“In October 2008 it will be twenty years since Enya released her beguiling Warner debut album Watermark, during the two decades since she has sold a remarkable 70 million albums around the world, won numerous awards and become Ireland’s biggest selling solo artist.
Two years in the making, expectations are understandably high for Enya’s forthcoming album And Winter Came. The album’s twelve songs are an atmospheric and enchanting evocation of the changing landscape of winter and the cheer that Christmas brings. Once again the album was recorded in their own studio and is the result of the longstanding creative triumvirate that was formed back in 1982 with producer/arranger Nicky Ryan and lyricist Roma Ryan.
At the outset And Winter Came was planned as a Christmas project but as the album began to take shape a broader seasonal theme soon became apparent. “I always wanted to do a Christmas album, but as we began recording I didn’t feel it was right to impose a Christmas theme on certain songs,” explains Enya.
Says Nicky “We started out writing for a Christmas album, but it has evolved into more an Enya album based in a winter landscape where Christmas arrives here and there, but it would be wrong to call it an Enya Christmas album.” And Winter Came is nonetheless rich in delightful festive moments, not least the track White in is the Winter Night which Nicky describes as being “the kind of song you could hear at the Proms with everyone joining in, its has that kind of Christmassy vibe.”
Enya’s seventh studio album also contains two traditional Christmas songs, a soaring rendition of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and a new version of Silent Night (Oíche Chiuín), a song Enya sings in Gaeilge that has proved hugely popular over the years. “It was exciting to re-live Silent Night because I sung that twenty years ago,” enthuses Enya. “It is re-released every year in America and it was so nice to go back and do something different with it.”
The new rendering of Oíche Chiuín (Chorale) incorporates what Nicky describes as the “choir of one”, a technique he first fully adopted during the recording of Watermark that finds Enya performing multi-layered vocals to create a mellifluous sea of harmonies. “I enjoy the process, I love the excitement of not knowing if it will work,” admits Enya.
Previous Enya albums have seen her exercise a remarkable linguistic dexterity to perform songs written in anything from Welsh and Japanese to an entirely fictional dialect devised by Roma called Loxian, on 2005’s Amarantine LP, And Winter Came’s ten original pieces are all sung in English.
The sixth of nine Children, Enya was born Eithne Patricia Ni Bhraonian on May 17 1961 in County Donegal, and was brought up speaking Gaeilge, Enya being a transliteration of the Gaeilge pronunciation of Eithne. “Because of that my alphabet pronunciation is different to that of someone who speaks English as a first language,” she explains. “I enjoy the sounds of language, it’s great to be able to sing in a very old language like Gaeilge but still be able to get the message across through the melody and performance.”
Enya studied classical music at Milford College and it was always her intention to be involved in music but she didn’t know what direction that would take. After she left college, she was invited by Nicky and Roma, who were then managing the group Clannad, to join the group on a temporary basis.
“I had come from studying classical music at boarding school and was fiercely independent,” recalls Enya. “I wasn’t really involved as a member of the group. Nicky wanted me as keyboard player and as another vocal texture in the band which I agreed to. I talked a lot about music with Nicky and this is when he had the idea of the choir of one. He was so into experimenting with all types of music. He comes from live music and I hope people can sense that in what we do, even though And Winter Came is very much a studio album, it is all about performance.”
This all lead to the creative partnership of Nicky, Enya and Roma in 1982. The first project the triumvirate worked on was a soundtrack for David Puttnam’s 1984 film The Frog Prince.
Two years later a more significant development saw Enya provide the entire soundtrack to the BBC television documentary series The Celts. “Initially they wanted one composer for each episode but then we put forward March Of The Celts – they came back saying we want to you to write all of them,” says Enya. “It was a big risk factor on their side, because I was just someone who had studied music – there was no guarantee what kind of music I was going to write.”
With songs performed both in English and Gaeilge, Enya produced an array of enchanting, ethereal pieces that later be collected on her eponymous debut album, released in 1987, but it failed to cause a much of a stir until almost a decade later when the track Boadicea was sampled by The Fugees on the single Ready Or Not. Something that caused Nicky not a little consternation as the band had omitted to ask permission, “I was annoyed that they didn’t ask us, but it worked out ok; we had a choice of making Sony take it off the shelves but what are you going to do that for? They were a young band so we worked something out and it was cool.”
