Following successful tours in the last two years, Moya Brennan, with her band, make a return to the UK this March, playing two dates in South Wales, bringing the distinctive wild Atlantic atmosphere of Northwest Ireland to her unique voice and sound.
Over the years with Clannad and in her solo shows, Moya has delivered pioneering Celtic harmonies and music rooted in her Irish heritage and inspired by the powerful elements of ocean, mountains and endless skies that surrounded her growing up in her native Donegal.
Andy Howells recently put questions to Moya about her recording career and new tour.
You were from a musical family having formed Clannad with your brothers and you are clearly a very competent musician as well as a singer. Was there much room for experimentation of what you did within the group?
Clannad started off mainly singing songs in the Irish language. We collected Gaeilge songs and arranged them in ways that had never been done before. We introduced vocal harmonies (our family sound) into our arrangements of traditional songs with a new approach to instrumentation (double bass, guitars, keyboards and silver – as opposed to wooden flute.
We discovered that our voices blended so well. I was very much part of this process before we started writing our own songs in 1982. Harry’s Game was our first serious composition and is a great example of the experimentation with which we progressed.
Did fame change your lives and how did you handle it?
Because Clannad started in 1970 it certainly didn’t happen overnight. So we were well grounded when Harry’s Game hit the charts in 1982. Fame and success gave us the opportunity to explore our writing and recording with more time and facilities in the studios we used.
Was it a big challenge for you when you eventually became a solo artist?
Of course, it was a challenge of sorts to step out on my own and write songs myself – and decide what to put include on the albums. But as the front person in Clannad I wasn’t exactly stepping out of the shadows to pursue solo work and I suppose that profile helped me to branch out. It was important to have the encouragement from my husband and it also helped to have such good producers as Calum Malcolm and Donal Lunny on my first two solo albums.
Can you remember the first record you ever bought and why?
I’m pretty sure it was Joni Mitchell’s Blue. I was and have been a huge fan of Joni Mitchell to this day. I seem to remember that the first album I was given was Jesus Christ Superstar along with my first record player for my 21st birthday.
You have a new album in the works, can you tell us about that?
This will be the third album in a collaborative Voices & Harps series with harpist (and my musical director), Cormac De Barra. We’ve written more original songs for this album, working with producer in LA but it will still have a good balance of the traditional and the contemporary. Yet to be titled.
You will soon be out on tour as well – what can people expect from your shows?
There will be a healthy variety of music and songs. including new songs from the upcoming third Voices & Harps album, songs from my solo repertoire (I have recorded nine solo records to date) and naturally, a few well known Clannad songs. The band will comprise myself, Cormac De Barra (harp), my daughter and son Aisling and Paul (guitar, bouzouki, percussion and keyboards) and the exciting new addition of violin player, Clare Friel.
You’ve recorded a wealth of material over the years do you have any particular favourites that you enjoy performing live and why?
Definitely Against the Wind – one of the first songs I ever wrote. Its from my first solo album in 1992. Its a refection of the movement, at that time, of people standing up for rights, freedom and what they believe in. The Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain came down in the 90’s and it had a profound impact on the world.
If you could pick one of your own tracks that you feel best defines you as a recording artist what would it be?
I would pick albums rather than one track in particular. Each album has been precious to me but my last studio album, Canvas, which I co-wrote and co-produced with my daughter and son really defines where I am at as a recording artist today. As you progress you learn more and I hope that that will continue.
Moya Brennan will visit South Wales twice during the spring. On March 27 she will play Rhosygilwen, Cilgerran (rhosygilwen.co.uk / 01239 841 387) and on March 31 she will play Acapela Studio, Cardiff (acapela.co.uk / 029 2089 0862).