Tag Archives: Irish folk

Tir Nan Og – Sing, Ye Bastards (2020)



Dear reader, get yourself a comfy seat, a nice slice of Irish barmbrack, and a good glass of fine Irish whiskey, ’cause this review may take a while. Analysing Tir Nan Og‘s fifth album Sing, Ye Bastards! left me with five pages of notes and an instant urge to tell you all about it. For those of you who want to have dinner early, here is the short version: if you like good old Irish party folk with a cool stadium rock production, this is your CD. Get your best boots on, finish your Irish stew, make sure you get yourself to the nearest pub, and party it down till the break of dawn. (Or all the booze is gone, whichever comes first).
So, now that the warning is out, I can go all nerdy on this CD without feeling guilty about it. After their strong 2018 album From The Gallows, Matze (violin, nyckelharpa), Sarah (flute, vocals), Joggl (four-string electric bass), Robert (guitar, vocals), Andi (whistles, pipes, vocals) and Volker (drums, bodhrán) have released yet another hit album, full of weird hooks, cool riffs, and groovy breaks bound to give you the best evening you’ve had in a long time! Now I do realize that names like Matze, Joggl, and Volker don’t sound particularly Irish, and you would be right in that assumption. Tir Nan Og is a Bavarian band, but I didn’t really notice. “Cool Irish band,” it says in my first notes: “Is that female vocalist American?”.
No rest for the listener

Not surprising because Sing Ye Bastards! feels Irish from the very first note played. A fast, catchy violin riff starts it all, a first drum break follows within seconds, effortlessly flowing into a catchy verse with an added whistle for some bonus Irish cheer. The chorus is an instant sing-along affair that then flows into a short violin solo with groovy bass to keep your feet moving. Back is the drum break, some first epic female backing vocal, it’s all there…, and we are only 90 seconds in the song. Damn, this band is something else! They throw all their strengths at you, and almost all at once. Strong male and female vocals, more musical twists in one song than you would normally hear on a whole album, even a 10-second drum solo towards the end, and we are still only talking about the first song on the album! “God almighty, have mercy on our souls” the band sings. “God almighty, have mercy on our hearts” I say. This is something else!



The official video for Fear Gorta

For a wee moment, I think I will be able to catch my breath on the second song: Last Order. That thought only lasts for the slow acapella intro Tir Nan Og sing. After that the drums, bass, and bagpipes take control of my feet again, and of I whizzing go. Someone tell the devil and ‘mye’ wife that they’ll have to wait a while, pour me another pint, and let me dance!! This stuff is awesome! The only moments you are allowed to catch your breath are the moments of silence separating the songs from each other.

Ok! Hold on! Time to get out of the Maelstrom, to swallow a Green Pill, slow down, and get some sense out of myself.
Soooo, to say something sensible: Tir Nan Og plays a very catchy version of punky Irish folk-rock. Extremely catchy actually. The cool thing is that they do that mostly acoustically. No distorted guitars, no screaming vocals, no nothing of that. Just the power of good old acoustic instruments, strong vocals, a slick production, and some darned good songwriting. Let’s start with that last bit first as it is the stand-out thing in my opinion. Tir Nan Og have a knack for surprising you, every 20 seconds it seems. Twists, breaks, solos, harmonies, they play with it as if they were a prog band. Fear Gorta, Last Order, Maelstrom, the whole album is just full with them, making this a highly entertaining album.

Tir Nan Og, a steaming folk band

So what are we talking about style-wise? Again, Tir Nan Og go for variety. Fear Gorta and Last Order are steaming acoustic party punk-folk songs, Maelstrom reminds me of the latest Pyrolysis album, especially in the vocals. Highlight in this song is Matze’s furious violin solo. I’m pretty sure sparks were coming off his strings when he played that in the studio. What I also love are the harmonies. The three voices of Robert, Sarah and Andi fit nicely together giving the music even more power, but that violin solo…darn, that one is addictive!

The Wanderings Of Oisin gives a more poppy feel to Tir Nan Og’s folk-punk. The intro keeps reminding me of something, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. It doesn’t matter. Again the whole song is catchy as hell. Especially the flute melody Sarah treats us with. Another strong part of Tir Nan Og’s sound is Joggl’s bass playing, not only on this song but over the whole album. I love the groove he adds to the songs. It gives Tir Nan Og’s music even more power, and a lot more dance credibility. Getting back to The Wanderings of Oisin; the chorus at the very end of this song, featuring Sarah on vocals, is one of those many cool curveballs the band constantly throws at you, as is the surprising acapella end.

