚLAMÁN (1976)

Speaking of pagan folk, the title song of the third Clannad album Dúlamán was of course made famous in the pagan folk scene by Omnia on their Live Religion EP.
Clannad’s version, the first track of their third album, features the band’s strong points right away, the ones I already mentioned several times before: the strong classically trained vocals, the lovely harmonies, the tender guitar chords and the mysterious flute solos. Add that up and you get a really lovely rendition of this classic Gaelic song. The a cappella start is particularly impressive. Where I can normally compliment Máire on her vocals, it’s this time a male voice that shines. All in all a lovely strong traditional start to this third LP.

Where Clannad’s second album is more ballad orientated, on this third album they pick up the pace much more. Sometimes unexpectedly even, with Two Sisters for instance. It’s a song I know well from Emian’s Le Due Sorelle. So when I saw the lyrics I was automatically expecting a ballad, just like Emian did on Khymeia. But no. Clannad wrap this song of greed and jealousy in the most cheerful, upbeat of folk tunes, in the way only the Irish can.

And then there it is! Finally! On track 4 of their 3rd abum, Éirigh Suas a stóirin. What you ask? The famous Clannad choir of course! I was waiting for it. For me as a music enthusiast and reviewer it’s really interesting to hear how a band grows and evolves. How a typical sound is developed by a band and how it fits in with the scene they are in. Well the big feature of Clannad’s big hits, Theme to Harry’s Game and Robin are the layered vocals with the big effects on them. Using the choir as a single instrument. It is so typical of the later Clannad sound that I was hoping to find traces of it in their earlier work. And there it is, in Éirgh Suas, A Stóirin, used as an intro into the song. A small hint of their future sound. My inner geek is satisfied!
Come to think of it, thát is the real power of Clannad’s music. Their ability to take the folk music they grew up with and add new elements to it, be it the psychedelic jazz sound of the 60”s, the harmonies as you hear them here, or the new keyboard and studio technology later on with their brakthrough albums Magical Ring or Legend. In that sense you could call Clannad a progressive folk band.
The song itself is a lovely pop folk ballad. Máires lovely voice, the gentle guitars, that mesmerising Clannad choir starting and ending it, what is there not to love about this song.



As I feel I’m starting to repeat myself, I’ll just pick up a few more highlights. The Galtee Hunt is a nice little balfolk tune featuring Pól Ó Braonáin on flute. He continues with another lovely flute melody in Éirigh Is Cuir Ort Do Chuid Éadaigh. In this song Clannad combine the old and the new. A lovely jazzy double bass solo we’ve come to know now, that famous layered Clannad new age choir that is new to their sound and Máire’s harp hopping cheerfully through it all.

Next up is my favourite Clannad song of all. Siúil A Rúin. A wonderful ballad that brings everything I have come to love about Clannad to the table. Máire’s beautiful voice, the gentle guitar notes of the lads, uptempo bits, the lovely tender breakdown to the chorus. This is pure folk heaven! So beautiful.



And then we get a lovely ‘Castlefest’ folk treat. Mo Mháire. It starts with Ciarán playing a cheerful little riff on his double bass, then Pól joins in with a slightly quirky but oh-so cheerful flute tune that I know so well from SeeD. You just have to smile when you hear it. And the happy jazzy groove just makes it even better. The a capella dTigeas A Damhsa and the cheerful Irish jig Cucanandy/The Jug Of Brown Ale end the original recording of Dúlamán.
On this re-release Gael linn have added a bonus track that comes from a split single the label released in 1975 in conjunction with the 1975 pan Celtic contest in Killarney. The B-side features the song Faoileán by the influential Irish folk singer Tríona as an early warning on environmental issues, while the A-side features the winning entry by Clannad, An Bealach Seo ‘Ta Romham. It’s a nice uptempo song with that ever so slight medieval feel due to the mandolin in it. This bonus track not only finishes this lovely CD, it also finishes this introduction.



FAMOUS LAST WORDS BY JOE HENNON

After the release of Dúlamán in 1976 Clannad went on tour over Europe, part of which found their way on the 1979 album In Concert. In 1980 another family member, Eithne Pádraigin Ni Bhraonáin joined Clannad for a brief time, a family member we now know as Enya, who left the band again just before they recorded their break-through album Magical Ring. But that is a story for another time.

