Clannad Considered

Clannad, around 1970.

Clannad has been around since 1970, a run of over forty years, and they just released their newest album, Live at Christ Church Cathedral 2011. Founded in 1970 in Gweedore, County Donegal, they’ve been described as traditional Irish, Celtic and New Age. Just two years later with the release of ‘Theme From Harry’s Game’, they gained widespread attention. It was written for a Yorkshire Television production called Harry’s Game which told the story of The Troubles. The lyrics are in Gaelic; the song is to date the only British hit single ever to have been sung in that language. The BBC, being touchy, didn’t run it until after the band provided them with an English language translation!

I first encountered them while watching Robin of Sherwood as that programme’s haunting opening music was by Clannad. An album by them will usually have traditional Gaelic ballads, harp-based instrumentals and more often than not some New Age tinged numbers. And I should note that Clannad has a lot of people who just can’t stand them, as this review of The Best of Clannad: In a Lifetime amply demonstrates, although another review, of their An Diolaim collection, was much more complimentary. Oh, and read our review of their very first album — it’s worth your time to do so!

Clannad are a family band composed of siblings Marie, Ciarán and Pól Brennan (who left in 1990 but returned in 2011), and their twin uncles Noel and Pádraig Duggan. Moya talks about herself and the band in her superb biography, The Other Side Of The Rainbow: The Autobiography of the voice of Clannad. Her voice is one one of the best in Irish music, as you can hear on ‘The Two Sisters’ from a concert in Köln, Germany in 1977, source also for the ‘Theme From Harry’s Game’ cut.

I would be sorely remiss not to share some of their lovely instrumentals with you, such as this pairing of ‘Fairies Hornpipe’ / ‘Off to California’ from a concert at International House in Philadelphia just after they were formed, and An Gabhar Bán from that Banba concert.

Like Nightnoise, Clannad suffers a somewhat tarnished reputation, but any person who likes Irish traditional music and doesn’t have a stick up their arse on the matter of ‘pure drop’ should give them a try as they are very, very good.

I’ll leave you with ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’ from a Bremen concert they did at the end of January 1980. Lovely, isn’t it?

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1 comment to Clannad Considered

  • Once burned, twice careful: the BBC got complaints from Scottish puritans in the Western Isles when it played music by Pogue Mahone, and the band ended up changing its name to The Pogues for that reason.

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