Moya Brennan, Clannad, tour, music, totalntertainment, leeds

10 questions with …. Moya Brennen

Moya Brennan is known as the first lady of Celtic music and Bono has described her as having “one of the greatest voices the human ear has ever experienced”. TotalNtertainment talked to Moya ahead of her upcoming UK tour.

Interview by Graham Finney

1. Hi Moya, thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. How’s preparation going for your upcoming solo tour?

I was very busy at the end of last year so I took a break in January. Now I feel refreshed and really looking forward to coming back the UK again for the second time in a year. Last May we did a similar tour after the release of my new album and I returned to Ireland very excited with the reaction and glad to reconnect with fans and new audiences. So the excitement continues as we look forward to March. Sure, it’s looking good!

2. You’re not a newcomer the live arena but how different is it going out as a solo artist to going out as part of Clannad?

I’ve been on stage most of my life but, yes, it has been different going out as a solo performer. Generally, the Clannad shows were quite big productions and, although the front-person, I was just one of a large group on stage (sometimes up 10 musicians). I now have a repertoire of nine solo albums and a lot of the songs are more personal. I like to work with musicians who compliment this and have been very fortunate to have had the support of some amazing players in my solo outings (not least the astonishing Irish harpist Cormac De Barra who is both a good friend and also my musical director). One of the things I love performing solo is being able to communicate closely with the audience and draw them into the music.

3. What can fans expect of the live show? With the wealth of material you have at your grasp, it must be fun/difficult narrowing down a set list?

On this tour expect a good few songs from the recent Canvas album. I include some Clannad favourites and old traditional Irish songs and I always like to play some of the songs that Cormac and I have recorded on our Voices & Harps records. I think there’s a good balance of the atmospheric and the rousing!

4. Primarily though you’re supporting your new album “Canvas”, what can you tell us about the album?

After the sad passing of both my dad, Leo, and my uncle Padraig (fellow Clannad core member for over forty years) I went through a very quiet, reflective period. I was drawn out of this by my daughter, Aisling, and son, Paul, who are both great musicians and writers (and now in my touring band). We have a studio at home in Dublin so we spent several weeks co-writing most of the album’s songs. All of us had ideas and snippets which developed with growing excitement into a body of work which we are extremely proud of. Aisling and Paul also have contemporary singer-songwriter and electronica influences so, while still having my hallmark sound, there is quite a contemporary feel to it.

5. I believe you co-wrote a lot of the material with your son and daughter. How did that work out? Any incidents of “mum knows best”?

I don’t think it would have worked so well if there had been a parent/kid vibe in the studio. I felt that there was  a great collective spirit where we all pooled our strengths and were able to be honest when criticism was due and encouraging when things were happening well. Actually, it was great craic!

6. For your solo material where do you draw your inspiration from lyrically?

My writing has always had the Irish landscape – the sea, mountains and elements – as a backdrop. Upon this I draw on a lot of personal experiences and relationships from my life. My songs have also been touched by global issues which are on my heart. ‘Against The Wind’, my first solo single from 1992’s Maire album celebrated the wave of freedom that swept across central and eastern europe. The Canvas album has a song called ‘Children of War’ which is my plaintive response to the tragic plight of young ones caught in senseless conflicts and mass-migration.

7. You’ve been called “the First Lady of Celtic Music”. How does a title like that feel?

I know it might sound a bit pompous but whoever first gave me this honourable title must have known a bit of my musical history. Before the 70’s there was no such genre as ‘Celtic Music’. What we created with Clannad was a pioneering new blend of traditional Irish music and contemporary forms. As a family, we grew up in rural Ireland – Donegal in the far North West – and were surrounded by a wealth of traditional musicians, singers songs. At the same time we were also glued to pirate radio stations like Radio Caroline who were playing Mamas and Papas, Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell and the like. We developed vocal harmonies and instrumentation which crossed over these diverse influences. Our arrival with a new sound was heralded in a significant way by a UK top 10 with ‘Harry’s Game’ and then the soundtrack to the ‘Robin of Sherwood’ TV series. Here was the genesis of Celtic Music.  

8. Bono also described you as having “one of the greatest voices the human ear has ever experienced”. How do you feel about compliments like that from somebody like Bono?

Obviously there can be no greater accolade than that. He himself will always be one of the most iconic voices in musical history. The duet I sang with Bono on ‘In a Lifetime’ is a timeless piece of magic which I don’t think either of us will surpass.

9. The tour takes you up to the end of March. What are your plans for the rest of 2018?

I plan to spend some of that time in the studio. After the experience with Canvas I’m keen to build on that. I’m also working on a new Voices & Harps album with Cormac (De Barra). On the live front I’m lining up some summer shows in Ireland. But I’m also very excited about the forthcoming release of an archive recording of a 1978 Clannad live concert in Germany. Our family pub in Donegal, Leo’s Tavern, is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary in July and we plan to launch the double CD then.

10. Finally. If you could travel back in time to any period in Irish history what period would you choose and why?

That’s a difficult one. Ireland has been a place of struggle for the best part of a thousand years. Even since independence we are only beginning to find our feet as we’ve moved into the 21st century. So I can’t think of a golden era in Irish history that I’d be drawn to. Having said that, it has been great to be in the middle of the explosion of Irish music since the 70s and its effect around the world is one of our proudest assets. I am a great romantic though and if I chose to go anywhere else historically it would be the late-18th/early-19th century world of Jane Austen’s or Mozart’s Vienna. Both bursting with romance and intrigue.