Now for those famous last words that conclude any review or introduction. In this case they are not by me, but by a famous guest from the (pagan) folk scene. He is an acoustic guitar player that played with Shantalla, Omnia and lately SeeD. He is, of course, Joe Hennon. Being Irish himself. I asked Joe if he was willing to write a few words on the influence Clannads early albums had on him and the folkscene in those days. Joe was quite willing to respond:

-‘When I was getting into music in the 1970s I was mostly listening to rock and metal, but then three Irish folk bands appeared which just blew me away and got me into folk music for the rest of my life. They were The Bothy Band, Planxty and Clannad. I loved the sense of history and heritage in their songs and their music was of a standard that was something completely new. While Planxty and The Bothy Band mostly played songs in English as well as powerful instrumental sets, Clannad were different. Hearing songs in Irish (Gaelic) sung by native speakers was a revelation and so was their music. Clannad incorporated elements of jazz and progressive rock into traditional songs and their first two albums – I would say especially Clannad 2 which is regarded as their classic- made a huge impact on me and the folk scene in general. Their use of harp, flute, bass and harmony singing set them on the path to fame and inspired a whole new generation of Irish musicians, me included. 

And Clannad’s legacy lives on. Joe Hennon took the inspiration he found in Clannad’s music with him into the music of Omnia, a band that in its turn inspired a new generation of pagan folk bands like Waldkauz, SeeD and Emian. And so the early music of that young Irish band, going against the stream, still rings on in the music we all love so much, making Clannad 2 and Dúlamán just as relevant now as they were when they were first released 45 years ago.

– Cliff

Editor: Diane Deroubaix

Irfan – Roots (2018) review



Sunday the 25th of November, 14:45 PM, I am on Winter Castlefest, the 2018 edition. As I was getting ready to photograph the next band in ‘The Great Hall’-the name Castlefest has given to the big tent where the games are played and the indoor performances take place- I couldn’t help but notice Sowulo‘s Faber Auroch entering. The next to pass me was Sara (SeeD‘s singer/bouzouki player) and her partner. But I really started raising an eyebrow when some minutes later Brisinga‘s Fabi came by asking if I knew where the Imbue members were sitting. As I started looking around, I was also able to spot Rowan from Heidevolk and members from Sunfire and The Royal Spuds in the audience. All the members of Emian and Waldkauz had found a place in the front rows, as had former AmmA member Hanna van Gorcum and from the corner of my eye I could also see sound magician Fieke van den Hurk. Afterwards I discovered SeeD’s frontman Koen van Egmond and Sowulo’s harp player Chloé Bakker also attended the concert a day earlier. Now the Castlefest scene, as I fondly call the Pagan/fantasy folk scene we are all part of, has always been a really supportive one with bands visiting each other’s concerts and all kinds of collaborations happening on stage and behind the scenes. But even in this supportive scene it is rare for ten(!) bands to be represented at one concert. And that’s exactly what happened as Irfan got ready to play at the Castlefest 2018 Winter Edition. In a way it says all about the status Irfan has within the alternative Pagan folk scene.


Well, the concert was beautiful, mesmerising and captivating from start to finish. With the seating area placed closely around the podium, there was this real connection between the band and the audience. The atmosphere was pure magic, really captivating and Irfan were given a standing ovation at the end of the concert. It goes without saying that I acquired their newest mini-CD Roots straight after to try and hopefully re-experience a bit of that magic again at home. And that is exactly what happened when I put Roots in my CD player.

From the first notes of the opening song Mominstvo Irfan captivates you. They take you into ancient Persian times. You walk with them into the courts of India, you reminisce about the old days of the pharaohs. And it feels like the sharp desert sand brushes over your face while you marvel at the wonders of Petra. In their bio Irfan compare their music with audio-archaeology and I can clearly hear why they say that. Irfan has acquired the ability to fill their music with history. They manage to sound old and modern at the same time. Giving their music a timeless quality that is rare. They did it for the first time on their second album Seraphim. Mostly Seraphim is a mix between classical European music and Eastern European folk, -imagine Cesair meeting up with Loreena McKennitt, with Dead Can Dance or Ofra Haza joining in every now and again to spice things up-, but the song Return to Outremer, had that magical timeless feel to it for the first time. The band perfected this sound on their 2015 album The Eternal Return, making it one of my favourite ‘traditional’ folk CD’s ever. And they are doing it again on Roots. If you are a fan of the band, you can buy the album without reading any further. You won’t be disappointed.

