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A Conversation With Moya Brennan

Over the years, I've been fortunate to catch up with Moya Brennan, the voice of Clannad, on a number of different occasions, going right back to the days when Fatea was a paper magazine. Moya released her most recently solo album "Canvas" last year. Co-written with both her daughter Aisling and son Paul, it adds another generation into the family projects.

I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Moya around the time of her shows in Dallas, Moya, with full band is back in the UK with a full tour, but first I asked Moya about the the Dallas gig.

"A couple of the band didn't make it, they struggled to get out of Dublin and couldn't make it out of Heathrow so we had to do the slot without them. WE managed to get out on time as we came out a day early to get some rehearsals in before the concert, we just got out, there was a window of opportunity. It's a not a festival I've played before, it's called the North Texas Irish Festival.

There's lots of bands and crafts and everyone is going around in green, small hats, big hats. We've just flown into do this one. I'm doing it with a girl that I know from America, Ashley Davis, who I've done dates with before and my harp player Cormac De Barra, he's playing as well. It's part of a collective idea, there's about ten of us that work together and it's whoever is available we just work together, it's a nice idea. Sometimes it's working with John Doyle or Cathy Jordan. There's the three girls, Cathy, Ashley and myself it's nice to work like that and to get a festival done for the year."

It got us talking about ensembles and large bands. Clannad was a big band and Moya has built a large group around her solo projects, I asked her about her love of working with big ensembles.

"Well this one is a little bit different, even though there's ten of us collectively there's rarely more than five on stage at any event. It's because we're all so busy with our own things it's different line ups and that's what's so nice about it. Collectively it's called Crannua, but the nice thing is there's no pressure. The name means new tree and that's sort of what it is, we can branch off and do different things depending on who is working. You play with different people a lot of the time. I'm nearly always with Cormac because he works with me and worked with Clannad so if I'm available, normally so is he, I love playing with him, he's such a great harp player."

As both a solo artist and the lead singer of Clannad, Moya Brennan has always toured with members of her family, I wondered if that helps making touring easier?

"The band that I have on tour with me has musicians that I've worked with a long time and my son and my daughter as well, but I do have to say that I wouldn't have them on stage with me if they weren't good enough." It's something I can relate to my youngest has designed the last few Fatea t-shirts and once asked if he only got the gig because he was my son and my response was yes, but I wouldn't have asked you if you weren't good enough, Moya continued, "They're great musicians and great singers, my son Paul Jarvis, he plays keyboards percussion and sings and Aisling, my daughter plays guitar, bassouki, whistles and sings, we all sing it gives that really lovely blend of voices. Anyone that was into the Clannad sound, my voice and all those harmonies, it's got all of those elements. I Like to put some real variety in. Myself and Cormac have made some albums together, there'll be some of those songs.

We moved onto Moya's recent solo album, "Canvas". Whist Moya has been making albums with different artists and collaborations, mainly with Cormac de Barra, but also "T With The Maggies", it had been nearly eleven years since there was an album with just Moya under the title.

"My kids Aisling and Paul got me into the studio after a rough summer in 2016. I lost my Dad and my Uncle, well he was uncle by name, but always felt like a brother in Clannad, Padraig Duggan and they suggested going into the studio and doing my own studio album, which I hadn't done in years. They said "Mum we'll help with the writing of the songs" and ended up writing nine of the eleven songs with me, which was amazing. What was good about it was their influences are very different than mine. Paul's into electronics and Aisling's into the likes of Imogen Heap and people like that, so they brought something fresh into the album. We finished it at the beginning of last year and it was an amazing time. We had such fun doing "Canvas" and it was really joyful and healing. There wasn't a bad word said the whole two and a half months when we made the album. It was just great, great fun so you'll hear a good bit of that album. I'm also going to play some Clannad tracks, people know me as the voice of Clannad so it's only fair to do some of those as well. There's lots of variety in the show and anybody that likes that Celtic sound, there's so much of that in it.

We did eight concerts in the UK last year and a lot of people said they were the best they'd seen of Moya Brennan. I'm really thrilled there is so much in the concert it's self that I really really wanted to do it again. It's fun working with them and touring with them, they're not ashamed of getting on stage with their old mother. There's so much that you can listen to it's lovely they enjoy being on stage with me and it makes it so much fun and they're still doing their own thing, Aisling's doing her second album now. Paul is always doing new stuff as you can imagine with the electronics it takes time to build all the sounds, he also plays with friends in a band, it's lovely to see them being so active. We've a studio at the house, so they can be there all the time, it's fantastic."

Moya is off on a really extensive tour which as well as including a couple of regular Fatea haunts, The Met in Bury and the Atkinson in Southport, also seems to have a standout Saint Patrick's day gig in London on what could be a Six Nation's decider.

"That's going to be hellish" Moya came back with a twinkle in her voice, "That's going to be gassing mad. The rugby, Saint Patrick's day all rolled into one, we'll know the result before the concert. It'll be a really great night, we're the quieter side of rowdy Irish music, but we know how to have fun."

With that the talk got back to new recordings and releases and what was in the plans.

"We just finished a new album the Crannua Collective, so we'll have that with us. Cormac and I have two albums of voices and harps and we're well on the way to finishing the third of those. As I really enjoyed working with Aisling and Paul I'm itching to get back in the studio with them again. To me it was very refreshing. The danger with going into the studio is that you end up doing something similar to the album beforeā€¦I like approaching albums, not always in a new way, but different. Having done the "Canvas" album, I think there's more there. My influences are going to stay put because that's my root, but I'm always happy to explore. I rarely so no to appearing on other people's albums, because it's good to explore other ways of working. I recently did a song with a Dutch DJ that's doing the rounds. I love co-writing, it means I'm never standing still. When I stop learning in the music business it'll be time to give it up, but the more I do the more I need to do. It makes it exciting for me and I love that part of music.

On that very positive point the interview came to a halt. Moya can be found touring the UK for the rest of March, check http://moyabrennan.com/home/ for more details.

Neil King

To The Water


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