Clannad (Irish pronunciation: [kl̪ˠan̪ˠad̪ˠ]) are an Irish band formed in 1970 in Gweedore, County Donegal. Their music has been variously described as bordering on folk and folk rock, traditional Irish, Celtic and New Age, often incorporating elements of an even broader spectrum of smooth jazz and Gregorian chant. After twelve years of success in the folk music industry, they shot to international recognition in 1982 with the release of the "Theme from Harry's Game", becoming the most successful band in the Celtic music genre. They subsequently went on to bridge the gap between traditional Celtic music and pop music in the 1980s and 1990s with albums such as Macalla and Anam. Their records usually consist of traditional Gaelic ballads, New Age tracks that carry the group's trademark of haunting vocal harmonies, mellow harp-based instrumentals and often upbeat pop-flavoured numbers. During their career they toured the world extensively and gained fans in every major territory. They have recorded in six different languages, most notably in Irish, and their record sales have exceeded the 15 million mark. They are also widely regarded as the band which, for the first time, put Irish traditional music and the Irish language on the world stage and paved the way for many other Irish artists. They have won several notable awards throughout their career, including a Grammy, a BAFTA, an Ivor Novello and a Billboard Music Award.
Clannad are a family band composed of siblings Moya Brennan (Irish: Máire Ní Bhraonáin), Ciarán Brennan (Irish: Ciarán Ó Braonáin), Pól Brennan (Irish: Pól Ó Braonáin, who left in 1990 and rejoined in 2011) and their twin uncles Noel Duggan (Irish: Noel Ó Dúgáin) and Pádraig Duggan (Irish: Pádraig Ó Dúgáin). Their sister/niece Enya (Irish: Eithne Ní Bhraonáin) left the group in 1981 to pursue a solo career. Ten years after "taking a break", the five original members of Clannad reunited on stage at the Celtic Connections Festival in February 2007 in Glasgow, Scotland. Moya, Ciarán, Noel and Pádraig embarked on their first UK tour in over 10 years in March 2008, starting in Gateshead. In September 2013, Clannad released Nádúr, their first studio album in fifteen years.
Siblings Ciarán, Pól, and Máire Uí Bhraonáin (Brennan) and their two twin uncles Noel and Pádraig Ó Dúgáin (Duggan) grew up in Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore), a rural village in County Donegal, in the northwest corner of Ireland. The village is in the Gaeltacht and they were an Irish-speaking and Roman Catholic family. The Brennans' mother, Baba, was a music teacher, and their father, Leo, was a former member of a cabaret band. Leo was travelling extensively in the early family years. Later, they bought a pub with a stage called Leo's Tavern (Tábhairne Leo). The children would occasionally do cover versions of The Beatles, Beach Boys and Joni Mitchell songs at home and in their family pub.
The children were performing late at night in the pub (the story was recounted by Máire, TG4, 17 March 2007, Clann as Dobhar & Clannad Beo) when the local police sergeant walked in. They feared a summons, but instead the policemen had a form to enter a local music competition. They did not have a name at the time, but had to find one for the competition. Someone suggested Clann As Dobhar (Irish for "the family from Dore"), which was provisionally blended into Clannad in 1973.
The young Brennans' and Duggans' passion for the traditional music of Ireland soon expanded beyond their native Gweedore. They would later visit such outlying communities as Tory Island off Donegal's coast. Armed with some 500 Gaelic songs, they would later begin to arrange these songs for a full band.
The first song ever written by Clannad.
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Clannad entered a local folk festival in Letterkenny, County Donegal, and won first prize, a record contract with the Irish arm of Philips, when they were still in college and school. They did not make the record until 1973 because the record company did not like the idea of them doing half the album in Irish, as it was not heard of to sing Irish in mainstream music.
The first album was recorded in 1973, was simply called Clannad, and it showed a band aware of contemporary Irish music of the day. There were hints of modern influences, most notably Pentangle's, in songs such as "The Pretty Maid" and "Morning Dew". However, it was the Irish songs, in particular an early arrangement of "Níl Sé Ina Lá" ( a drinking song they found on one of their Tory Island expeditions), that really showed the band's ability to form contemporary, jazz-influenced versions of traditional material. This album was also released under the name The Pretty Maid. One of the tracks, "An Pháirc", was performed by Clannad in the 1973 Irish heat of the Eurovision Song Contest.