But for those who don’t know the band yet, a short introduction:
Irfan is a Bulgarian band that formed in 2001. From the beginning Ivaylo Petrov (Middle-Eastern lute instruments), Peter Todorov (percussion), Yasen Lararov (traditional flutes and harmonium) and Kalin Yordanov (vocals and percussion) have taken influences of the traditional music from the Balkan, Anatolie, Persia, the Middle East, North Afrika and India. For centuries the Balkan have been the portal between the Medieval and Byzantine world on one side and the Ottoman world and Middle Eastern world on the other. Influences and heritage from all these areas with their ancient civilizations find a beautiful marriage in Irfan’s sound. Up till now Irfan have recorded three albums: Irfan (2003), Seraphim (2007) and The Eternal Return (2015).

The basis of the Irfan sound nowadays is the warm electronic string and choir carpet they lay. On top of that comes the deep, warm, hypnotic male voice from Kalin, the beautiful melody lines from the harmonium and wind instruments, the upbeat percussion from Peter and Kalin. Although most Irfan songs are slow balladesque songs, the percussion gives them a real upbeat character. The icing on the cake are then the beautiful female lead vocal lines. On their first albums, Irfan featured Denitza Seraphim as the lead female vocalist. On Roots Darina Zlatkova takes over that role. For the fans that will not be seen as a major difference, both singers are equally talented. You could argue that Denitza’s voice is a touch warmer in tone, that’s all.

Irfan’s previous album The Eternal Return was a lovely blend from all their influences. Taking us all over ancient Europe, North America and the Middle East. Their sound on The Eternal Return could be compared with Dead Can Dance meets Loreena McKennitt in her Mediterranean Odyssey period. On a song like In The Gardens Of Armida you can even hear a touch of Clannad in the vocals.
Roots is a touch different, not only is it the first album recorded with Darina, it is also the first album where the songs are not written by the band. They are all based on traditional Bulgarian songs, arranged by either Ivaylo Petrov, Darina Zlatkova or Yasen Lazarov. I can’t tell if it is Darina’s tone of voice or the concept behind the album, but Roots sounds a touch more intimate then on The Eternal Return. As if the band comes home again on this album, after the many faraway places they sang about on The Eternal Return.

It’s actually amazing how little the band needs to build up a beautiful song. A touch of keyboard, some strings, a tap on the drums and Darina’s warm voice and see, the goose bumps are already there. Build up like that Momphinstvo is not only a beautiful intro into More, Ta Nali, but also into the whole CD. More, Ta Nali is one of the more up-tempo songs on roots. Uplifting percussion, mesmerising flute melodies and again Darina’s wonderful warm voice. I just love, how in Middle-Eastern cultures the voice is more than a carrier of words, it is an instrument in itself. With the surprise percussion break in the middle More, Ta Nali is easily my favourite song on Roots. The single Rusa is equally beautiful. This ballad really features Darina’s voice. One of the members of Seed, Sara, lovingly put it to words on Darina’s Facebook page: “I think Roots is the perfect way of introducing you to the people who haven’t seen you perform with the band yet. What you can do with your voice is amazing, and hearing Rusa for the first time made me cry a little”. There isn’t anything more I can add to that well-deserved compliment.

One of the key elements of the Irfan sound is how subtle the music is, minimalistic almost. On Dyulber Yana for instance the song doesn’t actually start, it slowly evolves from a single note to a beautiful song. Solos are also not clearly ‘started’, they appear in the music, the melody lines just slide into a solo piece and they slide out again just as easily. Yasen places some really nice harmonium melodies in it, quite catchy actually, and it is surprising how this ballad picks up speed in the end.

Emeriga is -in the Irfan world- a fast dance song. Driving percussion, doubled vocals, cool string instrument, and the wonderful low ‘hoarse’ flute solo, all together make for a really powerful energetic song. A real crowd-pleaser amongst the dancers during live shows, I’m sure of it, and also one of my favourites on the album.
Lyube Le is already the last song on Roots. Sadly, because I would have loved to hear one or two more songs, Roots is that beautiful. Anyway, Lyube Le is another stunning song. A beautiful intro featuring Ivaylo on lute and -she has been mentioned before- the wonderful Darina. The tender duet between Yasen and Ivaylo also can’t go unnoticed. On this song Irfan leaves the homely feel and drifts of to the ancient world again. Back into the magical music world they so beautifully created.