But interest in the song didn’t end there, with Nicky picking up the phone years later to find none other than Sean Combs, aka P.Diddy, on the other end politely requesting permission to use the track on the Mario Winans single I Don’t Wanna Know, which went on to be a UK number one. Nicky graciously agreed, but on one condition. “I told him he would have to do something for me in return,” he says. “So you might see something happen in the future with Enya and P.Diddy,” he laughs.
While her debut album failed to set the charts alight it certainly charmed Warner Brothers chairman Rob Dickins who swiftly signed Enya, much to the surprise of his colleagues who had little faith that Enya’s unique ethereal music would sell in a marketplace dominated by pop acts such as Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley. But Dickins observed “Sometimes the company is there to make money, and sometimes it’s there to make music.” He would, of course, be pleasantly surprised that in Enya’s case it would achieve both objectives aims.
“We and the record company were completely taken aback by the reaction to Watermark,” admits Enya. “How could you tell? There wasn’t any music like that out there in the late-Eighties.” Released in 1988 Watermark would go on to sell in excess of 11 million copies, earn Enya two Brit Award nominations and spawn a UK number one single with Orinoco Flow.
Treating Enya as very much a personal project, Dickins even went so far as to visit record stores to watch shoppers purchase Orinoco Flow, that dedication led to the lyrics to Sail Away being included on the sleeves of future pressings as Dickins had noticed that fans were unsure of the song’s title. He also respected Enya’s desire for creative independence. “It was a condition of the signing that we would be creatively independent and for that reason we have never felt that we couldn’t do something and be different for the right reasons; because the music dictated it,” says Enya. “The only real pressure we get is when [Warner] ask if there will be an album out this year or not,” she laughs.
In 1991 Enya released the 12 million selling album Shepherd Moons which made its debut at the peak of the UK album chart and maintained a vice like grip on the US charts for 199 consecutive weeks. Shepherd Moons won Enya her first Grammy for Best New Age Album but her awards cabinet would start to fill out four years later with Memory Of Trees earning another Grammy and racking up more than 9 million sales.
A hugely successful ‘Best Of’ collection Paint The Sky With Stars followed in 1997 featuring Top 20 hits such as Orinoco Flow, Caribbean Blue, Book Of Days and Anywhere Is. But it was the release in 2000 of Enya’s next studio album A Day Without Rain that would lead her to become the biggest selling artist in the world the following year.
A Day Without Rain resided in the US chart for nearly two years and sold 13m copies around the world. During that time the events of September 11 2001 would send shock waves across the globe, and the album track Only Time, already a favourite amongst Enya’s fans, was leapt on by broadcasters in the search for a soothing backdrop to their harrowing reports.
“CNN used it first” recalls Enya, “but it became the anthem for 9/11. At that time the radio stations completely changed what they were playing and wanted to try and help the people to get over the loss and devastation of what had happened. The nature of the song is how healing time can be and that normality, or as near to it as possible, will come back in some form.” Having already donated to the The Uniform Firefighters Association’s Widows’ and Children’s Fund, Enya, Nicky and Roma were quick to realise that the song’s popularity could also provide assistance to victims of the tragedy. “We were getting the airplay and thought that we could release Only Time as a single that could provide financial assistance to families who lost loved ones in 9/11,” says Enya. The release raised $500,000 in the two years following its release.
But 2001 did bring brighter news with Peter Jackson requesting that Enya contribute two songs to the soundtrack of Lord Of The Rings – The Fellowship Of The Ring, the results being May It Be and Aniron, with the former earning her an Oscar nomination. At the ceremony Enya delivered a rare and triumphant live performance, something she remembers fondly, “It was such a fantastic experience, the Oscars are incredibly glitzy but I have to say I really enjoyed it,” she smiles.
Despite her obvious enjoyment of performing live, Enya has never toured and, unconvinced by the lure of fame, she tends to shy away from the media spotlight – a rare thing in this celebrity obsessed world. “Fame and success are two different things,” she avers. “I still think you can retain a private lifestyle and successful career in music. My music needs that space.”
In 2005 Enya’s last album Amarantine was released to much acclaim and won Enya her fourth Grammy award, in 2007 she was awarded two Honorary Doctorates in recognition of her services to music.
Now as the temperature drops and the days draw in, the arrival of And Winter Came is certain to warm hearts around the world with its sweeping orchestration and an optimism that evokes the sense of possibility that Christmas brings. Something Roma says is reflected in the album’s title, “I like the title; some people see it as an ending, with a whole story before it, but I see it very much as a new beginning.”
Warner Music | September 15, 2008