I write this piece with a mixture of profound joy and heart-wrenching sadness. Five days ago the Crotchety Couple enjoyed another Clannad concert. We saw them perhaps 20 years ago and they were a delight, although the sound then was a little muddy where we sat in the wings. This time we had just about the best seats in the house, half a dozen rows back and centre stage.
Time and technology has improved the acoustics considerably; we had no cause to complain about that this time. Occasionally we felt the drums were somewhat over-powering and from time to time a singer would turn away from the mic, robbing the performance of a delicate harmony. But these imperfections were but a speck on the face of a ravishing Muse; the melodies, the harmonies and the textures were exquisite.
So, why the sadness? Because it was Clannad‘s farewell tour. It is unlikely that we will ever have an opportunity to see them a third time. Of course, there are many examples of bands who have gone on long after their supposedly valedictory concert run but I think we can believe the press releases this time.
“We had discussed prior to our world tour in 2013-2015, whether it would be our farewell tour…but since Pádraig passed we made the decision that our next tour would definitely be our last and we plan to make it a very special and memorable final journey…”
The About page of the Clannad website
Clannad has always been as much a family unit as a band. When your mother teaches music, your father leads a show band and all nine of their children sing and play at least one musical instrument it is, surely, inevitable that a band will be born. And so it was in rural Ireland in 1970. The original line-up consisted of siblings Moya, Ciarán and Pól Brennan and their twin uncles Noel and Pádraig Duggan. Fifty years later the Brennan/Duggan ensemble, reduced to four by the death of Pádraig in 2016, remain the pulsing heart of a band that has done more to bring Irish folk music to a worldwide audience than any other.
The first, eponymous Clannad album was released in 1973. Another 15 studio albums, 4 live albums and no less than 17 compilations have appeared in the band’s discography, culminating with Turas, a live performance from 1980 not released until 2018. One further compilation was released on Friday to coincide with the current tour: In a Lifetime is an anthology covering the whole of the band’s 50 year career. The impatient Crotchety Man bought the download yesterday and it is playing now on repeat, providing much pleasure and a little inspiration as I write this.
“… to accompany this [farewell] journey we are very pleased to be releasing the ’In a Lifetime’ anthology which we hope will leave our fans with a lasting musical legacy.”
The Clannad website
This latest offering contains 37 tracks lasting a total of 2 hours 25 minutes. With the download priced at £9.99, the 2 CD version at £14.99 and the double LP package at £30 it’s fantastic value. There’s also a box set costing £125 for the most devoted fans and obsessive collectors. This new anthology has a Crotchety rating of Superlative. Unless you already have a complete collection of Clannad albums this release, in one form or another, counts as an essential addition.
For the Crotchety Couple, of course, In a Lifetime is both a treasure chest of beautiful music and a souvenir of this week’s concert. Looking back I think there may have been an element of “Once more unto the stage, dear relatives!” in the performance. Time and again Pól turned his guitar towards the other members of the band, half crouching, half jigging, as if to say, “Come on, guys, we should be enjoying it more than this!”. And yet, if you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t have thought there was anything missing.
The key to Clannad‘s success, I think, is the blend of traditional folk tunes and new age arrangements. Ancient roots on a ground of modern instruments. Ever popular, never pop. Cinematic, ethereal and seductive. It’s a recipe that the whole world can savour, now and for many lifetimes to come.