To sum it all up, Roots is a beautiful addition to your Irfan collection or a stunning gateway into the musical world of this wonderful Bulgarian band. Either way if you love the music of Dead Can Dance, Cesair and Loreena McKennitt, then this is a must-have CD. 10 out of 10 if we were giving points.

– Cliff

Editor: Diane
Pictures: taken at Winter Castlefest by Cliff de Booy Photography

Sowulo – Sol (2016)



When I started as a reviewer for CeltCast in the autumn of 2017, I wrote several reviews in one go. Most of them are published, but two were put on the shelf for later use. As is common with stuff on shelves, they were forgotten, collecting dust in a dark corner of my laptop. Now, with Sowulo already recording their third album, I dug the review of Sol up again. We finally focus our attention to Sowulo’s second album, and everything which happened before that, because you can’t introduce Sol without mentioning their first CD Alvenrad. So we start the story with that album, taking us all the way back to 2010.
In 2010 Faber Horbach started developing the concept of what would become Sowulo – a project named after the Germanic rune for the Sun – and started composing the music for what would become the Alvenrad album. An album Sowulo described back then as ambient folk music inspired by Germanic mythology. The name Alvenrad came from the Germanic name for the sun and the album was a celebration of the pagan year festivals. Nowadays Sowulo refers to this CD as ritual music.The album came out in 2012 and the band members were, besides Faber Horbach on piano and chant, Klaartje van Zwoll on violin and chant, Koen van Egmond (SeeD) on flute and Tom Latten on percussion. The recordings were done by Fieke van den Hurk.

Looking back at this period Faber Horbach explains: ‘I did indeed compose Alvenrad all by myself.The concept of Alvenrad was the sun, the four seasons and the pagan festivals that go with it. The subtitle of the CD was: celebrating our great pagan legacy. The whole idea was born out of my own wish to be able to play appropriate music to the specific pagan festivals we celebrate nowadays. The music on Alvenrad is therefore dedicated to those yearly festivals and the wheel of life, the way nature evolves during a year, because these are universal themes within paganism. I didn’t restrict myself to a Germanic or Celtic view on those festivals. We don’t exactly know how they were celebrated anyway. Instead I let myself be influenced by the different ‘feel’ of those festivals and tried to express that in my compositions.
Funny story is, when I started recording Alvenrad at Fieke van den Hurk’s Orchus studio – the predecessor of the Dearworld studio – I had just gotten all the musicians that I needed together. In the studio I worked with all of them on their parts separately. It was only after recording Alvenrad that they all came together for the first time to shake hands. In that meeting the idea was born to try and play the music live. That’s how Sowulo as a band came together.’

As Faber explained Alvenrad is a concept album themed around the neopagan festivals. The CD is divided into four sections; winter, spring, summer and autumn, ending with the song Winter Solstice to complete the circle again. Every section starts with a sound sample setting the season. Be it footsteps in the snow, the crickets in the full summer sun or the thunder of an autumn storm. In between there are eight songs representing all the pagan festivals, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lammas, Mabon and Samhain. Although they are all separate songs, I cannot listen to them as such. In my eyes Alvenrad is a paganfolk / classical symphony with a continuous flow. Every piece has its time and place within the whole composition.
Yule and Imbolc start the CD of in a classical style, the piano setting the tone of the music, with the violin and the wind instruments weaving in their melodies. It’s the percussion and the chants that stops you from seeing this as pure modern classical music. That balance between the two is maintained throughout the album, although the ritual folk influences get stronger and stronger as Alvenrad continues, building up to the beautiful climax of Lammas and the darker but equally beautiful Mabon.
It was with this CD that I fell in love with Fieke‘s recording talents. Just as with Cesair‘s Dies, Nox Et Omnia she gave Alvenrad a powerful damatic orchestral sound that fits so well with the music and the idea behind the album. If you love classical music and instrumental ritual pagan folk This is a CD you want to have in your collection.