With the song Green Pill, the feel of the music starts to shift from acoustic punk-folk towards folk-rock, but still with a strong Irish flavour to it. Let’s call it a nice blend of German punk-rockers Donots and our own Harmony Glen. A special mention has to go to Sarah’s whistle solo halfway through the song and the violin finishing it all off weaving in another famous tune. [Editors note: That would be Cooley’s Reel]
We’ve Been Everywhere has that same rock anthem feel to it. A big part of that can be attributed to the production. Where the previous album, From The Gallows (2018), still had a rougher, more punky feel to it, the production of Sing, Ye bastard! is fuller, rounder; there are more layers in the vocals, more effects; the bass and drums have more ‘oomph’. it all adds up towards a strong stadium rock feel which I love. I also love the “weird” Al Yankovic rap-part Andi pulls out of the bag in this song, soon to be followed by what seems to be a guest appearance of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Go Andi, go Andi!!!

Strong Harmonies

One song further and we go Greek, combined with a fun bit of German Hoompha folk for good measure. There are many bands that say they have no limits when writing music. Tir Nan Og clearly wants to take that statement one step further! So Sláinthe is a mix of Greek, Irish, and German influences. Next song I Sold My Soul starts with a bagpipe riff that could easily have been written by The Sidh‘s Iain Alexander Marr. The song itself is a catchy Pyrolysis-type folk-rock anthem.



The second single: I sold My Soul

On Stone Cold Heart Sarah gets to show off her vocal talents. Both she and Robert have big voices that can easily hold their own against the powerhouse folk the band is playing. I’m just loving all of this, song after song. Every song has its own cool moment, its own cool twist. Listen to those driving drums in Stone Cold Heart. If you didn’t hear those folky whistles and violin tunes it could just as well be a drum fill by funk-rockers Living Colour. Especially when Joggl joins in on his electric bass to “funk” everything up even more; one of the few moments the band goes into a distorted overdrive. Sarah’s strong vocals finish this power ballad perfectly.

Sea of Sorrow is the first real moment of peace on Sing, Ye bastard!. An acoustic ballad that could easily be found on a Golden Earring album, with Robert taking on the role of George Kooymans. I’m loving Robert’s vocals throughout the whole album. Just like Sarah, he has the perfect voice for this band. Strong, powerful, with just the right amount of hoarseness, and capable of giving every song the colour it needs. May I also highlight the harmonies that brighten up the whole album? They pop up all over the place, but the most beautiful one has to be the ending of Sea Of Sorrow. Goosebumps.

The surpises keep on coming

Tir Nan Og are stíll not done surprising me. The Song Remains almost starts like a soundtrack, quickly flowing into something I can only describe as symphonic prog-folk with a touch of theatre in it. The call and response singing lines at 1:34 even remind me of Ayreon. Are there no limits to the things this band will include in their music?!?!?! Speaking of Ayreon, I could swear the flute solo following after that could have been played by Thijs van Leer (Focus), one of the prominent guest musicians on Ayreon’s The Electric Castle.

I think by now it’s clear Tir Nan Og are not ‘just’ a punky acoustic folk band. Nope, this is a full-grown folk-rock unit. Inventive in their songwriting, cheeky in every note they play, with a strong link to their Irish folk roots…

The final twist

Now we get to a fun moment. First I’ll let you read the original text I wrote to end this review: ‘…with a strong link to their folk roots. The Scrum /Harmony Glen-like power ballad O’Hanlan’s Last Words for instance gives you clear proof of that. What a band…WHAT A BAND!!
And this is the final twist the band threw at me, it is Robert writing me in response of the review: ‘O’Hanlon’s Last Words was actually performed by Harmony Glen as a guest track on this CD. (A cover of a song from our last CD).
That would explain why I thought it sounded a lot like Harmony Glen yes (blushes). And with all of you laughing it is time to round up this review.
It is high time for CeltCast to host their own St. Patrick’s day folk-rock concert. I say put Tir Nan Og top of the bill, co-headlining with Harmony Glen of course, and Pyrolysis as support act. Now that would be an evening! Can I already reserve my tickets!? Pretty please!?



