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Members include Ciaran Brennan (born Ciaran- pronounced "Keeron" -O Braonain inGweedore, Ireland, also the birthplace of other members), vocals, double bass, electricbass, guitar, synthesizer, piano; Enya Brennan (1980-82, born Eithne Ni Bhraonain,May 17, 1961 ), keyboards, vocals; Maire Brennan (born Maire -pronounced"Moya"- Ni Bhraonain, August 4, 1952, ), vocals, harp, keyboard; PolBrennan (left band, 1989), tin whistles, flute; Noel Duggan, g uitar (bornNoel O Dugain); Paidraig Duggan (born Padarig pronounced -"Poric"- O Dugain), mandolin,harmonica, acoustic guitar. Addresses: Agent-Upfront Management Ltd., 14/15 Sir John Rogerson's Quay, Dublin 2, Ireland.
The history of popular music is rife with stories of grizzled, veteran acts with long, rich histories that are suddenly"discovered" through the most unlikely happenstance, and the Irish group Clannad is a perfect example. Formed in thelate 1960s in the remote county of Donegal in Ireland, Clannad had been creating a unique blend of traditional folksongs, haunting vocals, and electronic innovations for two decades when in 1993, the inclusion of a song in aVolkswagen commercial made the group near-celebrities in America. The German car company found their phone linesbuzzing with people interested not in buying a car, but in their commercial's enchanting music. Consequently, Clannadhad an album enter Billboard's charts for the first time, and were welcomed by a new and unexpected share of fans. Despite their new found popularity, the band continued unshakably on their quest into the mystical past of theircountry's heritage.
Clannad's story is very much a family saga, as its members are all blood relatives from the Northwest of Irelandwho have built a deep working relationship over many years. In the late 1960s, the Brennan brothers, Pol and Ciaran,along with sister Maire focused a shared love of their Celtic musical heritage into the creation of a band. Although thesiblings all boasted versatile musical abilities, the central lineup consisted of Pol playing tin whistle and flute, Ciaranon double bass and vocals, and Maire offering both harp playing and her distinct, other-worldly voice as the centerpiece. Joined by twin uncles Noel and Paidraig Duggan on guitar, mandolin, and other instruments, the Brennans christenedthemselves "an clann as Dobhar," meaning "family from Dore" in Gaelic.
Although the family quickly adopted the less cumbersome title Clannad, they otherwise showed no desire to smoldertheir strong Celtic pride. While the Brennan's parents were both musicians who specialized in more popular styles-father Leo had played a boisterous, accordion-peppered brand of big band jazz in a local tavern- their grandparentshad been a reserve of time-worn tales and legends spun in original Gaelic. "The traditional songs and legends we usedto learn when we were growing up had a lot of images of places and people's names," Maire stated on The South BankShow, a program on the Bravo! network. "Like, there's an area in Donegal which is utterly gorgeous with a couple oflegends attached to it as well. We tried to take in the various legends."
The history and landscape of Ireland permeated the world of Clannad's lyrics from the band's onset, but the family'spenchant for tradition went further. Rather than adopting the styles of English and American pop music that had waftedfrom overseas, the Brennans and Duggans amassed a treasury of local songs from which they crafted a new sound.However, the fact that these songs remained in Gaelic did not win audiences over. "When we first started to actuallyplay the traditional songs in our contemporary style, we weren't very encouraged by what we were doing, becausepeople thought it was a bit mad that we were singing Gaelic songs," Maire told Lahri Bond in Dirty Linen magazine. "People used to say to us, 'Listen, you'll not get anywhere doing that'." As Clannad began playing live in nearbytaverns, some locals were put off by the backwards, rural connotations of Gaelic, while purists of the culture found thegroup's addition of contemporary harmonies distasteful.
Having built up a repertoire of over 500 songs, Clannad made the unprecedented decision to arrange these traditionaltunes for a full band, and began making forays into nearby villages for live performances. Despite initial friction, theBrennans and Duggans began to charm audiences, and soon found their first big break. To Clannad's surprise, theywere awarded the first prize in the Letterkenny Folk Festival and as a result offered a chance to record with the Irishbranch of the Phillips label. However, Clannad's uncompromising use of Gaelic was met by record executives withraised eyebrows. "That was in 1970 and we were still in college and school, but we didn't record the [first] record until1973,@ Moire told Bond, "because the record company didn't like the idea of us doing half the album in Gaelic. Itwasn't heard of to sing Gaelic unless you were really heavy into folk, ethnic, and traditional music, and then for onlya really small minority of people."