Fast forward 4 years. Pan Bartkowiak became the new percussionist and Celtic harp player Chloe Bakker also joined the band. In this configuration Sowulo recorded their second album Sol. A CD with 7 new compositions and 6 that we know from Alvenrad, the songs Beltane, Ostara, Imbolc, Yule, Mabon and Lammas. So the big question beforehand was, is Sol a pimped up mini CD. Well the answer is a definitive no. Opening track Noodlot (fate) picks up where Alvenrad stopped. It is a slow, classically influenced duet between flute and violin, with percussion and choir giving it that ritual pagan feel again. Ginnungagap, the second song, starts in a similar way, introducing Chloé on harp, but it’s Koen van Egmond who is the star in this song. His beautiful flute melodies just dance through the music, absolutely beautiful, especially when Klaartjes viola joins him for a musical pas de deux. One of the highlights on Sol.
It took till the third song, Skoll, for me to finally realise what the big difference between Alvenrad and Sol is. The lack of piano. Faber changed his piano for the bouzouki, the hammered dulcimer and the nyckelharpa, wich gives a totally different, much opener sound. Skoll even has some Eastern European, Irfanesque moments in it. Songs like Beltane, Lammas or Mabon, that sounded really dramatic on Alvenrad, now have a more cheerful, springlike bounce to the music, while keeping the spiritual message.
Listening to the rearranged songs it becomes clear Sowulo wants us to celebrate those ancient festivals, dance on them. Whereas on Alvenrad we were invited to join in the sacred circle, hand in hand, closed eyes, with the druids leading us in chant through the greatness that is life.
The band themselves describe Sol as: ‘Much more energetic than the first album.’ and I totally agree. Asking Faber about this he replied: ‘With the re-recording of some of songs on Sol we did change the tempo and even the key they were played in. Some parts have been rewritten and parts have been added as well. The idea was to make it sound less melancholic, more happy, free and dynamic. A bit more ‘grounded’ in a way. For me it’s important that people know that, although the music on both CDs is inspired by the pagan traditions of the old Northern European cultures, it is music meant for the ‘now’! It is music made for modern people who feel inspired by those old traditions.’

The last two songs on Sol: Arvakr and Alsvidr clearly have a different feel than the rest of the album. They are Swedish dancesongs featuring, besides Koen on flute and Pan on percussion, the nyckelharpa, giving Sowulo’s music a whole new dimension, more towards Oliver S Tyr’s project Kaunan. Will this be the direction Sowulo is gonna take on the next album? Only time will tell.

A year after writing this review I’m still in love with both CD’s. Which one I prefer mostly depends on the mood I am in. On a sunny day when I want to celebrate life, I turn to the more cheerful ‘pagan folk meets chamber music’ album Sol. On that cold winter morning, when I want to sit, be carried away and re-energized, I put on the more classical, ritual music of Alvenrad. Either way, both are well worth adding to your collection.

-Cliff

-editor Diane
-pictures taken at Castlefest, winter 2016 and Summer 2018, by Cliff de Booy photography

Meidi Goh – Heartstrings (2018)



The autumn queen came home again,
she flew with geese by starlight.
Acorn and chestnut called her name,
as did rain and flame and twilight.


This is part of the poem The Autumn Queen which opens Meidi Goh‘s first solo EP Heartstrings. Meidi wrote the poem herself and to her it is a portal into her work, her music. After some years studying classical and baroque violin, Meidi started playing with the baroque ensemble Kolibrie. After that she joined the Dutch jazzy folk band AmmA. The last year Meidi devided her attention between the Dutch historic folk band Imbue and her first solo album.
“After many years in bands I wanted to share my own musical ideas and my own personal stories.” Meidi told me: “This is how Heartstrings was born. I wanted to make music that was a bridge between Elisabethan baroque music and folk. I wanted it to have as pure a sound as possible. I wanted the listener to hear every stroke of the bow over the strings we played. I also wanted the music and my voice to sound as honest as possible. With my perfections but also imperfections, everything as pure as possible. The lyrics straight from my heart, hence the title Heartstrings.” Well I can tell you, she absolutely achieved that.
Heartstrings contains 7 tracks, one poem, one traditional, two covers and 3 original compositions written by herself.
Lovelorn is the first of Meidi’s own compositions and it’s a beautiful ballad. It is, obviously, a love song, a bit melancholic in text and music as most of the songs on Heartstrings. It tells about a love that is not to be. The string section in this song is already lovely, but what really jumps out are the voices. Meidi has a wonderful skilled soprano. When she goes into the heights of her voice she hits the notes perfectly in what I would call ‘classic’ soprano style, but in the lower regions she returns to her ‘normal’ voice, giving the song so much more personality. Her voice has this youthful fragility and purity that make the hairs stand up. So beautiful. From the beginning I had to think of some of the top young boy sopranos, hearing her voice. And I mean that in the most complimentary of ways.
Everybody who has seen the musical Oliver Twist for instance, will remember young Oliver singing Who Will Buy This Beautiful Morning. There is this youthful innocence when he sings that song, one we all know will disappear when he gets older that makes it so touching. Somehow Meidi managed to keep that young and pure quality in her voice, although she is an accomplished singer. And somehow Jacco de Wijs-van Gorcum has managed to capture that while recording the vocals. Of course we know him as one of the frontmen of the Dutch folk metalband Heidevolk, but here he proves he is just as talented behind the mixer. Especially in the chorus, where Hanna van Gorcum joins Meidi in a call and answer that is as pure as crystal. Stunning.