Tir Nan Og performing live at Folk Am Neckar (2019)

– Cliff

Editor: Iris
Cover art: Santana Raus: Santichan illustration
pictures: Andi Fingas
Picture editing: Andre Freitag

Shane Ó Fearghail – Born From Tradition (2020)



The first reviews of 2022 seem to have a common theme: these are the reviews of the golden voices. Look at the list: Iona Fyfe, Mia Guldhammer and Morten Alfred Høirup, Gillian Frame and Findlay Napier, they all released stunning albums highlighting their unique vocal talents. In this review we continue this theme as Shane Ó Fearghail is another one blessed with a golden voice.
Shane is a singer-songwriter, born in Dublin but now living in Vienna. He has released 3 albums until now: The Watcher & The comet (2009), Everything You Need (2012) and They Might See Dolphins (2016). His latest full-length album is called Born From Tradition, and it is his most intimate album by far.
Before I go deeper into Born From Tradition I want to dive into Shane’s back catalogue a bit. For the most part, there isn’t a note of folk to be heard. But I decided to ignore that small fact, as I loved what I was hearing. His first album, The Watcher & The Comet, is an indie-pop pearl. it contains alternative pop songs, reminding me of bands like James, The Blue Aeroplanes, and especially Crowded House, but in this case sung by the singer-songwriter nephew of Jim Diamond ( Ph.D., Jim Diamond) or Feargal Sharkey ( The Undertones, Feargal Sharkey ). Songs like Round The Hardway; All Your Features; the power ballad Satellite (with a cool touch of Muse over it); Grace (with a stroke of Coldplay ); actually the whole album is a must-have for fans of this style of music. Songs like Jesus I can Try; Mermaid (The Atlantean lullaby); and The Hero Of Waterloo showcase Shane’s love for storytelling ballads, something I will come back to later.
As an ’80s teen there is another thing I love about The Watcher & The Comet, its distinctive 80’s guitar sound. Listening to Shane’s first album makes me want to grab an old U2 or early Coldplay LP just to stay in the same vibe. Especially Mermaid (The Atlantean Lullaby) is a beautiful cross between Crowded House and Coldplay.

That specific 80’s sound is almost gone on the follow-up albums: Everything You Need Is Here (2012) and They Might See Dolphins (2016). Instead, we hear a cleaner sound, more in the direction of R.E.M, with occasional string sections that seem to come straight from a later The Beatles album. Just listen to Who Came First, (the first song on Everything You Need Is Here) and you’ll know exactly what I mean.
You will hear the first folk influences pop up in songs like Hey Little Sister and It’s Up To You on Everything You Need Is Here. The folk influences become even more apparent on the album They Might See Dolphins. Just listen to Read Between The Lines, Chalk, but especially Faerie Tree (hello Mike Scott’s The Waterboys) and you will hear the Irish folk heritage clearly shining through.

BORN FROM TRADITION; A SINGER-SONGWRITER BALLADEER

Having said that, it is still a big step from the first three albums with their alternative band sound to the solo singer-songwriting balladeer Shane becomes on Born From Tradition. So I had to ask about it: What made him venture into his Irish musical heritage?
‘Well it starts with my granny Olive. She was a real Dubliner, a great woman from an older world. Irish and yet distinctly Dublin. The old songs and stories were part of her world and that tradition was passed on to us thankfully.
Born From Tradition, for now, is the closest I will get to the music I was reared on; the songs I learned and sang along to at family sessions; in my granny’s house in Dublin. The album, for me, is the proverbial salmon returning home to the safety of deep rock pools where it was born. Living away from Ireland during this pandemic, the songs on this album brought Ireland home to me. They are a celebration of my ballad background, my family, and our culture.’


I said in the intro that Shane has a love for storytelling ballads. Well, the Irish balladeer steps forward right away in the opening song I like It When You Try. Lyrics like: ‘We can talk about anything, cars, and cigarettes, but you don’t smoke and I don’t drive’ are typical singer-songwriter lines. Sometimes observative, sometimes personal, sometimes tongue in cheek, and effortlessly shifting from one to the other with every well-placed word. Lyrics like: ‘Sitting here looking for someplace to find; a place in myself where I have peace of mind; looking at faces for places to see; the wind in my hair; the breeze blowing easy’ (Roll On The Wind) remind me of Neil Young and his ability to weave sentences together in exactly the same way as Shane does.
Lyrics were always important to Shane, but on Born From Tradition, they come to the foreground even more. That is because the well-arranged pop sound of the earlier records is broken down to a single acoustic guitar melody. A lone violin, mandolin, accordion, or recorder is carefully placed in the music as if they are delicately illustrating the lyrics.



