Trees company for Clannad
Is it really 15 years since we heard a new studio album from Clannad? The band are such an integral part of our musical heritage that it feels like they've never really been away. Yet the calendar shows that the group haven't put out a new studio album since 1998's Landmarks.
And even then founder member Pól Brennan had not yet rejoined the fold. They had to wait till a series of shows in Dublin's Christchurch Cathedral as part of the Temple Bar TradFest in 2011 for the original circle to be complete. Those shows spawned a live album and DVD and gave fresh impetus to a group who, over the course of their 40-year career, have helped put Irish music on the world stage.
Since then, the original line-up of siblings Moya, Pól and Ciarán Brennan and their twin uncles Noel and Pádraig Duggan have been busy beavering away on the new album Nádúr – the title is Irish for nature.
It's fitting that the cover photo should feature the group standing in an ancient forest in Co Wicklow with huge trees looming over them, and sunlight beams through the branches adding to the mystical ambience.
So what made Clannad get themselves back to the garden?
"We knew there was a market there for us to play gigs. But the question everyone was asking was: was there new music? We didn't want to just peddle the 'Best Of'. It was a matter of us knuckling down," says Pól Brennan, multi-instrumentalist, co-writer, co-producer and founding member, who features on a Clannad studio album for the first time in 20 years.
Indeed, Pól's studio in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, served as one of the bases for the recording of the album. (The other was Ciarán's studio near Glendalough.) What prompted his return to the fold?
"When I was part of the band in the 1980s and early 1990s, Ciarán and I wrote most of the songs. When I left, Moya started writing a lot more, and the twins as well. To be honest, when I came back I really wanted to write with my brother again, and with Moya, to go back where I had all those different experiences."
As much as the Clancy Brothers or The Chieftains before them, Clannad have always seemed to be more than merely a band – but rather cultural ambassadors who we could send out to the furthest corners of the globe in the knowledge that they would show the world what we're made of; to represent the best part of ourselves.
One expatriate living far from home who cherished this familiar yet strange music from the old country is award-winning novelist Colum McCann.
The Dublin-born, New York-based author penned the elegant and eloquent sleeve notes for the new album, and also collaborated with Pól and Ciarán on the song 'TransAtlantic', which is based on his novel of the same name about an Irish emigrant making her way in the US.
"Just imagine there 40 years ago when the first notes were drifting out from the family pub. There was something revolutionary in the way that they were about to define not only the music but the Gaelic language too. They were radical and yet they were making music from the fireside," he writes.
"I met Colum on the set of the Veronica Guerin film When the Sky Falls," says Pól. "I was doing the music for that and he was doing scriptwriting. We became very close friends. I spent a lot of time with him in New York. We'd be back and forth. We were on the road in America last October. In New York, he handed me the actual A4 of his book TransAtlantic to take away with me on the road.
"I loved the story about the character Lily, a servant girl when Frederick Douglass (the iconic 19th-Century US slave abolitionist) comes to Dublin. There was an empathy between them – and she fell in love with him. He said that he could go up to Boston and still be put in chains when he went back: he was still a slave. She then goes over to America.
"The way it happened was Ciarán and I had written this lovely melody, which we felt was about emigration. I called Colum and he sent us a bunch of stuff. Then he came over to Dublin and we shaped the song in Glendalough."
Finally, it's time to ask the question that many Clannad fans might have at the back of their minds: is there any chance that Pól, Ciarán and Moya might try and coax their younger sister Enya to come back to rejoin Clannad after her 30-year absence?
"Never say never," answers Pól. "I don't know what she'd do musically. When we were coming back to get the original band together on this album, we didn't ask her or approach her. Life is a funny thing.
"She hasn't released music for a while. We had two albums with her involved. She was very young at that stage. Look what she's done since! . . . obviously with Nicky and Roma (Ryan). Extraordinary."
Nádúr is out now on Arc Music.