After I asked Meidi about her singing style, she explained more about it:’ When I was young I grew up with ‘old’ music. Music from the renaissance and baroque era. One of the stand out features of these periods is the different use of vibrato in the music and in the singing. A lot milder and totally different in intensity from how we use it today. In those days people were more interested in purity of sound. And indeed that is just how the boy sopranos sing. That style actually originates from this early period. the heavier use of vibrato started to appear in the 18th century, with the first operas from the classical time period which followed the baroque, and even more so in the romantic period. Hanna van Gorcum is much more classically trained. You could call my voice an ‘old’ or baroque music voice.’

Jacco is not the only talented musician involved in Heartstrings. I already mentioned Hanna van Gorcum (TDW & Dreamwalker inc, former AmmA) on voice and nyckelharpa. There is also Coca Román (Kelten Zonder Grenzen, Violet) on harp, Hester de Boer (Violet) on cello and quinton, -a 5 stringed violin that was build and played between early 18th century and the French revolution, you could call it a viola and a violin in one instrument-, and Imbue colleague Tim Elfring on davul. All but Tim join Meidi on the next song, Waltz For The Little Mermaid, written and partly arranged by Meidi. The other musicians where all given room to arrange their own parts on this song, giving them all a chance to shine.
Meidi insisted that all the songs would be recorded as an ensemble, in one take, keeping with the pure natural feel that she was after, only the vocals were recorded separately. And I can only say, it worked. The songs just sparkle. Jacco did wonders catching it all on tape, and after that, mixing engineer Fieke van den Hurk and mastering engineer Sander van der Heide made the most of all the quality that they were given.

My favourite track on Heartstrings is another original composition, Foxskin. Balfolk people will love this song, I’m sure of it. This cheerful fun song brings together all the elements that define Meidi Goh’s classical folk style. It’s the perfect blend between the baroque music that she started out with and the English folk she fell in love with later on in her musical career. English because of the pronunciation of the lyrics. It is as if Loreena McKennitt and Johann Sebastian Bach did a baroque minuet / folk CD together. Sounds odd? Maybe but believe me it so makes sense when you hear the songs. The two worlds just blend naturally together in Meidi’s compositions. The song itself is about a young lady who, at night, turns into a fox to dance with the elves and other magical creatures in the dark woods

My Love Came To Dublin is the first cover I want to mention. It’s a song originally co-written and recorded by June Tabor. And it fits perfectly within Meidi’s own songs. I once called Gwendolyn Snowdon a storyteller, well Meidi is a poet. And her songs are poetry in music form. The Lyrics of My Love came To Dublin fit right in, with that slight old English feel. It’s a melancholic song full of longing for an absent lover. The deep sound of the seven stringed bass viol enhances that sad autumn feel and is a lovely contrast to Meidi’s angelic voice. Coca’s harp then enhances the purity of it. Again a lovely song. Recorded and mixed so well.

Konungen Och Trollkvinnan, is another cover. It was originally recorded by the Finnish folkband Gjallarhorn. As Gjallarhorn hail from the only part of Finland where Swedish is the main language Trollkvinnan is a Swedish song, based around the sound of violin and nyckelharpa, this in contrast to the other songs on Heartstrings. This reminds me more of Kaunan ‘s music or that of the Swiss duo Knep on Bestioles. A CD I reviewed a few months ago.