By the time I reach the third song Reynardine it is clear Shane O’Fearghail’s voice is the main feature on Born From Tradition. His melancholic voice is smooth as silk with a slightly hoarse finish, extremely pleasant to the ear. Combine that with his charming Irish accent and a strong vibrato that he uses to perfection to enhance the melancholic, nostalgic feel of the songs and it is clear why I see his voice as the highlight of Born Of Tradition. The musical arrangements make his voice shine even more. The music is soft, gentle, delicate, and never overpowering the voice. Our Ilona called it the “perfect hammock music” and I could not agree more.

Reynardine is the first of the traditional songs Shane selected for Born From Tradition. It is a song about a werefox luring beautiful women to an unknown fate. This type of historic folk ballad fits perfectly with the material by Shane’s own hand. As do the touching lyrics of Green Fields Of France or the unofficial anthem of Dublin, the folk ballad Molly Malone, clear links to granny Olive and the Dublin she knew. Shane goes even deeper into his Irish heritage with the Gaelic songs Trasna Na Gcianta and Ná Bí Buartha, songs he wrote together with Róisín Ní Bhriain, a friend of his.



FINDING THE MAGIC WITHIN

Now I have to admit, listening to this album I went through three phases. At first, I fell in love with Shane’s voice. Head over heels actually. How could I not with these lovely songs oozing out of my speakers, filling ymy room with a soft blanket of soothing goodness. But after a while I found myself losing a bit of concentration. The songs, as beautiful as they all are individually, seemed to become one gentle sweet sound that lasted the whole album. I was missing a moment of contrast, like a song similar to Faerie Tree from his previous album, just to shake things up a bit.
But then came phase three (!), and with it the true magic of Born From Tradition.

As I started diving into the lyrics the time suddenly flew by. Gone was my wish for contrast. Reading the lyrics Shane wrote, looking up the history behind the traditional songs he chose, made me realize Born From Tradition sounds exactly as it should. Shane put every side of himself into this record. Not only his memories of granny Olive and her Dublin; but also his respect for his Irish heritage; his personal views on the crazy world around us. All of a sudden I did recognize the build-up of this record. Not a build-up in the music as I was expecting, no, it was there in the themes Shane selected.
The first songs I Like It When You Try and Roll On The Wind are melancholic love ballads as only the Irish can sing them, full of longing for a lost love and the green fields of home.
With Reynardine, Trasna Na Gcianta, The Green Fields Of France, Molly Malone, and Ná Bí Buartha Shane pays homage to his Irish heritage. On the last bit of the album, the socially critical singer-songwriter comes out. It starts with Anyway, arguably the most beautiful ballad on Born Of Tradition. Sharp, perfectly sung, eenunciating e-ve-ry single word. I can only describe it as singer-songwriter magic. The lyrics are so strong: ‘Seáni was a poor one; grew up on a steel spoon; looking for a way out…‘ ‘turns out he’s the lucky one; he’s not the friend of a pistol or the bullet from a gun…‘ These words make my arm hairs stand on end. The poignant guitar melody makes it even better. What a song. It is followed by another razor-sharp singer-songwriter gemstone: New England. The message in this song is even stronger than in Anyway. So strong even that it will go too far to discuss in this review, instead I’ll just leave a link here to a blog Shane wrote about this song.



The last song on Born From Tradition ends the album as if it was a movie score. Raglan Road is the perfect end score to Born From Tradition. An odd comparison I know, but I can’t find a better one to explain it. It is just the twisted way my musical mind works I guess.
All in all Born from Tradition is a beautiful album with many interesting layers. A singer-songwriters delight. And the good news is, there is more to come.
On Bandcamp Shane already released an EP called Acoustic. According to Shane: ‘A collection of acoustic demo’s from previous albums or songs that are coming down the tracks. As for a follow-up on Born from Tradition: -‘I will do a follow-up Irish album soon, with more songs and Irish ballads. But that is next year or the year after. For now, I am concentrating on a new album which will be an uptempo Irish Appalachian affair. Due for a summer release 2022.
Well, speaking for myself, I can’t wait!