The second album followed in 1975 on Gael-Linn records and was titled Clannad 2. Produced by Planxty and Bothy Band founder Dónal Lunny, it showed a tremendously more mature band that was quite committed to singing mainly in Irish. Their arrangements were still experimental for the times, but their increasing skill in the use of traditional acoustic instruments kept the music well within the boundaries of folk music. Clannad 2 featured some ground-breaking traditional music, including Máire's harp playing on the O'Carolan song "Eleanor Plunkett" and ensemble work on songs like "Rince Briotánach" and "Teidhir Abhaile Riú", an Irish matchmaking song.
The following year they produced Dúlamán. The title track was a song about two dúlamán, or seaweed merchants, one of whom is trying to win the hand of the other's beautiful daughter. It has been a favourite of Clannad's live shows for a very long time and is still performed in a rock version which captures the flavour of the original recorded acoustic version.
The band in 1976 still consisted of Máire on lead vocals and harp, Ciarán on double bass, electric piano and vocals, Pól on flutes, guitars and bongos, Noel on guitar, vocals and Pádraig on mandolin, guitar and vocals. They still kept the Gaelic spelling of their surnames of Ó Braonáin for the brothers, Ní Bhraonáin for Máire and Ó Dúgáin for Pádraig and Noel. During their first tour of Europe in 1976 a standing ovation after an eight-minute version of "Níl Sé Ina Lá" convinced them to become full-time professionals. The band's next album was Crann Úll (Irish for apple tree) released in 1978 on Tara Records. It featured a stronger emphasis on Máire's harp-playing. "Ar a Ghabháil 'n a 'Chuain Domh" featured a particularly full band arrangement reflective of their live jams at the time. "Lá Cuimhthíoch Fán dTuath" ("A Strange Day in the Countryside") showed the first hints of the more atmospheric side of the band's arrangements. On "Gathering Mushrooms" they included their sister Eithne Ní Bhraonáin (now known as Enya) on supporting vocals.
Clannad in Concert was released in 1979, featuring excerpts from their 1978 Swiss tour and a now world-famous version of "Down by the Sally Gardens" and a 10-minute version of "Níl Sé Ina Lá". It served as a base for various solos by the individual members. The year 1979 also saw a 36-concert North American tour – the most extensive ever undertaken by an Irish group to that date. In 1981 with the album Fuaim (pronounced foom, meaning sound), recorded in Dublin's famed Windmill Studios, Clannad began to experiment with a more lush and electric sound. Enya became, for a short time, a full member of the band, adding keyboards and harmony vocals as well as lead vocals on two songs, "An tÚll" and "Buaireadh an Phósta". This album marked Clannad's first experiments with synthesiser. It also had guest Neil Buckley on clarinet and saxophones plus a percussionist and electric piano. The following year Enya left to pursue her solo career and the band was about to record the album which would forever change their career as well as their sound, Magical Ring which appeared in 1982.
1980s: Harry's Game, Robin of Sherwood, Bono and film
"Theme from Harry's Game" (1982)
The song that introduced Clannad to a worldwide audience.
"Robin (The Hooded Man)" (1984)
Hit song from their 1984 album Legend.
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Clannad were signed up to RCA Records when they were approached and asked if they would be interested in doing a song for Harry's Game (1982), a fictional British television miniseries drama depicting The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Ciarán, Pól and Máire got together and wrote the now-legendary song "Theme from Harry's Game". Peaking at number 5 in the British charts, it remains the only hit single in the UK ever to be sung entirely in Irish Gaelic, and was also broadcast by rock group U2 at the end of every concert during their 1983 War Tour through the first round of the Joshua Tree Tour in 1987. The album Magical Ring (1982), featuring this song, marked a major turning point as the start of their international career. The album contains half traditional material and half original recordings and was on the UK album charts for over six months. This earned the group their first gold record award, and features some of Clannad's most enduring original compositions from the time such as "Tower Hill", "Passing Time" and "Newgrange". In its impact of achieving a fusion of traditional folk, modern rock and world music, for its utopian vision of man in harmony with nature, Magical Ring is often compared with Alan Stivell's Renaissance of the Celtic Harp.