The last song on Heartstrings is a traditional that goes by the name, Once I Had A Sweetheart. Hanna starts this song with a lovely nyckelharpa solo. And Meidi once again pours out her melancholic heart on the low tones of her bass viol. She sometimes affectionately calls her bass viol ‘my muse’. This Viola da gamba -the Dutch name for it- was specially made for Meidi’s mother many years ago. -Meidi herself even drew the design of the head- and her mother asked Meidi:’You will play her after I’m gone won’t you? And needless to say Meidi did just that to this very day.
This is a mini CD that will appeal to open minded classical people as much as it will people that enjoy the lovely folk ballads of bands like AmmA, Anuna, and Rosemary & Garlic or the more traditional songs from Loreena McKennitt, Altan and the German band Cara, (whose new live CD I’ll be reviewing later this year) . Don’t expect fast dancing songs on Heartstrings, they are all slow to mid tempo ballads. But there are some nice balfolk dances on it. Trollkvinnan can be used for a Swedish halling, Waltz For The Little Mermaid off course is a waltz, My Love Came To Dublin is a muzarka and the most complicated one is Foxskin, this song combines a scottish with a waltz.

Meidi, together with all the talented friends that she invited to help her, has made a wonderful CD, that she can be really proud of. I have only one complaint with it. For such beautiful music, it ends way too soon. So here’s hoping that the next album will come soon, and that it will be a full length one. ‘Till then Heartstrings shall make many a turn more in my CD player.



Cliff

Editor: Diane

Picture credit:
– CD sleeve picture by Alexander Holwerda
– CD artwork by Meidi Goh
– studio photo by Meidi Goh
– live pictures by Cliff de Booy


Brisinga – Vísa Nornir (2017)



-”We musically fell in love.” That’s the heart warming way Brisinga‘s Fabi described meeting Fanny for the first time. It is also the best way to describe what happened to me while reviewing Brisinga’s debut CD Vísa Nornir. I musically fell in love with these talented ladies.
Brisinga bring together the best in pagan- , Nordic- and dream folk, and blend it into beautiful songs. They call it psychedelic folk. I think minimal Nordic folk is a better description, but either way Vísa Nornir is a lovely CD that I gladly recommend! But before I get into the music let ‘s give Fabi some time to introduce Brisinga a bit more.


“At this point in time Brisinga is a duo. Myself on hurdy-gurdy, recorders, flutes and vocals and Fanny, who also sings and plays the harp. Brisinga started out as a fire and music show founded by Fanny and Johanna. Because of the fire element they chose a name coming from the Edda. It means something like fire, flame or light. Maybe you know that Freya had an amber necklace called Brísingamen, which she got from four dwarvs. How she got it is a intresting story in itself. Anyway the name Brisinga is based on that.
In the end the fire thing didn’t work out so Johanna, -who played Bodhrán and percussion and sang backing vocals,- and Fanny decided to only focus on playing music. In the meantime I met Fanny in another project and we musically fell in love. We tried building a repertoire with folk covers, but we wrote so much music together that after a short while we left the covers behind us and focussed on our own songs instead.

We first visited the Dearworld studio in December 2015 to record an EP. But we got so inspired recording the EP that we wrote even more songs so we could make a whole CD. In winter 2016 we returned to the Dearworld studio once more and Vísa Nornir came out on April 11th 2017. In the summer of last year Johanna chose another path and now it’s only Fanny and me. Although sometimes we perform with a guest cello player, which complements our music really nicely we think.
Fanny and me both studied music at the same university in Germany, a fun fact is that Fanny studied in the Netherlands before that. Why did we choose folk music? Well we listened to very different music before it all began, but we both were fascinated by the sound of folk instruments. We wanted to play folk in a kind of minimalistic way as you can hear on the CD. Our newer songs are a bit more complex and have a different intention.”
Fabi ends her introduction of Brisinga with a YouTube link you find below in which the Brisingirls introduce themselves even more.