Cliff

editor: Sara
Cover art: Sabine Mann | sabinemann.Design
Picture: Sabine Mann

Drowsy Maggie – Nú Trad (2017) Review



The coolest thing about working for CeltCast is that you never know where you will end up next! By now I’ve discovered some lovely local festivals that have become regulars on my musical calendar. The latest one on this list is Folkerdey. A really cool, cozy folk festival in Ratingen, Germany. It started out as an idea by 2 members of the folk band Drowsy Maggie and two youth centers in the city of Ratingen and is heading towards its 14th edition next year.
In 2019 it featured folk bands like Stout, Wait For June and Sunfire, the pop-folk hurdy gurdy player Patty Gurdy and, as the headliner, the Irish folk band Drowsy Maggie. Never heard of them? Well, that is about to change. Their performance at Folkerdey was so good I found myself buying their CD the minute the show ended and it did not disappoint! Nú Trad is filled with upbeat Irish folk with a twist. With a lot of twists, actually. Drowsy Maggie added a whole bunch of musical flavors to the songs they recorded. It keeps the album interesting right to the very, very end. But I’ll come to that. First things first. Who are Drowsy Maggie?
Drowsy Maggie Headlining the Folkerdey festival 2019

Drowsy Maggie are a German folk band based around Düsseldorf. The band was formed by accordionist Alex Otto and guitar player Thomas Gurke. Later on drummer Christoph Zimmermann and vocalist/fiddler Sebastian Zimmermann completed the line-up. Their repertoire is filled with classic Irish folk songs, part traditionals and partly works from the likes of Christy Moore; Michael McGoldrick; Richard Thompson (whom we know from Fairport Convention); Gordon Duncan, (a bagpiper/low whistle, composer known -amongst other things- for his work with the Dougie Maclean band); the Irish band Kila (a cool band who mix Irish folk with the energy of gypsy- and Latin American music, think Santana goes folk) and -wait for it- Metallica !!! Did you just say Metallica? Yes! Coming from a pop/rock background Drowsy Maggie play acoustic Irish folk, but they do give it their own energetic twist, just like some of their influences, making Nú Trad a pleasure to listen to. So let’s dive into their music.

The opening track Broken Pledge starts with the deep sound of the floor tom, some intriguing mystical guitar effects and a staccato fiddle that has Cesair’s Diex, Nox Et Omnia written all over it. Alex Otto’s Accordion is fast to follow with a lovely catchy accordion melody, that could have easily come from a Wouter en de Draak album. To my pleasant surprise the band takes their time with this intro, it’s only after 2 minutes that the beat kicks in and the song turns into a catchy Irish jig with the cheerfulness of a Shantalla or Finvarra. Everybody who loves Irish folk will be hooked after this song alone, trust me.



With the second song Drowsy Maggie take on a real classic: Christy Moore’s I Wish I Was In England. And again the band convinced me in every way. Sebastian Zimmermann has a warm and really pleasant voice – with some imagination you could call him an Irish version of The Belgian singer-songwriter Milow – and I can only compliment them on their interpretation of this evergreen. Especially with that French style folk accordion solo thing at the end. Lovely stuff.

These two songs were just a prelude to one of the biggest surprises on Nú Trad and at the same time one of the best and most original songs on this CD. The song is called Superflying Popcorn Drive and the title is just as positively weird as the music itself! Just as Clannad many decades before them, Drowsy Maggie mixes their Irish folk with a jazz flavor! As in the sound of a jazz big band! From the first notes of the bassline, you know you are gonna going to be in for a treat! When the brass section – Avelina Thole on trumpet and Will Wilzek on trombone – step in I am thinking Dizzy Gillespie, Glen miller or – more incoming with the Castlefest style – Berlinkski Beat. And it does not stop there, Sebastian throws in a lovely gypsy style fiddle solo while Otto’s accordion is still insisting to take you down to France. After two and a half minutes the band switches tune and the popcorn really starts to fly. That accordion and fiddle combo is sooo freakin’ catchy, by now I’m bouncing and dancing around the room.
But we are not done yet! The musical flavors change one more time as the brass section goes into marching band modus, including the obligatory drumroll on the snare drum, while the accordion is still cheerfully popping musical popcorn all around my headphone. I know it sounds like an impossible mix to put together, but not for Drowsy Maggie. They manage to get all these crazy ideas into one song and somehow make it work. In the end, you still listened to a folk song. An extremely danceable, cheerful and weird one, but folk nonetheless. 10 out of 10 for originality and musical talent!



