FolkWorld article by Christian Moll:

Clannad Connections

The whole story started when 16 year old Thomas Loefke went to his first ever Irish concert of Clannad in the Seventies. Today, the German from Berlin plays harp in a band along with Clannad's own Duggan brothers.

Thomas Loefke; photo by The Mollis Born in 1958 in the German Blackforest, Thomas has heard his first ever Irish record at the age of 14, being the Fureys, two years later he has visited his first ever Irish concert, being Clannad. "When I went to that concert, I saw for my first time ever a harp; the instrument fascinated me, and I directly thought that's the instrument for me." With 18 he bought himself a harp, his first instrument. Soon after that, he went over to Dublin to study politics; during this time he received harp tuition from the likes of Helen Davies, Aine Ní Dh&uuacute;ill and Máire Ní Cháthasaigh. "In Germany, during that time, there were not many harp players around to learn from; but in Ireland it was different. So it was just the logic consequence to learn over there." He soon began also composing tunes.
Obviously his lessons were successful, as since then he has represented Germany at the European Broadcasting Festival in Norway in 1989, and even won first price at the O'Carolan Festival in Ireland.

All the time, he went regularly to see Clannad in concerts, and with the time they became close friends. At some stage the idea arose that they should do some work together. And that was the time when the band Norland Wind started, with Thomas Loefke on Celtic harp, Germany based Scotsman Ian Melrose (guitar/whistles), German Kerstin Blodig (vocals, guitar), Noel (vocals, guitar) & Pádraig (vocals, madolin, guitar, keyboards) Duggan of Clannad and Peter Jakk on bass. Their debut album with this line-up appeared in 1994, lisenced to the international Celtic Heartbeat label, and Norland Wind toured also several times in Germany.

So what was it like for Thomas, suddenly playing in the same band with his musical heroes? "Great. I can't say it in another way – it was nice, and it still is nice." Thomas thinks that for the Duggans, it was a welcome possibility to play once again in small clubs, as they have done with Clannad 20 years ago.

Norland Wind have been part of the German St Patrick's Day Celebration Tour of Petr Pandula in 1995, at that time as a four piece with Thomas, Kerstin and the Duggans. With the SPDC tour they have played also in bigger halls, but afterwards they have toured two weeks on their own to play in the smaller clubs. "That was nearly better fun than playing in the big halls. Because our music is based very much on being in touch with the audience; and for that, an intimate atmosphere is helpful", says Kerstin.

The name ‚Norland Wind' actually comes from Kerstin Blodig, and Thomas has toured Germany before already with Kerstin or Ian as a duo. Today, Norland Wind has two different line-ups: The small one with only Thomas, Kerstin and Ian, and once a year for a tour the big one with the Duggans and a bassist. "Both is good fun – it's different venues, a different character of the concerts, and also a different programme."

Thomas Loefke; photo by The Mollis The two bands, Norland Wind and Clannad, are closely connected – while the Duggan brothers join once a year Norland Wind for a tour, Clannad have invited Norland Wind's Ian Melrose to join the band, as Clannad were looking for a guitarist. The Clannad connection allowed the German-Irish band also to release their album on Celtic Heartbeat. "Celtic Heartbeat was founded by the management of U 2 and the management of Clannad, and as Norland Wind is a production with Clannad musicians involved, and Celtic Heartbeat at that time were just starting to get together a repertoire, they were happy to release the album – and we were, too." And has the international contract brought advantages? "Yes, it is something different – when he toured with Clannad, Ian has looked from time to time where the CD was available – so it can be found in the shops all over the world; but that does not mean we are having huge CD sales worldwide, it just means that we could theoretically have them. And that is at least better than not having the theoretical possibility." Still, Norland Wind's composition ‚The Snowy Birchtrees', to be found on the sampler CD ‚A Celtic Heartbeat Christmas', reached in December '96 number 3 in the American World Music Charts.

The lead singer of Norland Wind is the German Kerstin Blodig, singing in English, Irish and Swedish. Having started at the age of 5 on the flute, she discovered soon that she was fascinated by anything related to music. She started playing piano, then also string instruments, and sang in a choir; that was the start of her musical biography. Today she is also the half of the excellent Berlin based duo Touchwood where she - along with Cristina Crawley hailing from Northern Ireland – does some superb, exciting and unusual vocal interpretations of traditional and own songs.

Singing in Irish, Kerstin still does not know the Irish language. It is not that difficult to sing in a language she does not know, says she; "I have images going along in my head with these songs, as I do have with any song I sing. It is like a movie – I am seeing the things I am just singing about; and of course, my friends have told me before what the songs are about. Also, I do know already some of the words I am singing." She thinks that the Irish find it quite funny that she sings in Irish not knowing the language. Thomas remembers when he was once on a radio tour in Ireland, from radio station to radio station; and when he was in the Gaeltachts in Kerry and Connemara, the people were enthusiasitc about Kerstin's singing and could not believe that Kerstin comes from Germany. "We have two very competent techers in the band who teach us", he adds.

Up to now, the German members of Norland Wind have only played on their own in Ireland; the band as a whole has not been there yet . They have made very positive experiences playing as Germans Irish Music in Ireland; Thomas points out that it seems the Irish have much less problems than many Germans with the fact that Germans play Irish Music.
He hopes to come over also with Norland Wind some time...

Photo: Thomas Loefke; by The Mollis

More Infos and Contact Addresses at the homepage of Norland Wind's Ian Melrose.

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