Shortly after Magical Ring, Clannad were commissioned to provide music for the 26-episode TV drama series Robin of Sherwood (1984–1986). They once again began to stretch themselves, creating music for a range of characters and events. For the first time ever, they produced an album without any of their native Irish, as the story was set deep in English folklore.
The original soundtrack Legend was released in 1984 and won the band a BAFTA award for Best Original Television Music., the first time an Irish act had been honoured thus. The musical style of the album was dominated by guitar riffs and trumpet reverberations. It was primarily this album that firmly elevated the group to 'household name' status, with their music being broadcast into millions of homes every Saturday night for 26 weeks. While not all of the show's music is found on the Legend album, some additional pieces can be found on Clannad's albums Macalla (released 1986) and Clannad: Live in Concert, 1996 (released 2005). In November 2003, Clannad revealed on their official web site that "there were several other pieces of music recorded for the 3rd series of Robin of Sherwood that were not included on the Legend album. Unfortunately no-one has been able to locate the master tapes of this music. The search is continuing and hopefully one day these recordings will be able to be released."
Macalla (echo in Irish) was released in 1985, and was Clannad's next proper album. It contained all original material except one traditional song and yielded the group a hit single "In a Lifetime", a duet with U2's Bono (which begins with Máire being heard teaching Gaelic to Bono during the instrumental intro). The album featured the core quintet plus a large number of backing musicians who have continued to tour with them, including ex-King Crimson saxophonist Mel Collins, Moving Hearts' guitarist Anton Drennan and drummer Paul Moran. Also on board was producer Steve Nye, whose previous charges included the Penguin Café Orchestra and David Sylvian. The album opens with the song "Caisleán Óir". In "Buachaill Ón Éirne" they covered a traditional Irish song from their native Donegal. It was the first time ever such a song featured on a chart-topping commercial album, something Clannad went on to pioneer in. When Macalla was released, the listening public began to be more accepting of the mainstream material that appeared heavily on the record. Songs such as the pop-flavoured "Closer to Your Heart" and the powerful ballad "Almost Seems" were successful singles for the quintet. The latter even served as the official Children in Need single for 1985.
'In a Lifetime' (1986)
Clannad's duet with Bono.
"Something to Believe In" (1987)
Collaboration with rock singer Bruce Hornsby.
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The following album, Sirius, was released by RCA in 1988 and was recorded in Los Angeles with rock producers Greg Ladanyi and Russ Kunkel (James Taylor's drummer). The album included a duet with Bruce Hornsby and guest appearances by Steve Perry and J.D. Souther. The title track was Pól Brennan's encouraging call to the environmental movement, and to the Greenpeace ship of the same name. "Something to Believe In" featured the voice and keyboards of Bruce Hornsby. Completed with the help of some of the biggest names on the Californian rock scene, Sirius was another different creation, just like their previous 3 albums. Received with critical apprehension, Sirius was initially, stoutly defended by the band as a change, but since then members have expressed their disappointment with the album and even Pól Brennan apologised on its behalf. The following year they embarked on their first world tour.
Between 1988 and 1991 there were some side projects for the band, including Atlantic Realm (1989) and The Angel and the Soldier Boy (1990). Atlantic Realm was a small album made for a BBC documentary about the Atlantic Ocean. The recording was mainly instrumental as their voices as instruments. The Angel and the Soldier Boy was a half – hour animation without voice overs, with the music telling the story. Both albums proved to be a minor success, and also demonstrated once again that Clannad were one of the most acclaimed soundtrack artists in the music industry. Two greatest hits albums were released at around this time:
- Past Present RCA, which to date is the only "greatest hits" compilation so far by the band to include any new tracks: "The Hunter" (a reworking of the song "Herne", which appears on their 1984 album Legend) and "World of Difference". This album also included tracks from Magical Ring, Macalla, and Sirius.