And there is more to come. Drowsy’s Bar, for instance, starts as a delicate gypsy solo played by the fiddle, but unexpectedly the song picks up speed and goes into a French folk song with Spanish percussion, still with that gypsy feel although that ends abruptly! After one last chord from the accordion, the song continues as an uptempo Celtic folk tune from Brittany. It isn’t long before the flavor of the song changes yet again, into bluegrass this time! Really?! Yep, no problem in the Drowsy Maggie world.

With Tell God and The Devil the band throws another twist at you. This song is best described as uptempo pop-folk, with some gypsy influences, a heavy bluegrass feel, sung by the Belgian singer-songwriter Milow. Just as the Irish band Kila, Drowsy Maggie seems to throw all those different influences in a blender, put the machine on full speed and just flow with it. It shouldn’t work, but out come the most upbeat and danceable pop-folk songs that you ever heard, by no means traditional, but very, VERY cool.

Want me to describe another one of those musical cocktails? Well, it comes right after Drowsy’s Bar and Tell God and The devil. It’s called The Barre and again it features that typical marching band sound I mentioned before. In Germany, you have something called a musikkapelle , a (small) marching band playing really melodic brass evergreens. (In the link you’ll find a video of the muzikkappelle from Ratingen.) Somehow Drowsy Maggie managed to capture that typical German sound into their folk music and make it feel fresh, young and cool. Don’t ask me how but they did it but it works sooooo well! By the way, did I already mention the band is actually playing a bit of Metallica here? No? Well, they do and it actually works!! French accordion meets German brass section on a Celtic folk album playing an adaptation of a metal song. Only in the Drowsy Maggie world can you fit those four together. It gets even better, after the Metallica-goes-folk-brass-section, Drowsy Maggie push up the beat, pull out a wah-wah guitar, throw in a lovely accordion hook and eventually pull out some groovy disco vibes as well. Seriously? This even beats Clannad’s early 60’s acid folk experiments on their debut album and I’m only halfway through this CD! Now I could go on like this for the next seven songs but that would spoil it all, so I’ll stop here and let you discover the remainder of this album by yourself.

I can imagine that after reading this review you might think this album sounds like a patchwork blanket, but it doesn’t. The album is surprisingly coherent considering all the different styles and that is because of two very good reasons. The first one is that under all those nice quirky ideas it’s all still upbeat, really danceable Irish folk music. Admittedly, with a big wink towards Brittany, but it always returns to those Irish roots.
The second thing that keeps this whole album together is its fresh, spontaneous sound. All the songs were recorded in two live sessions, one of the 29th and one on the 30th of October. And you can hear that. It is clear that the band prepared themselves well for these two sessions and it’s that freshness, together with the originality and quirkiness of the band that makes Nú Trad such a good album. But don’t take my word on it. Go listen for yourself!! Preferably with a suitable dance partner. Because with half of the album filled with upbeat cheerful reels and jigs this is just as much an album for the balfolk enthusiasts as it is for the fans of fun Irish folk. Now let’s get these guys back to Elfia ! Or on the stage of Keltfest . They so deserve it!

– Cliff
Editor: Gwendolyn Snowdon
Sleeve art: Andreas Heller
photo credits: Andreas Heller

CeltCast Classic
Cara – Yet We Sing (2016)



We didn’t focus that much on pure Irish folk CDs in this review section yet, Gwendolyn Snowdon‘s Three Strand Braid, Shantalla‘s From The East Unto The West and of course Clannad‘s early works are the only ones I can think of. But that is about to change. A while ago I got the request from Ilona to review one of her favourite bands, together with a pile of music to listen to. The band is called Cara and the music doesn’t get more Irish than this, even though Cara are a German band. Since their origins in 2003 the band produced 7 CDs, toured the better part of Europe, became successful in the USA, even being voted best new artist of 2009 and top group of 2010 with the Irish Music Association. They were also nominated for a best record award three times. In 2007 in Germany for the CD In Between Times and in 2010 Long Distance Love was nominated, not only in their homeland Germany but also again with the Irish Music Association based in the USA, so you can safely say that Cara have had a successful career up till now. It was almost Inevitable that they would be the second band featured in the CeltCast Classics series. So let’s introduce Cara a bit more.


