Clannad have always seemed among the most interesting and endearing of Irish traditional explorers – since Clannad 2 I’ve dutifully acquired their records (their debut album, made while still at school, unfortunately was a non-event).
However, I was disappointed with their last offering Crann Ull. After a recording gap of almost three years I expected better – not that it was bad, it just wasn’t very good. Evidently I wasn’t alone in this opinion since Clannad quickly got back down to work in Windmill Studios under the direction of Nicky Ryan and produced their latest LP, Fuaim, for the Tara label. And this is the real thing.
The familiar Clannad style and sensitivity remains, developed and refined by the inclusion of little sister and young cousin Eithne Ni Bhraonain, who previously appeared on Crann Ull, and also by the contributions of guest musicians Neil Buckley (clarinet, soprano and alto saxophones), Noel Bridgeman (percussion) and Pat O’Farrell (electric guitar). Among a growing coterie of traditional style bands experimenting with electrification, Clannad prove that it can and does enhance their traditional sound.
On their previous albums their Gaelic material has, for me, provided the root strength of their music. ‘Rince Philib a Cheoil’, ‘Dheineann Sugradh’, ‘Teidhir Abhaile Rui’, ‘An Ghiobog’ and of course ‘Nile Se n Le’ are totally memorable, matched only by the lovely ‘Sally Gardens’.
On Fuaim, however, the balance shifts and we are treated to a real beauty in ‘The Green Fields Of Gaothdobhair’, a simple ballad concerning the home town and environs of the group, sung with exceptional ease but powered by a deep strength of feeling.
‘Lish Young Buy-A-Broom’ is a kind of ‘love’ song that I’ve heard being sung around the sessions in Dublin and no doubt it’s going to be heard more frequently than ever now. It’s a ballad with a catchy chorus: “For she was right, I was tight, everybody has their way/It was the Lish Young Buy-a-Broom that led me astray”. Traditionally a man’s song, here it’s sun by Maire Ni Bhraonain, turning the stereotype inside out.
The one traditional tune on Fuaim is a slow air of a County Tyrone song said to have been composed in 1666 (a piece of into learned from the informative lyric sheet and notes). It involves the use of flute, harp and keyboards – a basic but most pleasant combination.
Side 2 begins with a composition by flute-player Pol O’Bhraonain, ‘Ni La na Gaoithe La na Scoilb’, in which they take leave altogether of traditional confines and with Neil Buckley to the fore enter the domain inhabited by Moving Heats. And it’s wonderful stuff! The same can be said of the near accapella, ‘Mhorag’s na Horo Gheallaid d’, but I’m not sure about ‘Strayed Away’, a song by Thom Moore, who was with the late and great Pumpkin-head and followed them with the late and great Midnight Well, and now lives in California (Howya Thom!). The lyrics are perceptive and meaningful without any of the negative connotations of the phrase, but I’m not convinced that the idea of adapting the air of a song head on Tory Island comes off.
The rest of the album consists of Clannad doing what Clannad do best – old songs rendered in their singular, personal style.
In particular ‘Mheall Si Lena Glorthai Me’ is impressive, perhaps the album’s finest moment – putting the final stamp of success on an extremely fulfilling endeavour.
Fuaim is the sound of a group on top of their art, and yet another testament to the way in which traditional-based musicians are coming to grips with the demands of the ’80s.
Fuaim is a sound to be savoured.
Rating: 10 / 12
Hot Press: 22 Jan 1982