Clannad + Brian Kennedy @ Warwick Arts Centre, 10th March 2013

So spring has deserted us, snowflakes fall as we head towards Warwick Arts Centre. Tonight it’s mystical pagan vibes with the returning Irish folk legends, back in full force and celebrating over 40 years performing, we’re here to listen to the beautiful harmonies of the legendary Clannad.

Warwick Arts Centre is truly busy as we walk into the main foyer. Three venues here plus a cinema and we’re sharing tonight’s facilities with those who are here to see comedian Marcus Brigstocke performing in the mid-sized venue. A very friendly welcome and chat with Sarah, Assistant House Manager for tonight, who tells us all about the venue and bands tonight. We walk into the largest venue, 1,400 capacity and pretty much sold out, to take our comfy places for the support act.

It’s unusual to see someone in support with a pedigree such as this man. Belfast born Brian Kennedy has been in the industry for over 20 years, released 11 albums. He worked with Van Morrison and Georgie Fame for years, did the theme tune to ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’, was the Irish entry in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest (coming twentieth) and was a coach on the first series of ‘The Voice of Ireland’. Not only that, he was the singer on the Secret Garden original version of ‘You Raise Me Up’ – a song now recorded by more than a hundred other artists- and a song he sang at George Best’s funeral.

Tonight there’s just him with acoustic guitar and, for a couple of tracks, with no guitar. He’s affably chatty and friendly, engaging and funny. ‘Hello – I’ll call you Coventry rather than Warwick – or maybe Covwick…’ as he starts off with first song ‘Captured’, released 23 years ago, then performed on the Terry Wogan show. His challenge, he states, is to convert audience members who have never heard of him to hard-core fans.

“For those of you who don’t know – I’m never truly happy unless singing something truly sad…” as he takes us into the lament that is ‘Wonder What is Keeping My True Love Tonight.’ Kennedy had a truly amazing voice, his Gaelic lilt reaching truly dizzying falsetto heights. Live he’s more mesmerizing and impressive than on record. Then a track Van Morrison produced ‘Crazy Love’. Tonight he has just 35 minutes to entertain us. “I usually talk a lot more…” as he swaps guitars to discover whilst tuning it’s not to his liking – ‘Going okay so far? This will teach me to change the strings before playing – get it in tune, or it’ll be time to go off!” Not happy – he changes back to the original guitar, and swaps what he’s going to sing to a track off his new album ‘Voice.’ A check with the audience – he’s five minutes left “One more song…” no guitar this time, just him. As he sings a truly remarkable rendition of ‘You Raise Me Up’ his vocals soar as high as the clouds. “Join in if it’s not too high…” and the audience makes the attempt. Remarkable voice – few are given such a natural vocal talent. Kennedy clearly just loves to sing live – at any opportunity. In the interval he was at the merchandising area standing chatting and signing. Why he isn’t more well known in this country I have no idea – take a peek at his website to listen in  – and if you fancy it, he’ll be at the MAC in Birmingham on the 13th April 2013.

A quick break and now we settle in for the main performance – lights go down; dry ice permeates and onto the stage come Clannad.

If you we around in the 80’s Clannad permeated the radio waves, bringing their own unique take on Gaelic mystical music. If you are below 30, you may not have even heard of them – so quick potted bit of history. This family group, brought up in Donegal, Ireland, three siblings, Maire (pronounced Moya), Pol and Ciaran Brennan, started playing regular slots in their fathers bar way back in 1970. It wasn’t long before they were joined by uncles Padraig and Noel, winning a local talent contest and going on a couple of years later to recorded their first album, the self titled ‘Clannad.’ A talented family, their ’82 album ‘Fuaim’ featured sister Enya, who shortly went her own direction, most notable for ‘Orinoco Flow’. For Clannad it was the haunting theme to the ITV three part series Harry’s Game (a hard-hitting drama about an undercover soldier tracking down an IRA gunman – played by one Derek Thompson – ‘Charlie Fairhead’ from ‘Casualty’) that brought them to wider attention. Their ’83 album ‘Magical Ring’ started to sell: their career gaining international momentum. The sound track to the ITV series ‘Robin of Sherwood’ (at that time THE Saturday early evening ‘one to watch’ with the beautiful Michael Praed as ‘Robin of Loxley’ and a little known actor called Ray Winston as ‘Will Scarlett’) which brought them to a wider audience – the accompanying album ‘Legend’ won Clannad a BAFTA.  Album after album sold worldwide, Maire duetted with none other than Bono on ‘Once in a Lifetime.’ Pol Brennan may have called it a Clannad day after the ’89 album ‘Sirius’ but the band continued, the last album from them, ’98’s ‘Landmarks’ won them a Grammy.  And after that, where to go? The band members set off on their own journeys, always knowing that the family business would come back together.

