Tag Archives: Donal Lunny

THE HISTORY OF CELTIC-ROCK MUSIC

Today the 30492- London Celtic Punks web zine is four years old today so what better way to celebrate our birthday than to give you this small but perfectly formed potted history of Celtic-Rock. We have never just wanted to be a place that only reviews new records we want to celebrate everything that makes us celtic-punks. Our love of our roots and our history and our traditions and the love that those with no Celtic ancestry have as well. Celtic-Punk is for all that share our common values of friendship and solidarity and the love of a good time. Music cannot change the world but it can certainly make it a better place to live in and in these uncertain times that is something we all need. The roots of celtic-punk should be important to us as that is where we come from and we must never forget that.

The London Celtic Punks Admin Team

Celtic rock is a genre of folk rock, as well as a form of Celtic fusion which incorporates Celtic music, instrumentation and themes into a rock music context. It has been extremely prolific since the early 1970’s and can be seen as a key foundation of the development of highly successful mainstream Celtic bands and popular musical performers, as well as creating important derivatives through further fusions. It has played a major role in the maintenance and definition of regional and national identities and in fostering a pan-Celtic culture. It has also helped to communicate those cultures to external audiences.

Definition

The style of music is the hybrid of traditional Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton musical forms with rock music. This has been achieved by the playing of traditional music, particularly ballads, jigs and reels with rock instrumentation; by the addition of traditional Celtic instruments, including the Celtic harp, tin whistle, uilleann pipes (or Irish Bagpipes), fiddle, bodhrán, accordion, concertina, melodeon, and bagpipes (highland) to conventional rock formats; by the use of lyrics in Celtic languages and by the use of traditional rhythms and cadences in otherwise conventional rock music. Just as the validity of the term Celtic in general and as a musical label is disputed, the term Celtic rock cannot be taken to mean there was a unified Celtic musical culture between the Celtic nations. However, the term has remained useful as a means of describing the spread, adaptation and further development of the musical form in different but related contexts.

History

Origins

Celtic rock developed out of the (originally English) electric folk scene at the beginning of the 1970’s. The first recorded use of the term may have been by the Scottish singer Donovan to describe the folk rock he created for his Open Road album in 1970, which itself featured a song named ‘Celtic Rock’. However, the lack of a clear Celtic elements to the self-penned tracks mean that even if the name was taken from here, this is not the first example of the genre that was to develop.

Ireland

It was in Ireland that Celtic rock was first clearly evident as musicians attempted to apply the use of traditional and electric music to their own cultural context. By the end of the 1960’s Ireland already had perhaps the most flourishing folk music tradition and a growing blues and pop scene, which provided a basis for Irish rock. Perhaps the most successful product of this scene was the band Thin Lizzy. Formed in 1969 their first two albums were recognisably influenced by traditional Irish music and their first hit single ‘Whisky in the Jar’ in 1972, was a rock version of a traditional Irish song. From this point they began to move towards the hard rock that allowed them to gain a series of hit singles and albums, but retained some occasional elements of Celtic rock on later albums such as Jailbreak (1976). Formed in 1970, Horslips were the first Irish group to have the terms ‘Celtic rock’ applied to them, produced work that included traditional Irish/Celtic music and instrumentation, Celtic themes and imagery, concept albums based on Irish mythology in a way that entered the territory of progressive rock all powered by a hard rock sound. Horslips are considered important in the history of Irish rock as they were the first major band to enjoy success without having to leave their native country and can be seen as providing a template for Celtic rock in Ireland and elsewhere. These developments ran in parallel with the burgeoning folk revival in Ireland that included groups such as Planxty and the Bothy Band. It was from this tradition that Clannad, whose first album was released in 1973, adopted electric instruments and a more ‘new age’ sound at the beginning of the 1980s. Moving Hearts, formed in 1981 by former Planxty members Christy Moore and Donal Lunny, followed the pattern set by Horslips in combining Irish traditional music with rock, and also added elements of jazz to their sound.

  • THE POGUES AND IRISH CULTURAL CONTINUITY (here)

Scotland

There were already strong links between Irish and Scottish music by the 1960s, with Irish bands like the Chieftains touring and outselling the native artists in Scotland. The adoption of electric folk produced groups including the JSD Band and Spencer’s Feat. Out of the wreckage of the latter in 1974, was formed probably the most successful band in this genre, combining Irish and Scottish personnel to form Five Hand Reel. Two of the most successful groups of the 1980s emerged from the dance band circuit in Scotland. From 1978, when they began to release original albums, Runrig produced highly polished Scottish electric folk, including the first commercially successful album with the all Gaelic Play Gaelic in 1978. From the 1980s Capercaillie combined Scottish folk music, electric instruments and haunting vocals to considerable success. While bagpipes had become an essential element in Scottish folk bands they were much rarer in electric folk outfits, but were successfully integrated into their sound by Wolfstone from 1989, who focused on a combination of highland music and rock.

