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First Lady of Celtic music returns with her brothers

Moya Brennan isn't just a singer. They tend not to be when they hail from Gweedore, County Donegal. They tend to have voices from another sonic stratosphere, (Moya's little sister is Enya.) No less a personage than Bono said this of Moya - whom he duetted with on the Clannad song In a Lifetime in 1986: "I think Moya has one of the greatest voices the human ear has ever experienced."

This much becomes evident when The First Lady of Irish Music (I'm hoping she will forgive me for calling her that) enters the studio on the second floor of Independent News & Media on Talbot Street and within two minutes, she is singing a cappella with two of her brothers, Ciaran and Pól (Moya, Ciaran and Pól are part of Donegal's finest musical family Clannad, who formed back in the mists of time of 1970, and between the jigs and the reels, became world famous, and are doing a tour of Ireland later this month.)

The literal translation of a cappella means "in the manner of the church or of the chapel," which is exactly what the studio is transformed into as soon as Moya and her bros start singing: suddenly we are all mesmerised by the magic of music created in that room.

"There's a lot of spirituality within the Clannad sound," Moya says after the session for independent.ie. "I love singing, I love performing with Clannad. It is a truly special feeling - there is something in the music that is difficult to put into words. . ."

Allow me: Clannad's music is organically beautiful, mystical, haunting, Gaelic magic and folk surreality bordering on Gregorian chant - something wonderful, anyway; something that the more you listen to it the more you get out of it. It is an ambient sound as old as Ireland itself. "The sound of our music developed from singing old traditional songs, developing vocal arrangements," says Moya.

"Performing and singing with Clannad, and music in general, is one part of the music business that I've never got sick of," she says. In truth, you could never get sick of listening to Moya Brennan sing. She laughs when I compare her voice on songs like Theme from Harry's Game and In A Lifetime to something mystical and cherubic. "I thought I had quite a puny voice at first. It was only really after Harry's Game [released October, 1982] that people used to ring up from America and ask me about my voice and what effects I use on it!" she laughs. "I always get that my voice is something angelic or heavenly. I don't mind what people call my voice as long it puts them in a relaxing place of contentment."


MYSTICAL AND HAUNTING: Moya Brennan’s voice is an ambient sound, as old as Ireland itself. Photo: Tony Gavin

MYSTICAL AND HAUNTING: Moya Brennan’s voice is an ambient sound, as old as Ireland itself. Photo: Tony Gavin

MYSTICAL AND HAUNTING: Moya Brennan’s voice is an ambient sound, as old as Ireland itself. Photo: Tony Gavin

In the mid 1980s, Moya was not in anything approaching a place of contentment. She lived in a self-loathing haze of cocaine and alcohol abuse. The lowest point of which came when she had a miscarriage as a result of her self-obliterating chemical abuse. Asked how she got over the guilt and agony of that memory, she says: "You do. You find a peace. You have to. You find a spiritual peace. I found it through Christianity. You have to forgive yourself." We then have a long discussion about God. That completed, Moya remembers the times in her mid teens in Gweedore when she used to get up on stage and sing. "We weren't Clannad then. We just sang. I loved it. I still do," she says. It shows.

  • Clannad's Irish tour sees them play: 29 October, UCH Limerick; 30 Oct Opera House, Cork; 31 Oct Waterfront Hall, Belfast; 01 November, Royal Theatre, Castlebar; 02 Nov The Olympia Theatre, Dublin.
  • You can watch Moya Brennan's interview with Barry Egan on independent.ie.

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