- The Collection k-Tel, re-released in 1996 under the label's Celtic Collections series. Unlike Past Present however, it also included five earlier tracks from their more traditional Irish period.
Pól Brennan initially left the group to pursue a solo career and work with the WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance) organisation in Britain. He released a trio album in 1993 with Guo Yue and Joji Hirota under the new name Trísan. The true reason for Pól's departure is unknown; being a family band, very little information is released about personal and professional relations about and between the members. Pól rejoined the band in January 2011, when Clannad performed at Temple Bar TradFest. Initially a single concert, it was extended with an extra two nights.
1990s: Return to roots
The band continued on as a quartet and recorded 1991's Anam. It marked a return to the Clannad sound of such albums as Magical Ring and Fuaim and was recorded in two and a half months at the band's home studio in the hills of Dublin. On Pól's leaving the rest of the group began sharpening their song-writing skills with Ciarán, already the main source of their original music. The title Anam means "Soul" in Irish and the album had 10 songs. The album was finally released in the USA in 1992 with a different cover and the addition of the previously released Bono duet "In a Lifetime". Also included was "Theme from Harry's Game", which had been included in the motion picture Patriot Games. The song was also used in a Volkswagen television advertisement, which helped establish the band's reputation in the USA. The song went on to win the Billboard Music Award for "World Music Song of the Year". They dedicated the opening song "Rí na Cruinne" to the One World One Voice charity project.
In 1991, a duet between the band and Paul Young, "Both Sides Now" was released. The track had been put together for the Blake Edwards film Switch, featuring Ellen Barkin. In the storyline, a nasty male chauvinist, is reincarnated as an attractive female. The use of the Joni Mitchell song was therefore suitable and proved a hit for the group. Released in 1994, Banba became Clannad's 13th studio album and received rave reviews and the band's first Grammy nomination. The album jogged comfortably to the number one spot in the World Music Chart. Banba is a romantic mythical name for Ireland. In the track "I Will Find You," written especially for the film The Last of the Mohicans, Máire sings in English, Mohican and Cherokee. Once again all the songs were written and produced by Ciarán Brennan, except "Sunset Dreams", written by Noel Duggan. Moya Brennan described the album as "a fusion of various styles of music, growing out of a traditional Gaelic root." Banba has been described as one of Clannad's most visual albums, and has sold over 1 million copies to date.
'I Will Find You' (1993)
One of Clannad's most recognisable songs, from Banba.
"The Other Side" (1993)
Also on Banba.
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The album Lore (1996) gave some thought to the Native American Indians. On "Trail of Tears", when Noel Duggan imagines how it felt to be exiled from one's ancestral land, he was also thinking about these people and their connection with the Irish. It opens with "Croí Cróga" ('braveheart' in English) which was written as a theme tune for the Mel Gibson film Braveheart which, for unknown reasons, never made it onto the soundtrack. Lore features American drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and Mel Collins. It contained a strong jazz element, with songs such as "Seanchas" blending contemporary sounds with traditional Irish music and the Irish language. Clannad toured Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand in 1996 to promote the Lore album, but due to apparent disagreements with Atlantic Records, plans to tour the USA were scrapped. In 1996, they received a lifetime achievement award from the Irish recording industry (the IRMA).
After 25 years of recording groundbreaking music, Clannad returned in 1997 with another album, Landmarks. In the song "Of This Land", Máire sings about Ireland, of its past and of its future. The track "Fadó" (translates as Long Ago), demonstrates the influences of old Celtic history on Clannad's music. It became one of the most celebrated Irish albums in history and in 1999, it won the group a Grammy award for Best New Age Album.
In 1999, the group composed the song "What Will I Do" for the Kevin Costner film, Message in a Bottle.
2000–present: Return to stage
After Landmarks, Clannad ceased to make any more studio albums, but had promised to return in the near future. In 2003, they released the best of album, The Best of Clannad: In a Lifetime, which is one of their biggest-selling albums to date.
In 2005 the two Duggan twins, Noel and Pádraig, as the musical duo The Duggans, got together for the first time outside of Clannad and recorded the album Rubicon.