  • HOW THE IRISH AND THE SCOTS INFLUENCED AMERICAN MUSIC (here)

Brittany

Brittany also made a major contribution to Celtic rock. The Breton cultural revival of the 1960s was exemplified by Alan Stivell who became the leading proponent of the Breton harp and other instruments from about 1960, he then adopted elements of Irish, Welsh and Scottish traditional music in an attempt to create a pan-Celtic folk music, which had considerable impact elsewhere, particularly in Wales and Cornwall. From 1972 he began to play electric folk with a band including guitarists Dan Ar Braz and Gabriel Yacoub. Yacoub went on to form Malicorne in 1974 one of the most successful electric folk band in France. After an extensive career that included a stint playing as part of Fairport Convention in 1976, Ar Braz formed the pan-Celtic band Heritage des Celtes, who managed to achieve mainstream success in France in the 1990’s. Probably the best known and most certainly the most enduring electric folk band in France were Tri Yann formed in 1971 and still recording and performing today. In 2017 celtic-punk band Les Ramoneurs De Menhirs fly the flag for Brittany singing in their native language and playing regularly and often accompanied on stage by Louise Ebrel, daughter of Eugénie Goadec, a famous traditional Breton musician.

  • ALBUM REVIEW: LES RAMONEURS DE MENHIRS- ‘Tan Ar Bobl’ (here)

Wales

By the end of the 1960’s Wales had produced some important individuals and bands that emerged as major British or international artists, this included power pop outfit Badfinger, psychedelic rockers Elastic Band and proto-heavy metal trio Budgie. But although folk groupings formed in the early 1970’s, including Y Tebot Piws, Ac Eraill, and Mynediad am Ddim, it was not until 1973 that the first significant Welsh language rock band Edward H Dafis, originally a belated rock n’ roll outfit, caused a sensation by electrifying and attempting to use rock instrumentation while retaining Welsh language lyrics. As a result, for one generation listening to Welsh language rock music could now become a statement of national identity. This opened the door for a new rock culture but inevitably most Welsh language acts were unable to breakthrough into the Anglophone dominated music industry. Anhrefn became the best known of these acts taking their pop-punk rock sound across Europe from the early-80’s to mid-90’s.

  • TRIBUTE TO WELSH PUNK ROCK LEGENDS ANHREFN (here)

Cornwall and the Isle of Man

Whereas other Celtic nations already had existing folk music cultures before the end of the 1960s this was less true in Cornwall and the Isle of Man, which were also relatively small in population and more integrated into English culture and (in the case of Cornwall) the British State. As a result, there was relatively little impact from the initial wave of folk electrification in the 1970’s. However, the pan-Celtic movement, with its musical and cultural festivals helped foster some reflections in Cornwall where a few bands from the 1980s onwards utilised the traditions of Cornish music with rock, including Moondragon and its successor Lordryk. More recently the bands Sacred Turf, Skwardya and Krena, have been performing in the Cornish language.

  • ALBUM REVIEW: BARRULE- ‘Manannans Cloak’ (here)

Subgenres

Celtic Punk

Ireland proved particularly fertile ground for punk bands in the mid-1970s, including Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, The Radiators From Space, The Boomtown Rats and The Virgin Prunes. As with electric folk in England, the advent of punk and other musical trends undermined the folk element of Celtic rock, but in the early 1980s London based Irish band The Pogues created the subgenre Celtic punk by combining structural elements of folk music with a punk attitude and delivery. The Pogues’ style of punked-up Irish music spawned and influenced a number of Celtic punk bands, including fellow London-Irish band Neck, Nyah Fearties from Scotland, Australia’s Roaring Jack and Norway’s Greenland Whalefishers.