And now with Pol back in the fold, they’ve been recording a new album and tonight’s gig, if a tad low profile on the PR stakes, is one of a far ranging worldwide tour. Clannad are quite mesmerizing to watch – they may not be full of energy, but alongside the usual synths, drums and acoustic guitars, we get double-bass, flutes, penny whistles and Mairie on harp. Maire may well be 60, but she hasn’t lost any of her haunting vocal ability, the supporting lads all in harmony accompanying her. The first few songs are in Gaelic – but that makes no difference – some folk inspired, some written. For those not in English, we get an explanation – many involve a girl and a boy and well, you can take it from there. Second song is passed on from the Brennan’s grandmother – a traditional folk song they used to sing about the local boy they fancied ‘Maire Bhruinneal’.  This is the first time they’ve played Warwick Arts; the venue is suiting them well, the audience soaking in the performance.

Pol: “We do sing in English from time to time. This wasn’t on Facebook – written in the 80s – Facebook wasn’t around. It was written about the recession over the pond, and we’re singing it tonight, because it over the water again.” ‘Something to Believe In.’ Next song in it’s a sing along (another song in English), ‘Two Sisters’. We got to grip with the lyrics, this folk song is 9 verses long – we were threatened that it would go on to 19 or more if we didn’t!

Clannad are at their best all moody and atmospheric. Imagine it’s a warm summers day (hard to believe I know – as I write this it’s snowing like crazy outside), you are at Stonehenge or Avebury, lying in deep daisy covered grass, staring a blue, cotton cloud littered skies. Close you eyes and melt into the track that is ‘Newgrange.’ The Newgrange in question is in County Meath, Ireland – deemed to be a mythical place 500 years older than the pyramids and older than indeed Stonehenge. And we keep the mystic – as we go into the medieval times when men wore tights and some bloke called Robin in Nottingham robbed from the rich and fed the poor. A medley of tracks from the TV series, beautifully rendered.

Brian Kennedy is back on stage – taking Bono’s vocal duties on ‘In A Lifetime.’ Before a song about seaweed. No seriously, the song centres around cloth dying and edible seaweed. As you do. ‘Dulaman’. Pol: “Think about it as a Donegal sushi song…”

And now we’re back to Clannad in full mystical and moving charm – with the theme to the ‘Last of the Mohicans’. For me, one of the stand-out tracks of the evening.  And of course we get the ‘Theme from Harry’s Game.’ Still moving and haunting as it ever was. All beautifully sung live. And it still makes the hairs rise up on the back of your neck.

One more song ‘Teidhr Abhail Riu’ – and an intro to the supporting band members on stage tonight – Jed Lynch on drums and Ian Parker on keyboards and vocals.  After the gig Clannad will be signing stuff in the foyer and having a cuppa tea. We are encouraged to join them.

But before that we have a couple more – first up a W.B. Yeates poem ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ followed, in true Gaelic fashion by ‘Nil Se Ina La’ – a stomping Irish drinking song.

Clannad may not necessarily be on the commercial radar any more. There was a time when the theme from Harry’s Game was never off the airwaves. But what Clannad did do, was bring their own unique mystical, lifting, lilting, haunting and moving Gaelic music to the masses – and created a musical world that gave inspiration to those who now give us ‘Lord of the Rings’ and similar ilk. Get a chance – go and see. It will be worth you time to melt away to their performance.


Setlist includes:

Something to Believe In, Two Sisters, Newgrange, Robin of Sherwood medley, In A Lifetime, I Will Find You, Closer To Your Heart, Theme from Harry’s Game.




Magical Ring [1983]

Legend [1984]

Past Present (Collection) [1989]

Landmarks [1998]


Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures Ken Harrison.