30 April 1994, Dublin’s Point
Depot Theatre. The Eurovision Song Contest was taking place; Ireland were going for three wins in a row. The interval act was the first-ever performance of the Irish dancing spectacular Riverdance, featuring Michael Flatley, Jean Butler and the vocal ensemble Anúna. It was inspired by the baroque trad of Planxty’s Timedance which had been performed during the same section of the 1981 contest. Shortly after the 1994 televisual feast, a Riverdance CD single was released and credited to Bill Whelan featuring Anúna & The RTE Concert Orchestra, topping our charts for 18 weeks.
Meanwhile, Emerald Music was founded in 1964 by Mervyn Solomon, specialising in Irish traditional music, Scottish pipe bands and compilation albums. George Doherty started working with Solomon in Emerald’s Hydepark Studios in September 1975 before teaming up with John Anderson in 1989 and produced what proved to be the backbone for the first four Jive Bunny hits. Not to be confused with Pipkins’ Hartley Hare. Doherty & Anderson then bought the studios and label from Solomon in 1992. The version of Riverdance that opens Virgin’s Celtic Moods CD is credited to the John Anderson Concert Orchestra. It was marketed as “a Celtic companion to Pure Moods”, and was a popular seller in Dublin Airport gift shops. Holding the front page were Clannad, Christy Moore, Eleanor McEvoy, Sinéad O’Connor, The Waterboys & Runrig. Fields of green and skies of blue.
One of my enduring memories of summer 1992 was A Woman’s Heart, a compilation of 12 tracks performed by six female Irish artists Eleanor McEvoy, Mary Black, Dolores Keane, Sharon Shannon, Frances Black and Maura O’Connell. My mother had it, all her friends had a copy and it was inescapable during those few months, spanning three generations of listeners. The Dara label must have been well pleased with this phenomenon as the album shifted 750,000 copies. There was no vinyl release – 1992 was the year of the big purge by Golden Discs and others – while CD players were still a luxury in the majority of cars. It finally came out on LP last year – cost €25 – and you got a free copy of the CD with it. Only A Woman’s Heart is track 2 on Celtic Moods although the credits indicate that it’s Eleanor McEvoy’s solo version which was released on her 1993 album for Geffen. Next are Clannad with the mystical solstice masterpiece of Newgrange, “carved in ancient stone” – a non-hit (#65) from the searing hot strawberry-picking summer of 1983.
Songs From The Mardi Gras was Feargal Sharkey’s difficult third album. It closed with a competent version of
Scarborough She Moved Through The Fair. Next are the honorary Irishmen, The Waterboys, with the beguiling tale of escapism, Strange Boat, from the immaculate Fisherman’s Blues. “So simple, so smooth, elegant and nonchalant at the same time…this song takes me to another time, young, ambitious and ready to see the world. I still have time. I think I’ll use this song to “launch” a new vessel to take me to new places. The world is not getting any younger, nor am I.” (Wahi Valleys) Another evocative number, Thin Lizzy’s Sarah follows. Not to be confused with another Thin Lizzy song of the same name, written for Phil Lynott’s grandmother, from their second album, Shades of a Blue Orphanage (1972). Written about the busy city life of London, Runrig’s Abhainn An T-Sluaigh / The Crowded River is a haunting and meditative piece that’ll stop you in your tracks. There’s the sound of a seabird’s call around 4 minutes in that’s perfect.
Staying with Scotland, Capercaillie’s Grace And Pride is a pleasant folky number which veers into ambient-ish territory. Next comes Sinéad O’Connor and heart-tugging Three Babies, an understated 45 from I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Meanwhile Christy Moore’s Ride On album cover is a haunting memory from the summer of 1984. The title track is here, mournful in its delivery and the sense of moving on, a necessary move to ensure self-preservation. Initial copies of the LP came with a free 7″ containing The Ballad Of Ballinamore and the scathing Hey, Ronnie Reagan who visited Ireland on the June bank holiday earlier that year. Jumping ahead by 12 months and to the incessant rain of another long weekend – this time, August 1985. Galway beating Cork in the All Ireland hurling semi final before a tiny drenched crowd. The following Tuesday saw a trip to Waterford where I picked up Now That’s What I Call Music 5 and – on the advice of a friend – The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy & The Lash. A Pair Of Brown Eyes was mighty in every sense; the tube scenes in the video and the sublime lyrics, pure poetry in eternal motion – “And the birds were whistling in the trees, where the wind was gently laughing.”
Sharon Shannon’s Blackbird is lifted from her endlessly rewarding self-titled LP. It’s a beautifully played instrumental which works as a perfect foil for Máire Brennan’s powerful and energy-fueled Against The Wind. One that takes me back to more bad weather and walking the roads of home. Sinéad pops up again on the sublime Heroine, ably assisted by The Edge and produced by Michael Brook. Taken from the Captive soundtrack, it’s an ethereal masterpiece, a match made in heaven. Equally intoxicating is Mary Coughlan’s beguiling Invisible To You, a memory from Waterford RTC and afternoons flicking the racks in KG Discs. The parent LP was Uncertain Pleasures; “Passed a mirror, got no reflection there anymore.” Things get dreamy with Christy Moore’s brother Barry (AKA Luka Bloom) providing a pleasant cover of Can’t Help Falling In Love while Davy Spillane (not to be confused with Davy Graham) gives us Always Travelling, top pipe playing. We end on a massive high. #1: Paul Brady’s deeply evocative masterpiece The Island. Rather than try and analyse the lyrics or political sentiments, just marvel at its stark beauty. “Dying can lead them into glory.” And #2, Woodbrook from Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, a stunning piece of piano and strings, beautifully arranged. “I’ll always be a piano player.”
In 1997, the US version of Celtic Moods was released with an identical sleeve which omitted the “featuring music from” details. It’s sufficiently different to the UK original as to warrant a purchase. In: Carter Buswell – Overture (A. Rob Roy, B. The Rieving Party), Clannad – Theme From Harry’s Game (instead of Newgrange), Loreena McKennitt – Samain Night, Leahy – The Call To Dance Medley (Westburne Reel, Andy Renwick’s Ferret), Capercaillie – The Gaelic Reels (instead of Grace & Pride), Ashley MacIsaac – Sleepy Maggie, Matt Maloy – The Crib Of Perches / Carmel Mahoney Mulhaires, Mary Black – No Frontiers, Altan – Caide Sin Don Té Sin?
Out: John Anderson Concert Orchestra, Feargal Sharkey, Thin Lizzy, Runrig, Sinéad O’Connor, The Pogues, Máire Brennan, Luka Bloom, Davy Spillane. Check it out here.
Paul Brady – The Island
The Edge & Sinéad O’Connor – Heroine
Lest we forget
Clannad – Newgrange