  • FROM OPPRESSION TO CELEBRATION- THE POGUES TO THE DROPKICK MURPHYS AND CELTIC PUNK (here)

Diaspora Celtic Punk

One by-product of the Celtic diaspora has been the existence of large communities across the world that looked for their cultural roots and identity to their origins in the Celtic nations. While it seems young musicians from these communities usually chose between their folk culture and mainstream forms of music such as rock or pop, after the advent of Celtic punk large numbers of bands began to emerge styling themselves as Celtic rock. This is particularly noticeable in the USA and Canada, where there are large communities descended from Irish and Scottish immigrants. From the USA this includes the Irish bands Flogging Molly, The Tossers, Dropkick Murphys, The Young Dubliners, Black 47, The Killdares, The Drovers and Jackdaw, and for Scottish bands Prydein, Seven Nations and Flatfoot 56. From Canada are bands like The Mahones, Enter the Haggis, Great Big Sea, The Real McKenzies and Spirit of the West. These groups were naturally influenced by American forms of music, some containing members with no Celtic ancestry and commonly singing in English. In England we have The BibleCode Sundays, The Lagan and others.

  • THE EFFECTS OF NEW DIASPORA CELTIC PUNK: THE CREATION OF A PAN-CELTIC CULTURE (here)

Celtic Metal

Like Celtic rock in the 1970s, Celtic metal resulted from the application of a development in English music, when in the 1990s thrash metal band Skyclad added violins, and with them jigs and folk voicings, to their music on the album The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth (1990). This inspired the Dublin based band Cruachan to mix traditional Irish music with black metal and to create the subgenre of Celtic metal. They were soon followed by bands such as Primordial and Waylander. Like Celtic punk, Celtic metal fuses the Celtic folk tradition with contemporary forms of music.

  • CELTIC-METAL’S TOP FIVE BANDS (here)

Influence

Whereas in England electric folk, after initial mainstream recognition, subsided into the status of a sub-cultural soundtrack, in many Celtic communities and nations it has remained at the forefront of musical production. The initial wave of Celtic rock in Ireland, although ultimately feeding into Anglo-American dominated progressive rock and hard rock provided a basis for Irish bands that would enjoy international success, including the Pogues and U2: one making use of the tradition of Celtic music in a new context and the other eschewing it for a distinctive but mainstream sound. Similar circumstances can be seen in Scotland albeit with a delay in time while Celtic rock culture developed, before bands like Runrig could achieve international recognition. Widely acknowledged as one of the outstanding voices in Celtic/rock is the Glasgow born Brian McCombe of The Brian McCombe Band, a pan Celtic group based in Brittany.

In other Celtic communities, and particularly where Celtic speakers or descendants are a minority, the function of Celtic rock has been less to create mainstream success, than to bolster cultural identity. A consequence of this has been the reinforcement of pan-Celtic culture and of particular national or regional identities between those with a shared heritage, but who are widely dispersed. However, the most significant consequence of Celtic rock has simply been as a general spur to immense musical and cultural creativity.

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ALBUM REVIEW: PLANXTY- ‘Between The Jigs And The Reels: A Retrospective’ (2017)

The word ‘legend’ gets chucked around with wild abandon these days but no other word seems fit to accompany an article on a band that truly were ground breaking and have gone onto have an everlasting effect on Irish music. Put together by Planxty themselves this is the ultimate retrospective of their music coming, as it does, with a DVD featuring over two hours of previously unreleased performances.

planxty-between-jigs-reels

Forty five years after Planxty formed back in January 1972 comes Between The Jigs And The Reels – A Retrospective. The band was made up of Christy Moore (vocals, acoustic guitar, bodhrán), Andy Irvine (vocals, mandolin, mandola, bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy, harmonica), Dónal Lunny (bouzouki, guitars, bodhrán, keyboards) and Liam O’Flynn (uilleann pipes, tin whistle). They released six studio albums starting with Planxty in 1973 and following with The Well Below the Valley (1973), Cold Blow and the Rainy Night (1974), After the Break (1979), The Woman I Loved So Well (1980) and finally Words And Music in 1983. At the time of that debut album their music was quite simply revolutionary and they popularized Irish folk music like no other band from that era.

planxty2

Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn, Donal Lunny and Christy Moore

Back in 1972 Christy Moore who was already a star in both the Irish and British folk scene’s had begun work on his second album and grouped around him some of the best musicians Ireland had to offer. His old friend from school in Newbridge, County Kildare, Dónal Lunny was a gifted multi-instrumentalist who had taught Moore how to play both guitar and bodhrán while the London born Andy Irvine of late-60’s Irish folk group Sweeney’s Men was a prominent figure on the Dublin trad scene and who co-ran a folk club with Lunny. Finally came Liam O’Flynn a true master of the uileann pipes. This group gelled instantly and with Christy Moore returned from England Planxty were born. With their bedraggled hair and bohemian image their music they literally took Ireland by storm. For the first time uileann pipes were accompanied by guitar, mandolin and bouzouki while Christy and Andy were possibly the finest singers of their generation. Although labelled Jigs And Reels the scope of the songs on this album is simply breathtaking from stirring tunes of war to gentle balllads and haunting airs. Planxty didn’t just play they also collected these songs saving many from obscurity or even death. Their music bridged the gap between the developing rock music scene in Ireland and the new wave of folk music musician.

