Clannad: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool



Clannad are embarking on their final tour, Getintothis’ Jane Davies was at the Philharmonic to watch them bid a fond farewell to Liverpool.

Clannad’s In a Lifetime Farewell Tour managed to achieve the impossible and condensed a 50 year back catalogue into 26 songs delivered in over two hours of spell binding live performance.

The Donegal quartet was never going to go quietly, although the evening started off with the hushed, unaccompanied solo vocals of Moya Brennan on Maighdean Mhara; a song about a mermaid and her daughter, a song so quiet that you could hear the seats creak in front of you.

After half a century, Brennan’s  distinctive vocals are as sharp as ever, something which can’t be said for all senior performers on the circuit.

Backed by a six piece band of instrumentalists, the music was slick and fast paced, well they did have a lot to pack in!

Ever vigilant stewards ensured that there were no mobile phones held aloft, making for an evening without distraction and with 100% focus on the artists.

As a band singing predominantly in the Irish Gaelic language, the audience appreciated Pol and Moya announcing, translating and explaining the significance of each individual track.

A harp solo ensued, then a traditional Donegal song D’Tigheas A Damsta; an invitation to dance. A series of instrumentals ensued, again headed up by the harp with the gentle, soothing Bruach Na merging into a much louder Eleanor Plunkett causing us almost to reach for the ear plugs.

Throughout the evening, clever multi coloured back drop projections represented the wild beauty of the landscapes of Ireland; shimmering waterfalls, rivers, forests and a blue green Irish sea.

The historical context of songs was engaging.

Switching from 17th century literature to the present day, they paid homage to nature, particularly the beauty of trees and the band sang songs handed down by women mending fishing nets to love songs with a hint of humour.

The curiously titled Eirigh S’cuir ort (Arise now and dress yourself quietly) was in fact a love song with a very jaunty flute that made us want to tap our feet.

Two sisters, a dark song about one sister murdering the other should have been a ballad, but was in fact very upbeat with the audience encouraged to sing along and clap.

Bikini Kill asked for revolution in the 90s, why are they still waiting?

The atmospheric Newgrange, was an ode to all things stone circles and Druids from 1983, with a synthesized flute instead of the real thing resulting in it sounding extremely dated.  Staying in the mid 80s we went back in time for a wander in the woods to the Bafta winning Robin Hood soundtrack medley, again a victim of the 1980’s preoccupation with all things electronic.

On to the second act and Clannad’s dalliance with a more pop music stance in the form of the famous Bono duet, Once in a lifetime minus Bono who apparently sent his apologies.

Flitting forwards to more recent times, and their 2013 more organic album, Nadur, we heard Rhapshody na gcrann, (Rhapshody of the trees) which had a traditional feel.

It has to be noted that not all the 1980s back catalogue was electronically enhanced. Hourglass from 1989 with its rolling drum was a traditional folk song. Not content with singing in English and Irish Gaelic, we were treated to a Scottish Gaelic song from Uist, entitled Mhorag.

Whilst compiling their Once in a lifetime anthology, to be released 13 March, we were told a number of new songs were written, one of which was a Celtic Dream which came across as a little mediocre.

One of the most entertaining songs of the evening was of course a drinking song, about drinking until the morning with a very catchy chorus, from 1973. Nil se’n la had lots of rhythm with a wild flute predominating the proceedings. It was definitely a song which you could dance to, as indeed Moya did, going for a wander around the stage.

From the more carefree 1970s we moved back to the 21st century and the poignant message of Brave Enough from 2013 which Moya introduced as a rallying call to be brave when you think you are about to fail and lean on your family and friends. Family is everything to this band, its name means family, its members, are all family.

Hollywood makes an appearance in the form of I will find you from the 1992 film Last of the Mohicans demonstrating just how far this band have come from humble beginnings, winning a local folk music competition and then their first record deal and then going on to conquer the world.

Clannad have won a Grammy and an Ivor Novello award on the way as well as selling 15 million records.

A song that needs no introduction sweeps in; the backdrop on stage has turned blood red. The audience applaud and the famous and haunting Theme from Harry’s Game weaves its spell. Hairs on the back of many a neck stand on end. It serves as a reminder of the past and that there is still a long way to go in the future.

The final number is a folk song about gathering sea weed of all things; Dulaman and by the end, the audience is clapping along. A standing ovation ensues with demands for an encore which are duly met with the ballad Sally Gardens and then the rousing and upbeat mass clap along that is Teidhr Abhaile Riu.

As the applause dies down, there is a feeling of the band having gone full circle, symbolically, finishing on a song from 1974, that far from sounding dated, is timeless.

Having a limited knowledge of their work, the stand outs for the evening have been predominantly the vibrant folk based songs that have lifted the spirits and brought a smile to many a face.  The types of songs sang in Leo’s Tavern, the Brennan family’s pub, where it all started.

Clannad may have bowed out of the live arena, but somehow there’s a feeling it won’t be the last we will hear from them.

Images by Getintothis’ Warren Millar