In this brief sojourn to Ireland, for some neo-folk goodies, lets not forget a true behemoth of Celtic music: Clannad. Now famously known for giving us oodles of egregiously bad tin-whistle and keyboard-laden approximations of Irish new age music, and introducing the world to the wonderful Enya (who I’ll defend to no end!)…before, there was a time when they were true groundbreakers/trailblazers for a new kind of Celtic folk music and yet another rung in English neo-folk.

Their self-titled debut (or known as the Pretty Maid in Canada/elsewhere) sung primarily in their native Gaelic language found ways to combine the Irish folk they had tons of experienced playing with from a young age with more modern recording techniques. Think multi-tracked vocals, analog string synthesizers and the like. They knew they could never quite get that sound of yore, and decided to ramp up the mystical aspect of it, and play with it like a jazz band. Its no wonder some of their early influences were groups like the Pentangle who saw folk music as an improvising tool of form.

Clannad back cover.

Led by three family siblings, Moya, Ciaran and Pol Brennan, from very northern part of Ireland (Gweedore) and their twin uncles they’d record songs picked up by ear playing in some of the most remote regions of Ireland. All proficient musicians in traditional instruments like bodhran, bouzouki, mandolins, Celtic harp, and many more, they knew enough to exactly know how to tweak a song to make it decidedly modern. Adding electric parts and heavy drums also distinguished them from their much more traditional peers, lending them an air of progressiveness that other artists like Horslips and Alan Stivell would explore.

For now take a listen to two inspiring selections from this album one tough as nails “Siúbhán Ní Dhuibhir” and one a very pensive Irish immigrant elegy “An tOileán Úr” singing about the dream of an immigrant returning to their homeland (one which sadly rarely happens) which can be transposed to many other diasporas. The album itself is far worthy of your time as well. One more Irish-born English neo-folk callout tomorrow, then we move on further…

Listen to Clannad at Grooveshark.

Bonus track, a bit later performance of theirs of “An Bealach Seo ‘Tá Romham” an unreleased track from the same Clannad sessions: