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Planxty's back, but don't ask about Sinead


YOUTHFUL: Top, Donal Lunny's 'mischievous twinkle' belies his 59 years. (Photo: Steve Humphreys.) Above, Sinead O'Connor (Photo: David Conachy), who recently had a baby boy believed to be Lunny's son

YOUTHFUL: Top, Donal Lunny's 'mischievous twinkle' belies his 59 years. (Photo: Steve Humphreys.) Above, Sinead O'Connor (Photo: David Conachy), who recently had a baby boy believed to be Lunny's son

YOUTHFUL: Top, Donal Lunny's 'mischievous twinkle' belies his 59 years. (Photo: Steve Humphreys.) Above, Sinead O'Connor (Photo: David Conachy), who recently had a baby boy believed to be Lunny's son

HE IS known as the godfather of Irish contemporary music and Bono calls him "the Quincy Jones of Ireland". Donal Lunny is legendary amongst the great and the good of the Irish music scene; think of any famous band or musician in this country and you can be guaranteed that he has worked with them.

His band Planxty, which he headed up with Christy Moore, changed the face of Irish music - and is still doing so today since its hugely successful reformation earlier this year.

So it's understandable if Donal Lunny is a bit miffed about the fact that, lately, everyone wants to ask him about Sinead O'Connor.

Last March, Sinead gave birth to a baby boy called Shane and refused to name the father of the child, saying it would remain "a secret among the three of us".

However, Donal is widely believed to be the baby's dad, the result of a four-month affair with the shaven-headed singer. Friends of Sinead say she wants to keep Donal's identity a secret, to protect his relationship with his Japanese wife Hideko Itami.

It's a subject that is completely off limits when we meet in the Herbert Park Hotel, Dublin.

He does not bristle at the question, or take offence, he just shakes his head with a polite but firm "no" in response to any questions about his personal life.

We're here ostensibly to talk about the reinvention of Planxty, which recently burst back on to the music scene with a string of sold-out dates in Vicar Street. The band has just released a live DVD and CD of the comeback gigs.

Kildareman Lunny looks nowhere near his 59 years of age, and his youthful appearance is proof that not everyone got sucked into the hard-drinking, hard-living traditional music scene of the Seventies. But it's the mischievous twinkle in his eye that takes at least a decade off him.

Lunny says he will never forget the feeling he got when he walked out on stage with band members Christy Moore, Liam Og O'Flynn and Andy Irvine.

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"We'd been thinking about reforming for a while, but didn't know what the reaction would be after such a long time," admits Lunny. "But when we got out there, we had our answer. The audience was just unbelievable."

It was actually a TV documentary on the band that led to the reformation proper. Respected musicians such as David Kitt told programme makers what an influence Planxty had had on today's music scene. Reaction to the show was so immense that the four lads knew it was time to get back together.

"I think the documentary was a turning point in a lot of ways," said Lunny. "I was expecting a lot of older people at the gigs, but a lot of the crowd was made up of young people who would not even have been around the first time we were out. I think it brought us a whole new audience."

The band members may be the same, but Planxty 2004 is very different to the original crew.

"We're not saints or anything, but I suppose when you get older you just a get a bit more cop on," said Lunny. "There is a clarity in our approach that wasn't there the first time around, which I feel makes us even better.

"Back in the Seventies, you'd finish a gig and end up at the bar drinking for half the night. Luckily for me I never drank while on stage, so I suppose that's one of the reasons I managed to avoid the alcoholism trap, which was so common in the music scene at the time."

Bandmate Christy Moore wasn't so lucky, however, and only recently managed to kick the bottle after battling it throughout much of hiscareer.

It's difficult to imagine a man like Donal Lunny putting anything before his love of music.

The Kildare man grew up in a musical household and plays bodhran, guitar and synthesiser. He is credited with introducing the Greek instrument the bouzouki into the Irish traditional scene.

He went on to play in the three bands which played major roles in the evolution of Irish music: The Bothy Boys, Moving Hearts, and Planxty.

The line-up of these bands reads like a who's who of Irish raditional music, with such renowned musicians as Davy Spillane, Mick Hanly, Declan Sinnott and Christy Moore forming the backbone.

In fact, Lunny holds his peers in such high regard that he names fellow Planxty bandmate Andy Irvine as his biggest musical influence. And he remembers the Lisdoonvarna festivals as being the best times of the whole period.

So where to now for Donal, Christy, Andy and Liam?

"We're writing some music, but we're just taking it day by day and seeing where it will lead us," says Donal. "There seems to be a lot of excitement and interest around us at the moment, and it's great to know we are welcome."

Planxty Live 2004 is on CD, DVD and VHS.

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