It all started in 2003 when Gudrun Walther (vocals, fiddle and accordion, left on picture), Jürgen Treyz (guitar, right on picture), Sandra Steinort (vocals, piano and flute) and Claus Steinort (uilleann pipes and flute) formed Cara. Shortly after Rolf Wagels (bodhrán) joined and in this formation the band recorded the studio albums In Colour (2004) and In Between Times (2007) followed by a live CD and DVD called In Full Swing (2008). From 2007 onwards Cara did several tours throughout America, gaining more and more success. It was in these years that Cara won the two Irish Music Awards. Also at this point Sandra and Claus Steinort couldn’t mix the busy tour live with their other obligations and decided to leave the band.



In the video above you see the original line-up playing Please Be Peter – taken from their second CD In Between Times – live at Bonfeld Folk im Schlosshof 2008.

They were replaced by Jeana Leslie, winner of the BBC radio 2 young folk awards (vocals, piano and flute) and multiple all Ireland uilleann pipes champion Ryan Murphy. You could call it a winning line-up. The result was Long Distance Love that came out in 2010.
In 2013 Jeana Leslie started studying *) and in her place Scottish singer/songwriter Kim Edgar joined the band. In that line-up the band recorder Horizon (2013). In 2014 Ryan Murphy had to leave the band due to his busy schedule **) and he was replaced by German uilleann pipe player Hendrik Morgenbrodt. With this line-up the band recorded the albums Yet we sing (2016) and their latest CD Live (2018). Shortly after that long time member Rolf Wagels left the band and Aimée Farrell Courtney was welcomed in the Cara family.

The debut In colour

With all those line-up changes you would think that the sound of the band changed tremendously over the years, but actually it didn’t. It’s still lovely Irish folk music, featuring female vocals, uilleann pipe, flute and violin. All in a clean, calming and almost fragile way. I didn’t hear any distorted instrument or forced singing note on any of the CDs. From the first notes of the opening track on the debut CD In Colour it is clear that the strongest point in Cara’s music are the stunning vocals. The voices of Gudrun Walter and Sandra Steinort are beautiful, crystal clear and work really well together. (As does the combination of Gudrun together with Kim Edgar on later albums.) The harmonies between the two ladies are beautiful. The clean sound of the guitar, violin and uilleann pipes even enhance those lovely voices. Track one, The King And The Fair Maid, is a cheerful introduction into Cara’s music that made me eager for more. Luckily there is more, a lot more actually. You have Three Ravens for example. A beautiful ballad that is a bit in the tradition of Twa Corbiez. The way it is sung reminds me a lot of Gwendolyn Snowdon on her album Three Strand Braids. Or listen to There Is Light, the last song on In Colour. It starts as a lullaby, so tender and fragile with a lovely piano accompaniment – not to mention the acoustic guitar solo in it – but it ends as a grand acoustic power ballad.
From the CD In Between Times (2007) I could name the uptempo, slightly eerie Poisoned Peas with it’s lovely harmony singing and the fast pace of the guitar and uilleann pipes in it, I could name the strong ballad The House Carpenter or I could mention The Maid Of Whitby a nice upbeat song, with a slight country slide guitar in there and a lovely violin solo. This song makes me think of an acoustic version of the Corrs. Both CDs are lovely examples of Irish folk. They have an almost 50/50 balance between instrumental – and vocal songs, all well played. Both In colour and In Between Days will not look out of place in any folk collection.


Cara playing Odd Rhythms a song written by Jürgen Treyz, taken from the 2013 album Horizon

Now I didn’t have the pleasure to listen to In Full Swing (2008) or Long distance Love (2010) yet, so I pick up the story with the 2013 album Horizon. For me the odd one out. On this CD Cara chose a more pop orientated production, with a electronic keyboard sound at times and a strong bass guitar. It turns the feel of the music in a mix of folk and soul/jazz, even funk/jazz in some songs. Just listen to Master Of Consequence or Odd Rhythms, both instrumental songs sound like funk legends Shakatak gone folk music. It takes a bit of getting use to but it actually works. Good examples are the upbeat jazz/folk instrumental Big Jigs or the pop-like Be Gone. Other highlights on Horizon are the beautifully sung ballad Blood, Ice And Ashes -think Matt Bianco meets Irish folk – and the more country orientated ballad The Bonny Lad. Cara are sooo good with their ballads, it is really one of their strong points.