There are seventeen songs here and it all begins with the tragic love story of an Irish emigrant to New Mexico ‘True Love Knows No Season’ and Liam O’Fynn’s beautiful piping is sure to send a shiver down the spine of listeners. Andy Irvine belts out the glorious ‘Pat Reilly’ followed by the instrumental ‘Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór’ while Christy returns to the fore to do ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’ a song that tells of the battles of the Gaels of Ireland fighting the English oppressors in the war that began hundreds of years ago.

‘Băneasă’s Green Glade / Mominsko Horo’ takes us back to Andy’s time living in Bucharest in the 1960’s swiftly followed by the instrumental ‘The Aconry Lasses / The Old Wheels Of The World / The Spike Island Lasses’ and then by ‘The Pursuit Of Farmer Michael Hayes’ as arranged by Christy Moore who still contends that their are several verses missing that he puts down to

“the realisation that it was opening time”

On ‘Accidentals / Aragon Mill’ the heartbreaking main song is preceded by a short acoustic guitar piece that he is joined together by Liam’s piping with ‘Aragon Mill’ which Andy learnt from the North Carolina singer songwriter Si Kahn.

“But there’s no smoke at all
Coming out of the stack
For the mill has closed down
And it’s not coming back”

In Si’s neck of the woods, cotton has always been of paramount importance and closing of a mill brings with it, not only unemployment, but also the end of a way of life, whether it be a cotton mill in North Carolina, Lancashire or Belfast.

“But the only tune I hear
Is the sound of the wind
As it blows through the town
Weave and spin, weave and spin”

‘The Irish Marche’ is an English composition from the 16th century written by William Byrd while ‘The Rambling Siúler’ is from the early-19th century and tells the odd tale of an Irish colonel and the lengths he will go to win fair maid. Having heard a version of ‘The Well Below The Valley’ where Christy is only accompanied on bodhrán it was nice to hear a full band version of this beautiful song. Planxty are back in full on jaunty mood next with another instrumental ‘Junior Crehan’s Favourite / Corney Is Coming’ before Andy sings ‘Roger O’Hehir’, the story of an not very good petty criminal whose career leads to the gallows. Now for that Balkan tune that seems to have ruffled a few reviewers feathers with ‘Smeceno Horo’ Not knowing much about this I’ll just leave the video up for you to decide.

With the album nearing the end perhaps three of the widest heard and better known songs finish the album starting with the stunning Andy Irvine composition ‘The West Coast Of Clare’.

“Sorrow and sadness, bitterness, grief
Memories I have of you, won’t leave me in peace
My mind is running back, to the west coast of Clare
Thinking of you, the times we had there”

The sensitive and definitive version of ‘Nancy Spain’ keeps the momentum building and has since been made famous by Christy during his solo career. Written by Barney Rush who also wrote ‘The Crack was Ninety in the Isle of Man’, which Christy has also recorded. Sadly Barney passed away back in 2014 and this wonderful song brings us up nicely to the album’s end and ‘Timedance’. Commissioned back in 1981 for the Eurovision song contest back when it was big news and back when Ireland use to win it every year! This was, in many ways, a precursor to Riverdance and was for millions around the Europe the first time they had ever heard authentic traditional Irish music and can be said to have had a lasting effect on Irish music’s popularity.

Planxty Re-Union Show, Live at Vicar Street, Dublin. February 2004

Compiled and chosen by the band themselves they could literally not squeeze another minute onto the CD with it clocking in at seventy-nine minutes. The CD comes with a bonus DVD of previously unreleased performances from the RTÉ (Irish Televison) archives that lasts over two hours. The care and attention that has gone into this release is breath taking with an absolute goldmine of recordings, TV appearances and live sets that does the band the justice they deserve. Planxty ruffled a few ‘trad snobs’ feathers when they were around the first time and some of the modern day era trad snobs may find the inclusion of harmonies, compositions, English songs and Balkan tunes somewhat odd but for me it only adds to what is one of the best traditional album’s I ever heard. Planxty were one of the major reasons for the revitalisation of Irish music that led eventually to the development of celtic-rock and then celtic-punk so do yourself a favour and check out this album and find out where we came from.

Buy The Album

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Contact The Band

ChristyMoore  AndyIrvine

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