It is quite a challenge for a band when it has to change suddenly its line-up, just a few weeks before playing at one of the world's most prestigious Celtic festivals. Danú, one of Ireland's current best young bands, have taken this challenge brilliantly, having taken the Danish Tønder Festival by storm though it was their first gig in new line-up.
The line-up change had become necessary because the band members had to decide whether to play music or continue studying or work. "Most of us were studying or had jobs. Now we get a lot of work, and you can't do both. Two lads had to go back to college, the other had to go back to work. So they decided to leave the band. It's good to have the new members; because it is bringing the band into a kind of new dimension."
Since their last tour, Danú has three new members; the new line-up had worked hard to practise their concert programme for Tønder in just a few weeks time. The result of this work was terrific; Danú's sound was very tight, very energetic, making their concerts to one of the highlights of this year's festival.
Danú's former fiddler Daire Bracken is now replaced by Jesse Smith, the son of Cherish the Ladies' Donna Long, while Noel Ryan takes the place of their former guitarist Timmy Murray. The former singer of the band, the great Cárthach Mac Craith, is replaced by a good friend of him, Ciarán o Gealbháin. Ciarán is one of the best traditional Gaelic singers I have ever heard; singer Niamh Parsons also says that for her there is only Sean Keane, and then him. Besides being a brilliant singer, Ciarán also plays the piano box. He is happy to join Danú replacing his friend. Says he, "It's nice actually to come into the band and sing in the state of a singer of the calibre of Cárthach. It's very challenging as well, because he is such a great singer, and he would have been a big influence on me when I was starting singing. I was talking to him a couple of days before we left for Tønder, he has given me a bit of advice and all that."
Coming from the Ring Gaeltacht in the South of Ireland, Ciarán has learnt a lot of songs when growing up. "My grand father is a great fiddle player, my father is an accordion player as well. And the music was all in the house, the fact that I used to play music, and that I used to sing songs. There wouldn't have been a very strong singing tradition in my family. It was just the area I suppose, there are a lot of great singers around there, and I always liked to sing. I did practise and practise, and I got a bit better in it. I think there is still a lot to learn, but I am still young, and it takes a long time to learn a lot of songs. But I am getting there, and I am enjoying it."
In Danú, Ciarán not only sings songs from his area, but also a lot of different songs, songs that all in the band like. "But my particular favourite singing is the singing from the area that I actually come from. And these songs would just be in the area, and I learnt from older singers, even singers that have deceased, there are recordings - I think it's a great challenge to take a recording that might have been popular 40 years ago, and learn the song from that recording, and maybe reviving it, if it isn't a song that has actually been sung too much. It's a challenge." It's also exciting for him taking some of the really old songs, and working out arrangements with the band.
Before their unexpected line up change, Danú have had a very busy and successful year. Since their debut at the Tønder Festival last year, Danú toured America last September, followed by quite a few gigs in Ireland, last January having done a benefit concert at the National Concert Hall in Ireland. After a tour in Denmark, they had the interesting experience to do a Jazz Festival in Norway. Benny McCarthy remembers, "we were the only folk band there - it was a bit crazy, but it was great. The people they loved our music, amazingly, because they all loved Jazz. We did two late night gigs, with all other concerts already finished, and we got great comments after the concerts. It was really really great." Then there was that students festival in Portugal. "It goes on for seven days; they have there 20 000 students, and they have a festival week every year. So we were the only Irish band that played; there played a few Portuguese bands, and some rock bands whatever, it's been a young people's festival." Then another tour in the States, playing at festivals, theatres and folk clubs, their first two gigs in Canada, then to Northern Spain, Galicia and Asturias. After that they did the Dranouter World Music Festival in Belgium; being now also on this year's festival compilation CD. And then the line-up reshuffle, working out new pieces for their highlight of the year – Tønder Festival.
Says Benny, "For us, this festival is a major influence; it's a huge experience. It's totally different, it's like – you are going to perform with other bands; it's not really like a competition, but you have to try and do your best – you are kind of a little bit in pressure." Tønder Festival is in so far a challenge for the musicians playing there as they know that the audience is really listening to the music, they pay very good attention; making it necessary to play well. And it is a very big stage for traditional bands.
"It's funny like to be on a stage with a big band, with drum kits, and bass and electric guitar, whatever, and the next act coming on might just have acoustic guitar and bouzouki, or yesterday – you first had a band, and then you had Joe Derrane on his own – and he got the same reception of the audience. The reception is great for all the bands, they kind of adapt to all what the band expects, like for a solo singer, they like the silence and the little bit of attraction. The crowds are amazing, they kind of adapt to the different band, they give them what they want. Everyone is happy – the people are happy, and then the bands as well."
Danú have experienced also that Tønder Festival is one of the best places to get pushed, to become better known. "It's a great exposure in Europe. We meet a lot of promoters, and a lot of people from different festivals, events or whatever, it is great you know. It's like promotion every year."
The work of Danú is now more and more becoming a full time job, though Benny says that it takes a long time. "We have done a long way in such a short time. There are quite a few record companies actually interested in working with us. Up to now we have done all on our own, we worked with different agents in other countries, but we basically do it ourselves, everything – from writing biographies to sending CDs to answer the telephone. It's the best way to do it."
Danú are now about to record their second CD, which should be very well worth to look forward to. Without doubt, a bright future awaits for these young men who are giving traditional Irish Music a new, energetic and young appeal, capturing worldwide the hearts of anybody who likes Irish Trad music, and even all those Norwegian Jazz fans...
Photo Credit: All photos by the Mollis:
(1) Danú's Tom, Jesse and Benny (l.t.r.)
(2) Danú's Ciarán (right) with Aoife Clancy and Niamh Parsons (left)
(1) Danú's Donnchadh, Tom, Jesse, Benny and Eamonn (l.t.r.)
(3) Danú's Tom, Jesse and Benny (l.t.r.)
Latest published CD: Danú (own label)
Contact: Homepage of Danú
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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 12/98
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