Began Long Recording Career
Clannad, the 1973 debut, was representative of the kind of folk-based arrangements the group would masterthroughout the rest of the decade. While tracks like the drinking song "Nil se'n la" ("It's Not Yesterday") demonstratedClannad's willingness to season Celtic standards with alien jazz influences, it was the more rustic instruments likemandolin and bongos which dominated the overall flavor of the album. Their third album, Dulaman, released in 1976,was perhaps the most fully realized of Clannad's works to date, highlighted by the sprawling title track, a chronicle oftwo merchants of dulaman, or seaweed.
Despite the growing fan support these albums garnered, Clannad still considered themselves to be mere novices,and were uncertain of their band's future. When journalist Fachtna O'Kelly and recording engineer Nicky Ryan heardthe band in the mid-1970s, though, they gave Clannad the needed push towards a professional career when they agreedto manage them. "After working with [Irish group] Planxty as an engineer in 1975, I was at loose ends," Ryan reflectedto Peter Herbst in Rolling Stone. "Fachtna said, 'Why don't you give [Clannad] a listen,' and when I heard the doublebass and those harmonies, I was just knocked out. But it was a big step for them, a family, to turn professional, leavingno children at home." After a standing ovation at a 1976 Berlin performance, that "big step" became significantlysmaller.
By 1979, Clannad had drawn a strong following among folk devotees, recorded the impressive Clannad in Concertalbum, and crossed the Atlantic for their first American tour. More importantly, they had established a sound as uniqueas it was universally appealing, for in spite of the obvious language barrier, Maire's contralto vocals touched audiencesat a more purely musical level. However, rather than becoming complacent merchants of folky charm, the Brennansand Duggans began to dabble in new kinds of arrangements, but did so by creating a truly new synthesis of musicalsources rather than simply slapping Irish tunes into a modern setting.
The New Face of Clannad
With the release of the album Fuiam in 1981, Clannad showed the world their new face, and the reception was aspositive as ever. Joined by younger sister Enya Brennan on keyboards and vocals, the group took on an electronic soundfor the first time, but this only added to the rich, full sound they had already established. Enya's voice was a perfectcounterpoint to older sister Maire's, and she took the lead duties on two songs, "An t Ull" and "Buaireadh An Phosta." However, Enya"s stay was short-lived as, after Fuaim, she launched a solo career that would make her perhaps thebiggest celebrity of her time in new age music. Ironically enough, much of Enya's initial solo exposure was also dueadvertising, as her song "Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)" was employed in several advertisements.
If Clannad's music had always carried with it imagery of lush landscapes, then the addition of synthesizers bolsteredthat quality, and consequently the group was sought after to lend their atmospheric touch to film and televisionsoundtracks. Their first, a theme for a television thriller titled Harry's Game was recorded in 1982 and would begettheir most popular song ever. "When we wrote 'Harry's Game' we knew it was nice and it was special," Maire statedin a 1995 Public Broadcasting System interview. "It was very special to us. But honestly, I never thought it wouldaccomplish what it has in any form. It was just other people that latched onto it.... We thought we'd just carried on withthe next phase of our life as far as writing songs." This was the first of several releases given to Harry's Game, and thistime around it broke the British Top ten sales chart, and won the Ivor Novello Award, the British equivalent to theGrammy Awards.
The success of "Harry's Game" made Clannad minor stars in Europe, and throughout the 1980s the Brennans andDuggans were seen as something like godparents by a new generation of acts who were proud of their Irish heritage. The impetus of their surprise hit single pushed their 1983 album Magical Ring's sales to gold status, and Legend, aselection of music the band composed for the 26-part Robin of Sherwood television series, yielded a second gold recordand a British Academy Award in 1984. Meanwhile, the Irish pop group U2 adopted "Harry's Game" as their thememusic in live performances, and their outspoken singer Bono joined Maire for "In A Lifetime," a duet featured on the1986 Clannad album Macalla. Despite all this, the group retained their sensibility, as well as their sense of humor. AsMaire told Bond, "People were saying to us, 'What's it like to write a hit song?,' and we'd say, 'Oh, come on, if youwere trying to write a hit song would you have written it in Gaelic?'"
