Over the decades, Clannad have made music that entwines the traditional and the modern, the past and the future, with stunningly beautiful results. With their haunting songs, mesmerizing vocals, and captivating sound the group has sold over fifteen million records worldwide. The band first came to prominence in the UK in late 1982 when after the hard hitting drama ‘Harry’s Game’ was aired, their evocative theme song was propelled into the high reaches of the UK singles chart. This was no overnight success though, the band already had years of touring and six albums under their belt.
Comprised of siblings Moya, Ciaran and Pol Brennan, along with their twin uncles Noel and Padraig Duggan, the band began life performing in the family owned tavern in a remote part of North West Ireland. After winning an established folk competition of which the prize was a record deal with Phillips, they decided to go at it full time. Their self titled debut album, Clannad, was released in 1973.
Their trademark sound began to develop over the course of these first six albums. Taking near forgotten traditional Irish songs, often in their native Gaelic language, bringing new arrangements to them, and creating a unique vocal harmony sound. Throughout this period they toured extensively across Europe. Towards the end of the seventies they recruited their younger sister in on piano and harmony vocals. She worked on two albums and several tours with them before going on to establish her own highly successful solo career as Enya.
The band had gradually been adding more original compositions to their records as well as introducing modern synthesized sounds into their traditional arrangements. Their distinctive blend of sounds led to them being commissioned to compose a theme for the ITV drama Harry’s Game. Public reaction to the song was instantaneous and the band were called back from their tour of Germany to appear on Top Of The Pops. This was a cause for national celebration at home and especially in their home county of Donegal. This was significantly, the first, (and only time), a gaelic language song had been a hit in the UK charts. The song also earned them an Ivor Novello Award. Signed now to a major UK record label, they released the accompanying album Magical Ring to critical acclaim in 1983.
Following the success of this album they were approached to write a theme song for an upcoming TV series about one of one of England’s most legendary characters, Robin Hood. As work on this progressed, it turned out to be much more than a song. Clannad ended up composing all of the music for the entire three series of Robin Of Sherwood. The show was a huge success at the time in the UK and is still on constant repeat in many countries across the World. The band became synonymous with the series and the mere mention of the show today will have most people humming the familiar refrain of the hit theme tune ‘Robin (The Hooded Man)’. The band were also awarded with a BAFTA award for Best Original Television Music.
The band regrouped in Dublin to work on their next album ‘Macalla’. During a break in recording one evening the band retired to the nearby pub for some refreshment. There they happened to bump into another regular, Bono. Having just released ‘The Unforgettable Fire’, U2 were, by this stage, well on their way to being the global phenomenon they are. Bono had been an enthusiastic supporter of the band since hearing Harry’s Game on the radio, describing it as ‘the sound of angels’. U2 even adopted the track as the music they would walk onstage to in their live shows, a feature that was shown in their highly successful TV and DVD concert film ‘Under A Blood Red Sky’. After a pint and a chat, Bono was keen to come back to the studio with them to listen to what they were working on. They had just begun on a new song and were still working on ideas for the verses. Over the next few hours the idea began to emerge of Bono duetting on the song with Moya. The next evening they all met up again in the studio, with newly written lyrics, and recorded ‘In A Lifetime’. The song had a rockier edge than a lot of their previous material but still featured the ethereal vocal style they had made their own. Bono performed, what many would argue, one of his greatest ever vocal recordings. The song went on to become a huge radio hit across the world and still sounds as fresh today as it did then.
For the next album, Sirius, Clannad diversified again and went to Los Angeles to record. Working with American producers the end result, whilst still retaining elements of their traditional sound and themes, also had a soft rock feel to parts of it that would garner divisive reaction from their audience. The album also featured guest vocals by Steve Perry from Journey and Bruce Hornsby. Following on from two soundtrack albums ‘Atlantic Realm’ and ‘The Angel & The Soldier Boy’, RCA released a greatest hits album, ‘Past Present’ which also featured two new songs.
The band undertook a lengthy world tour to support the album. At the end of this tour Pol Brennan announced he would be leaving the band to pursue solo interests. Moving forward as a four piece, Clannad started work on a new album ‘Anam’. After the lavish production of Sirius, they approached this album as a much more simpler affair but also taking that unique vocal harmony sound they had created and building it to new heights. The formula seemed to work especially in the USA where the album became their biggest success to date there.
1993’s Banba which marked their 20th anniversary was another success at home and abroad. The album featured the song ‘I WIll Find You’ which featured as the Love Theme to the movie ‘Last Of The Mohicans’. This album also brought the band it’s first Grammy nomination.
This was followed in 1996 by the album ‘Lore’ and again mixed the traditional and the contemporary as only they could do best. This was another chart success for them and earned them a second Grammy nomination. In 1998 they released, what was their last studio album to date. Landmarks was recorded in the middle of a forest in the Dublin mountains over a six month period. After two previous nominations this was the album that finally won them a Grammy.
There was never a conscious decision to stop recording or touring for such a long time, it just sort of happened that way. They had been working solidly as Clannad for over twenty five years at this stage and were to keen to take an extended break for some rest and relaxation and also to explore individual pursuits. In the best Irish tradition, one year led to another, and another. Being family they would still gather together on various occasions which would often end up in impromptu performances.
They came back together, professionally, in 2007 to be presented with a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in Ireland’s version of the BRIT awards. Over the next few years they would undertake the odd concert or festival appearances. In 2011 they were asked to perform a concert at Dublin’s historic Christ Church Cathedral. Being in such an intimate setting they chose for the program to lean heavily on their early traditional material as the acoustic nature of these track would suit the surroundings well. With this in mind they invited Pol to join them for the shows which due to demand turned into three consecutive nights.
The concerts were a huge success and this step of ‘going back to go forward’ brought renewed enthusiasm for all of them to do more together, so Pól rejoined the band and they undertook more festivals and shows together across Europe and the USA before beginning writing together for a brand new album. The new album Nádúr, (Irish for Nature), was released in September 2013 and was their first studio album of new material since 1998.
Following the release they undertook an extensive world tour that lasted almost 2 years with concerts in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. In 2016 Padraig Duggan sadly passed after a short illness. ‘Turas’ a live album recorded by radio Breman in 1980 was released in July 2018 and another compilation album from Sony BMG ‘The Real Clannad’ released in November 2018.