Vísa Nornir opens with Einsemd (solitude) And that’s exactly how it sounds. Fabi’s beautiful voice ringing out into the air as she is standing on a Nordic fjord. It can be seen as an intro, calming, preparing your mind for the music yet to come. The next song Cernunnos picks up as it was still part of Einsemd. It’s a dance based on a dream according to the booklet. And it starts with a lovely gentle harp piece, reminiscent of Omnia‘s The Naked Harp CD. Now with Brisinga making nature influenced pagan folk, using harp, hurdy-gurdy, bodhrán and overtone flutes, it’s really easy to make the Omnia connection and there are moments when they use the same musical techniques Stenny also use to create a mood. But there is a big difference in sound. The difference between day and… ….evening. Summer and Autumn. Where Omnia and other Dutch pagan bands enrich the music, add details in it to make it as cheerful and bright as a summer’s day, Brisinga tone the music down. Less is more. Just as the setting sun turns the sky into an orange flame and all things are turned down to their essential forms. Silhouettes against the warm orange sky. If you think of Dutch/German pagan bands like Omnia and Waldkauz as storytellers, then Brisinga’s music is poetry. It’s autumn, it’s red. Yellow. Tactile and Brown. Warm yet gentle. Calming yet strong. It’s beautiful.

I have to say here that Brisinga found the perfect person,in Fieke van den Hurk, to record Vísa Nornir in the way they envisioned it. After the lovely gentle harp intro in Cernunnos, Fanny raises the speed into almost an Irish jig. The bodhrán joins in but in a very subtle way. It’s played ever so gently. The last to join in is Fabi. And the song becomes a beautiful duet between harp and hurdy-gurdy. Fabi plays her hurdy gurdy so gently, it sounds more like a cello than the normal loud almost’shouting’, medieval market instrument I’m used to hear.
Listen to Cernunnos with headphones and you can clearly hear every key being touched. I never thought I would say it but those ‘clicks’ sound beautiful. It becomes a bit of extra percussion in the music. So cleverly recorded by Fieke. Well done!

Vapaa Ja Villi is a Finnish song. The lyrics, as in most of the songs, are written by Fabi, and it is a duet of voices this time. Fanny and Fabi have beautiful voices that blend so well together. Vapaa Ja Villi is themed as a dance song again; three witches dancing in a forest. And those voices really dance. They dance around each other, high and low, up and down the Nordic night, around the treetops and into your ears.

The Ones That Look Up To The Oaktrees is a medley of songs with an Irish feel. The first part Copper And Ocean features Fanny on harp and vocals. She has this deep warm, a bit hoarse voice that everybody would wish to have next to their bed to sing them to sleep. This first part reminds me of Sinead O’Connor‘s Last Day Of Our Acquaintance, especially with Fanny’s voice. Definitely a favourite part of Vísa Nornir for me.

Which takes me straight to the most beautiful song on Vísa Nornir, Sinä Ja Minä. It’s a tribal song in the good tradition of Kati Ran‘s Suurin or Eivor‘s Trollabundin, and a stunning one.
According to the booklet it’s a hunting song inspired by Finnish mythology and it does have this hunting, daunting feel over it. Again the basis is really simple. Two voices in harmony together and a single drum. Beauty doesn’t need more. It’s the harp and the overtone flute that then take you deep into the Nordic night. Running with the wolves as the northern light expand into their full grandeur over the dark sky. Really, a stunner of a song!

Sol øg Rog brings you right down again. So small, so tender. If you want to understand what Brisinga ment when they said they want to bring a minimalistic feel to their folk music, this is it. This is Nordic pagan folk meets dreamfolk. This is what makes Brisinga stand out from the other pagan folk bands. It’s their signature upon the genre,
The following song Samhain starts equally beautifully. It’s a word I use a lot in this review, beautiful, but it’s the only way I can describe Brisinga’s music. It’s beautiful how the song doesn’t really start, no the harp just appears out of the silence.

Módir Min is an Icelandic ghost story about abandoned children in the freezing cold, dedicated to Brisinga’s beloved mothers. With the piano-like harp and angelic voice of Fabi it reminds me a lot of Martine Kraft‘s Sølje intro. And, here comes that word again, it’s just beautiful.
As Fanny’s harp gently leads me into the very last song, I realise I don’t want to talk about the music anymore.
I just want to listen to it.
Feel it.
Absorb it.

The sentences stop,
they become words,
single words,

voices,
harmonic,
soothing.

As they whisper,
softly,
calm,
is my mind



Cliff

Editor: Diane
picture credits:
Brisinga promo picture by Brisinga,
Fanny live picture by Kees Stravers,
Fabi live picture by Ralph de Gaël.






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