Nicky Ryan for ‘The Very Best of Enya’
IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME
This is an attempt to give a little background to how I got to where I am.
Ever since I was a young boy I had a fascination for sound, I mean any sound, and one of my favourite pastimes was bashing chords on an old abandoned upright Piano in my sister’s cobwebbed little timber Summerhouse at ‘Greenogue’ on the Howth Road in Dublin. I loved the way the sound would disturb the billions of dust particles relieved by the Sunbeams coming though the window panes. With the loud pedal to the floor, I would hold the keys down, bash hard once on the ivorys, and just listen, fascinated and entranced by the endless reverberation as it drifted into oblivion. That old Piano played a big part for me and I like to think we had a thing going.
I left school at fourteen and went through more jobs than I had hot dinners. One dead end job after another. Then I focused on a trade and served my time as a Carpenter. One of the best jobs I had was working as an all round handyman in ‘St. Mary’s School for Deaf Girls’ which was owned and run by the Dominican nuns. The school’s headmistress was a fantastically energetic and wonderful lady by the name of Sister Mary Nicholas, can you believe it?, my boss was a Nun bearing my name. It was here I learned to really appreciate and value my hearing and realised just how much I had taken it for granted.
I had discovered Recording by then and just loved capturing any old sound that came my way and even some of my own if the silence got to me. I was a subscriber to a tape recording magazine and at one time they ran a competition for which the first prize would be a visit to Abbey Road Studios to sit in on a Beatles recording session. It was all too good to be true but as I was a mad Beatles fan (and still am) I submitted my recording which was my rendering of Glenn Millers ‘In The Mood’. I used only mouth noises to imitate brass instruments using a very antiquated layering method to multiply my vocals as many times as the poor old .Analogue tape recorder could manage. I won first prize but unfortunately never got to see the Beatles as I could not afford the fare. The poor old cash strapped magazine hadn’t reckoned on an Irish guy winning, I got over it, but only just.
It was when by chance I met Pal Farrell (guitarist on ‘Time Flies‘) one evening at ‘The Bun and Burger’ near Fairview Park (North Dublin) interest into the world of recording that moved my music and mixing ‘live’ sound. My friendship with Pat has lasted to the present day and indeed, he will always be my closest pal, this guy is special to me. It was through Pat I met with Phillip Donnelly (another guitarist extraordinaire) who asked if I would mix his Rock band ‘Elmer Fudd’, handpicked by Phillip and all brilliant. John Donnellly on drums, Jodie Pollard on guitar, Bernard Whittr, lead vocalist and Keith (twelve fingers) Manslield on Bass. I say Phillip asked me but in fact it was more like ‘ordered’, Phillip doesn’t stand on ceremony and he moves fast. Having a ‘roadie’ to mix sound was almost unheard of at the time for a band who were just starting out, but Phillip was very forward thinking and I was sold. This was the fork in the road I was waiting for, I took it with a vengeance and never looked back.
1982 is a long time ago, but when I look back, it seems like yesterday. ‘My my, how time flies’. A number of years prior to 1982 myself and Roma were involved in Band management for some of Ireland’s great music entities, including Clannad which was our longest stint up to then, lasting six years. Roma did most of the management however and organised the tours and administration through our European contacts armed only with a telephone and a notebook. My job was to travel with the bands and mix their live sound.
There was ‘Hotfoot’, a band whose music was based on the playing of Django Rheinhardt and the fiery gypsy bands which roamed Europe, playing at every opportunity and only stopping to eat or sleep, I had come accross these bands frequently when I was at some of the big Festivals in Europe. They lived music, had no cases, who needs guitar cases if you never stop playing long enough to use them?, these amazing people used buttons as plectrums and honed them on stone to get the right shape.
‘Hotfoot’ were dedicated to emulating all that was great about these wandering groups — rhythm guitar was played by Jimmy Gibson, a genius in this genre, the brilliant Pat Collins on violin, the late Declan Mac Neilis on Bass — he was the very essence of laid back, just the right notes at the right time — and last, but so very important, the amazing lead guitar playing from the late great Jimmy Faulkner.
I loved my work on live music and remember my days with many of the wonderful Irish folk groups, especially Planxty, the band who took Irish traditional music to a new level with their totally unique approach which has never been equalled. Planxty left their live audiences in awe and begging for more and my recollection from the many tours I did with them as their live sound engineer tells me that they were the most important Irish Band ever to grace Irish Music. There were times I wanted to stop the clock just to cherish the moment for ever.
I digress… I decided at one particular stage to introduce keyboards to Clannad which I felt would broaden the horizon of the arrangements, and hopefully add yet another vocal texture to the group. Who better to ask than Enya who had studied Classical music at Milford College in County Donegal and sang like a nightingale? Enyas’s talent for music was noticed at a very early age by her Grandfather, Aodh O’Dugain, who paid her way through College.
It was never at any point my intention to make Enya a permanent member of Clannad. I made that very clear to her and she was quite adamant herself that this would be the case anyway. Even at that tender age she was a ﬁercely independent young lady and was intent on playing her own music. She was just not sure of how to go about it. Myself and Roma knew she could deﬁnitely front her own career given the right circumstances and guidance.
We could see the split with Clannad coming and we knew it was only a matter of time. I had issues with them which I wanted resolved and which had to be addressed. l called a meeting in Geneva on a tour of Switzerland, (I call it, ‘The Geneva Convention’). It was short and only required a vote, l was a minority of one and lost, Roma and I were out. This left the question of what happened with Enya. I decided to stand back and say nothing. Her brother Pol announced “you can stay with us and be a Star or go with ‘The Ryans’ and be nobody”.
The rest is, as they say, History… The year we split from Clannad was the year we formed our musical partnership with Enya. It was clear from the outset that her music would only evolve in exactly the right environment and if she had the time, the space and the freedom to master her unique style of writing. Her ability to form beautiful melodies was immensely important to the process that would eventually produce the phenomenon that is Enya. These melodies melded themselves perfectly into Roma’s poetic lyricism. As for me it was a dream come true, someone I could work with from scratch, build and experiment with new ideas and harmonies galore.
The three of us decided at this early stage of our new adventure to take on all of the facets of building a career based on our collective efforts. This included Management, both personal and business, Recording, Production, and all that entails. Enya, by our invitation, came to live with us. It was the only way. It would be two years before she wrote her first piece which we titled ‘An Taibhse Uaighneach’ (The Lonely Ghost). This was also the ﬁrst Enya piece recorded in our first ‘Studio’ which we cobbled together from what we could afford. By the time we joined forces with Enya l already had some ideas rumbling around in my head about using just one voice to form a ‘Choir’. In fact, we were going to name the first Album for WEA, Choir of One, this was later changed to ‘Watermark’
This was our first Album for WEA and Rob Dickins, who took everything to another level entirely.
photos from NickyRyan.net and ‘Water Shows the Hidden Heart’
text by Nicky Ryan from ‘The Very Best of Enya’ collector’s edition
EMI Music Publishing Ltd, 2009
transcribed by enya.sk