Yet We Sing, The CeltCast Classic

With the 2016 album Yet We Sing, Cara pick up their old sound again, losing the pop/jazz production of Horizon. Opening A Leaf For A Sail is another one of those beautiful ballads that Cara are so well known for. With a theme and a feel that takes me back to Sandy Denny‘s The North Star Grassman And The Ravens and a feel that reminds me a lot of Gwendolyn Snowdon’s interpretation of that song on Three Strand Braid. The Elfin Knight could also have been on Three Strand Braid. Kim Edgar has the same tone of voice and the same style of singing as Gwendolyn Snowdon. There is yet another similarity between Cara and Gwendolyn Snowdon. Their ability to tell a story. Cara clearly stepped away from the traditional call and response type of folk songs that made up the majority of their first two albums to lean towards modern popsongs, with strong lyrics telling a story, sung solo by either Kim Edgar or Gudrun Walther. Cain’s War for instance is a pure protest song, making a powerful statement against fanatism, religion and weapons, Cara I fully agree! Anchor In The Sky and Yet We Sing are two more beautiful ballads. I keep mentioning those, I realise, but honestly, the vocal quality of Cara make buying all of their CD’s worthwhile.



Up till now didn’t mention the instrumental songs much, although 50% of the albums are filled with them. The instrumental songs on the first two Cds are nice Irish folk tunes, mid tempo Jigs and reels played to perfection in the pure Irish way. Nice duets between Violin, flute or uilleann pipes. They may not have the adventurous arrangements as some of the vocal songs, but therefore are islands of calm between the vocal escapades. I love Songs like Reels For Hecki, the balladesque Buddleja, the gypsy style And Off He Went -all found on In Colour– or the almost Arabian sound of C’mon Tiger – found on In between Days- and fans of traditional folk will find many more instrumental gems on the first two Cara albums. As I mention earlier Cara leave the traditional approach of the instrumentals on the CD Horizon, opting for a more groovy jazz approach.
On Yet We Sing I notice a wee bit of a difference in those instrumentals. Although returning to the traditional style of folk Cara played on the first two albums, on Yet We Sing they start adding little twists and improvisations that make music so interesting for me.
There is Heroes, a nice upbeat collection of jigs and reels, with the third section going into a reggae rhythm (!?), just to spice things up, as the band writes themselves in the CD insert. Now that got my attention! Land Of The Midnight Sun is folk meets chamber music, while The Legend of Lisalway, with a lovely uilleann pipes melody, takes us back to the jazz influences on Horizon for a moment. The Naked Man In The Whirlpool starts as a lovely guitar piece and continues as an instrumental ballad instead of a traditional Irish dance. A Wee Dobro Tune is indeed written as a dobro solo piece, with some additional piano and violin. All in all I love the instrumentals just as much as the vocal pieces on this album, making Yet We Sing a clear CeltCast Classic!

So we come to the traditional conclusion and I can tell you that the more I listened to Cara’s music, the more their music grew on me. If I would compare them with a bottle of wine I would describe their music as a mature, yet supple, easy to drink red wine with a lovely bouquet of exquisite vocal harmonies. The instrumentals give the music a lovely vanilla tone with notes of surprising melted dark chocolate especially on the later CDs. fans of the early Clannad albums – especially Clannad 2 or Shantalla really should give Cara’s music a listen, and Yet We Sing is the perfect CD to start that journey.



– Cliff
– Pictures by Gregor Eisenhuth , taken during the Yet We Sing release tour in 2016

PS. I started listening to Cara’s music and writing this introduction in the spring of 2019. Since that time Cara released a new single called Móran Tang. A really touching story that actually says a lot about Cara so I’ll quote Kim Edgar from the Cara site:
“As some of you will already be aware, my dad, Derek Edgar, sadly died of cancer in March 2017. He was an extra-ordinary man: creative, gentle, positive, loving, and determined. He remained just as extra-ordinary in facing cancer of an unknown primary source, for which no successful treatment could be found. In the last week of his life, I wrote him a thank you card, because I wanted him to know how grateful my brother, myself and my mum were to have him in our lives. He challenged me to take the words of that card, and turn them into a happy song – he knew/knows I find writing happy songs difficult! And he has always tried to encourage me to keep developing my skills. And that’s the song, Mòran Taing. The title is in Scots Gaelic, and the chorus means “many thanks, goodbye for now, fare you well for now, many thanks”.
And with this beautiful homage we end this review. Knowing Cara’s musical story still continues.



*) Jeana Leslie is now part of the Scottish folk band Fara
**)Ryan Murphy is now a member of the Scottish folk band Imar

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






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