The band's growing marketability led American rock producers Greg Ladany and Russ Kunkel to invite Clannadto Los Angeles to produce their next album. Collaborating with middle of the road singers like pianist Bruce Hornsby,J.D. Souther, and ex-Journey leader Steve Perry, the band created Sirius in 1988 with disappointing results. As Bondwrote, "[t]he resulting sound was typical of what American producers do with ethnic music ... bland, over produced,and formulated for easy radio play." Although Clannad themselves were aware of the album's weakness, they did defenda few of its cuts, but did not continue to move in Sirius's direction.
Band Became Popular-Again
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Clannad found themselves in a flurry of activity, in spite of the amicabledeparture of Pol in 1989. In addition to releasing two retrospective compilations in 1990, Pastpresent and TheCollection, the group had scored an animated feature called The Angel and the Soldier Boy. While still intact as a group,the members of Clannad also offered several solo albums, Pol's somewhat disappointing Trisan, released in 1993, andMaire's self-titled debut, released in 1992 with the help of sisters Deirdre, Olive, and Bridin. In 1992, the band provedthat they had not been spreading themselves too thinnly with the release of Anam, their best album in years.
In addition to ten new compositions, the American version of Anam featured "In A Lifetime" and "Harry's Game,"perhaps as selling points for listeners unfamiliar with Clannad's previous work. However, the inclusion of "Harry'sGame" in a commercial for the Volkswagen Passat as well as in the soundtrack of the Harrison Ford film Patriot Gamescreated an unexpected storm of demand for the song, and it became an even bigger hit the second time around. Fromthe strength of one song, Anam became the first gold record for the band in America, and created new Clannad fansalong the way. While Clannad was again mildly shocked by their mass success, they found Volkswagen's use of theirmusic tasteful, and warmly welcomed overseas admirers. "We were really stunned by the public response," Maire toldBond. "It's funny, I was in Tower Records and they said, 'You wouldn't believe the amount of people who come inlooking for the Volkswagen Song. It kind of worked out really well, being in the charts, for the first time. We thoughtAmerica had passed us by."
Soon after their second big breakthrough, Clannad returned to the studio to create Banba, a rich work that wasreleased to mark the twentieth anniversary of the group in 1993. Blending the band's earliest styles with its most recentinnovations, Banba boasted a large selection of musicians in addition to the four piece core. Also that year, Clannadcontributed yet another popular track to a film soundtrack, Last of the Mohicans. Showing their dedication toauthenticity, the group did extensive research to write the song in the near-extinct language of the Mohican tribe.
For over two decades the Brennans and Duggans retained the same commitment to music that guided them fromthe start, notwithstanding any commercial success they may have found. "We're successful because we stuck from dayone to the same thing ... we like doing things from our locality," Ciaran posited to Herbst. "And if people get off on it,we're just amazed."
by Shaun Frentner
Band formed in hometown of Gweedore, Ireland in the late 1960s by Duggan and Brennan families; won firstprize at Letterkenny Folk Festival, leading to a deal with Phillips records, 1970; released self-titled debut album, 1973;toured Europe for the first time, 1976; released album Dulaman, 1976; embarked on first American tour, 1979; releasedfirst album with synthesizers, Fuaim, 1981; achieved European success with release of "Theme From Harry's Game,"1982; recorded hit single "In A Lifetime" with U2 vocalist Bono, 1986; achieved international fame with a secondrelease of "Harry's Game," 1992; Maire released first solo record, 1992; scored heavily on world music charts withalbum Lore, 1996.
Ivor Novello Award for "Theme From Harry's Game," 1982; British Academy of Film AndTelevision Arts Award for best soundtrack, Legend, 1984; Billboard World Music Song of the Year Award for "ThemeFrom Harry's Game," 1992; Irish Recorded Music Award, lifetime achievement, 1998.
- Selected discography
- Clannad , Phillips, 1973; re-released on Boot, 1997.
- Clannad Two , Shanachie, 1975.
- Dulamain , Shanachie, 1976.
- Crann Ull , Tara, 1978.
- Clannad In Concert , Shanachie, 1979.
- Fuaim , Atlantic (repackage), 1981.
- Magical Ring , Tara, 1982.
- Legend , RCA, 1984.
- Macalla , RCA, 1986.
- Sirius , RCA, 1988.
- Pastpresent , RCA, 1990.
- Anam , Atlantic, 1992.
- Banba , Atlantic, 1993.
- Lore , Atlantic, 1996.
- Rogha: The Best of Clannad , Atlantic, 1997.
- Dirty Linen , August/September 1993.
- Entertainment Weekly , March 17, 1995.
- Newsweek , April 5, 1993.
- Rolling Stone , November 29, 1979.
- Vogue , May 1988.
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