As she releases her first ever live album Moya Brennan, the Godmother of Celtic music, talks to Jonathan Langley about Irish music, heart worship and the importance of growing up in the Church...
Q: You and Clannad have been credited with inventing Celtic music. Looking at the shelves full of ‘Celtic’ albums of one type or another now, do you ever regret it?
A: Well, that was one of the reasons I did my Celtic Christmas album, because I kept on seeing ‘Celtic’ Christmases. To me it’s great that people have copied it. It’s a huge compliment to us. Some of them do it quite well, but then some of them don’t. Maybe because they don’t have the experience of being in the country. There’s a lot of Celtic Praise things done in America by people who’ve never set foot in Ireland in their lives. I do think people have jumped on the bandwagon a little bit in using the word, though, and that’s nearly given it a bad name.
Q: What’s the attraction of the Celtic sound above other styles of World Music?
A: There’s something about Irish music that people love. It’s amazing. No matter where you go, be it China, Japan or South America, people are able to relate to it. My theory about this is that long ago, in the 600s and 700s, God used Ireland in such a mighty way with our missionaries, who went to South America, Asia, Europe and even Britain. And when Irish people emigrated they brought their culture with them. It [the music] seems to have been woven in, like a tapestry.
Q: Do you think it is important for people to sing in their own cultural style and ‘heart-language’?
A: We all worship in different ways, whether it’s quietly, dancing around the place or whatever. We’re not all meant to worship the same way. If somebody gets a lot from Matt Redman’s songs, then that’s right. And if somebody gets as much from their own language then that’s right. It’s an inner decision. I mean, I love the old hymns as well. I’m actually working on a hymns album, and I want to include the new ones, traditional ones, the Gaelic ones and even the Latin ones, because I think it’s all good. You’re not going to stand before God and say: “This is the best way to worship you.”
Q: You’ve experienced great success, but what role has God played during the darker times?
A: My parents are wonderful churchgoers, and that aspect of my life was always there. Even when I chose to ignore it, when I thought it wasn’t for me and I did the wrong things in my life, and nobody knew that inside I was missing something. I was a real party girl and I loved being on stage, but I knew there was an emptiness there. And any time I would go home to Donegal, I would always join my mother’s choir there, so there was always a niggle there.
Q: So your upbringing helped?
A: It is so important to raise your child in some sort of church – it doesn’t matter if it’s boring to them – just so they know who God is. Because when those dark times came upon me, I knew where to turn. I went into the back of a church, it didn’t matter what church, and just sat there and talked to God. I think what’s happening with young people now is that their parents are saying, “Oh, if you want religion, you can choose your own way when you’re 15 or whenever.” It’s like saying to a child, “Oh go to school when you want to.” You know, suicide rates in Ireland at the moment are just huge and I really believe that when you’re in that place and you really haven’t got anybody to lean on, if there’s nothing there, it must be awful. So thank God I did have somebody to lean on. I was screaming for help in my own little way, and even in that I was half reluctant, but God could hear me. I just knew he was there. He was waiting for me.
Heart Strings is out now!
Moya Brennan (born Máire Ní Bhraonáin) began her musical career with several members of her family in a band called Clannad. Clannad took traditional Irish music into the pop charts in the 1970s and 80s, spawning not just Brennan’s career, but that of her sister, Enya.
Brennan went solo in the early 90s and was nominated for a Grammy in 2001. In total, she has made 25 albums and sold more than 20 million records. Brennan has collaborated with Bono, Ronan Keating, Van Morrison and Shane McGowan, and once played for 2.1 million people, including the Pope. Her vocal style and the musical genre created by Clannad have been credited with creating the contemporary Celtic sound made popular in Riverdance and the music from Titanic.