During the 2006 solo tour of Moya Brennan in The Netherlands, the concert in De Doelen, Rotterdam, was dedicated to Leo and Baba Brennan. The whole of Clannad, including former member Pól and sister Deirdre, performed five songs during the second half. The audience, Leo and Baba were unaware of the plan to bring Clannad on-stage, which resulted in multiple standing ovations from the audience.
The five original members of Clannad appeared on stage together at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow on 19 January 2007. The concert was greeted by 2,000 fans who travelled from places such as the USA and Brazil to see the legendary group perform some of the most loved songs in their history. While at the Meteor Ireland Music Awards that were held in Dublin on 1 February 2007 Clannad were presented with the coveted Lifetime Achievement Award.
In March 2008, Clannad began their first UK tour in over 12 years, starting at The Sage in Gateshead. The tour culminated in a dozen dates, including concerts in Ireland and Thailand.
In May 2008, Clannad's version of the traditional song "Down by the Sally Gardens" was featured in the listening paper for Music GCSE from the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations exam board. On 25 August 2008, Clannad released a new compilation album of their early music to contrast the music of their previous compilation album at the beginning of 2008, Beginnings: The Best of the Early Years.
In June 2009, Clannad was nominated for an IMA Award in the category Best Revival Act, along with other revived bands Planxty, Moving Hearts, Arcady and Stockton's Wing.
In January 2011, Clannad's concert at Christ Church Cathedral TempleBar TradFest in Dublin was extended by two nights due to fast ticket sales. The group appeared on RTÉ's The Late Late Show on 21 January 2011 performing the "Theme from Harry's Game" with choral group Anúna. It was their first appearance on the show in 14 years.
2013–present: Return to recording
On 18 June 2013, Clannad announced that their brand new studio album Nádúr (their first new album since the release of Landmarks in 1998) was released worldwide in September 2013. An international tour commenced in October 2013 starting in Australia and New Zealand.
Musical style and legacy
"There's a feeling in all our music, an ambience that stems directly from where we were brought up and to have to define our sound, I always say that if they were to visit Gweedore they wouldn't need to ask." – Ciarán Brennan
When Clannad first started out in the early 1970s their music and sound stemmed solely from their traditional background. Despite this they managed to popularise such old songs as "Dúlamán", "Teidhir Abhaile Riú" and "Coinleach Glas An Fhómhair", and these songs have remained popular numbers at their concerts. On the departure from their folk and traditional background in 1982, they created a new sound that would define the meaning of New Age and Celtic music forever. When "Theme from Harry's Game" and "Newgrange" were first heard, radio stations all over the world became fascinated by the earthly and spiritual sound that they had never encountered before. One critic said "the tunes were seeped in the old ways, but the production and the arrangement was fresh and inventive". This transition in Clannad's career is often seen as the birth of Celtic music, and to this day they are regarded as the pioneers of that genre. They are also noted for their melodious harmonies, which have been at the heart of their music since their first album. Legend (1984) was based on English folklore. With later albums, Clannad delved further into the realms of electronica and even pop. Due to this, many of their singles entered pop charts all over the world, and widened their fan base once again. Despite their success with this genre of music, the group managed to maintain a link with their Gaelic roots throughout their career, giving traditional Irish songs such as "Tráthnóna Beag Aréir" and "Buachaill Ón Éirne" the Clannad treatment.
Even though the rock-infused Sirius and the pop-inclined Macalla were successful for Clannad, it was their breakthrough style that they created themselves that has left the greatest legacy. Clannad's influence can be found in the film Titanic, where James Horner admitted to basing the soundtrack on Clannad's style. The soundtrack was so like Clannad's work that it has been incorrectly credited to them for many years. Clannad's 'Celtic mysticism' is a recurring theme in the film Intermission. The "otherworldly" and "ethereal" Clannad sound comes from the ancient hills and glens that surround Gweedore, according to lead singer Moya Brennan. Traces of Clannad's legacy can be heard in the music of many artists, including Enya, Altan, Capercaillie, The Corrs, Loreena McKennitt, Anúna, Riverdance, Órla Fallon and even U2. Bono stated that Moya has "one of the greatest voices the human ear has ever experienced".
The private life of lead member Moya was detailed in her autobiography in 2000. In it, Brennan recalls her upbringing as the eldest of nine siblings in rural County Donegal, Ireland. Along with the highs of success in the music business, she also recounts low periods where alcohol, drugs and an abortion made her re-evaluate her life. She emerged from dark years as a committed Christian with rekindled faith. She remarried in 1991 (having previously been married to a Dublin musician) and now resides in Dublin with her husband, photographer Tim Jarvis, and children, Aisling and Paul.
The Brennan family
The Brennans are Ireland's most successful music family, with combined sales of over 90 million records. Máire (or Baba) Duggan and Leo Brennan are the parents of the Brennan siblings Máire (or Moya), Leon, Ciarán, Deirdre, Pól, Olive, Eithne (or Enya), Bartley, and Brídín. Baba was the local school's music teacher and Leo led the celebrated Slieve Foy show band. The catalyst that would propel the entire family onto the stage was the opening of Leo's Tavern in 1968 in Meenaleck, Co. Donegal. This pub has become a musical Mecca over the years, and Bono and Paul Brady have even been known to join in the regular jamming sessions.
The other six children can all sing and play one or more instruments – Olive and Deirdre have sung on Moya's solo albums and Brídín, who for years toured with Clannad as a backing vocalist, has released a solo record, Eyes of Innocence.
Máire 'Baba' Duggan is currently the lead member of the local Catholic choir, Cór Mhuire Doire Beaga, but no longer continues to teach in the local community school Pobalscoil Ghaoth Dobhair. The choir is frequently joined by Leo Brennan and the Brennan siblings.
Leo helps his son Bartley to run the family pub, Leo's Tavern, and still takes to the stage equipped with his accordion and mic.
- Current members
- Moya Brennan – vocals, harp (1970–present)
- Ciarán Brennan – bass, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, vocals (1970–present)
- Noel Duggan – guitar, vocals (1970–present)
- Pádraig Duggan – guitar, mandola, mandolin, vocals (1970–present)
- Pól Brennan – flute, guitar, percussion, whistles, vocals (1970–1990, 2011–present)
- Former members
- Enya Brennan – percussion, keyboards, vocals (1981–1982)
- 1973: Clannad
- 1975: Clannad 2
- 1976: Dúlamán
- 1980: Crann Ull
- 1981: Fuaim
- 1983: Magical Ring
- 1984: Legend
- 1985: Macalla
- 1987: Sirius
- 1989: Atlantic Realm
- 1989: The Angel and the Soldier Boy
- 1990: Anam
- 1993: Banba
- 1996: Lore
- 1998: Landmarks
- 2013: Nádúr
- 1979: Clannad in Concert
- 2005: Clannad: Live in Concert
- 2012: Clannad: Christ Church Cathedral
- 1989 – Past Present
- 2012 – Clannad: Christ Church Cathedral
- 1989: Past Present
Sheet music book for 'Past Present'
- 1991: A Woman's Voice
Eddie Rowley in conversation with Máire Brennan
- 2000: Ireland: Landscapes of God's Peace, Máire Brennan
sometimes called God of Peace
- 2001: The Other Side of the Rainbow, Máire Brennan with Angela Little
Later subtitled: The Autobiography of the Voice of Clannad
- 2008: Moments In a Lifetime, Noel Duggan
Detailing Clannad's journey as a band
- 1982: 1982 Ivor Novello Awards, Best Soundtrack for "Theme From Harry's Game"
- 1984: 1984 BAFTA Awards, Best Television Music for "Robin of Sherwood"
- 1992: Billboard Music Award, World Music Song of the Year for "Rí na Cruinne"
- 1999: Grammy Awards of 1999, Best New Age Album for "Landmarks"
- 2007: Meteor Music Awards, Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2014: BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Lifetime Achievement Award
- 1982: 1982 BAFTA Awards, Best Television Music for "Harry's Game"
- 1994: Grammy Awards of 1994, Best New Age Album for "Banba"
- 1996: Grammy Awards of 1996, Best New Age Album for "Lore"
- 2009: Ireland's Music Awards, Best Revival Act