Ceol an chroí

Face to Face with Moya Brennan

By Kelly Cassidy

Talented Irish singer / songwriter Moya Brennan has stood the test of time in the music industry in Irish family group Clannad.  The band is responsible for such timeless music as Theme From Harry’s Game, In a lifetime, in which Moya duetted with Bono, I will Find You and the sound track to the Robin Of Sherwood TV series, which won a Bafta for best original TV music. Moya recently finished her final tour with Clannad in October.  Since then she has been touring the US and Germany with Cormac de Barra for their Voices and Harps tour.  Journalist and Spirit Radio presenter Kelly Cassidy caught up with Moya while she was home for Christmas.

Do you ever miss the days performing in your hometown of Gweedore in Donegal before becoming famous?

There was an excitement at the beginning, which is difficult to recreate. I still perform in the family pub regularly and have started a monthly singer-songwriter night which has been amazing. I can see touches of myself as a young girl when I hear some of the youthful talent that's up there. It's a special place.

Who is the most inspirational person in your life?

I could think of all kinds of epic people but I'd always come back to my Mum and Dad. My Dad for his gentleness and kindness and my Mum for being so organised when she had nine children to bring up.

What’s the best and worst things about touring with your family?

Best things are obviously an instinctive understanding and anticipation of what we do best. We've been playing music and singing together since very young so there's a lot of 'shorthand' when we write and record.  Worst things?  I suppose the same that any siblings go through when they know someone so well. 

In September 2013, Clannad released "Nadur" your first studio album in 15 years.  Tell me about your recent recordings?

Nádur is my last release but I have been enjoying recording with harpist, Cormac De Barra, who has been playing with me for ten years. We have released two Voices & Harps albums, the latest, called Affinity in 2013. It's a great opportunity to rediscover and record some of the wonderful traditional songs and tunes I've always loved. Cormac has been a great inspiration to me and, in my opinion, is far and away the best harpist in Ireland. We perform in a very stripped down way - either just the two of us or with one other musician and I love the simplicity and purity of playing like this.

Clannad put Irish traditonal music on the map. Do you think it also influenced the Irish language since many tracks are in Gaelic?

How much of an influence is difficult to say but I do know that when we started speaking Irish was quite uncool unlike now. Harry's Game, our biggest hit, is the only Irish language song to get into the UK Top Ten and feature on Top of the Pops!

Some would say you reached the top when you got to perform the soundtrack for the blockbuster movie King Arthur? What did that feel like?

That was an amazing experience. I spent a lot of time with Hans Zimmer in his studio in Santa Monica and he made me feel so welcome and valuable. When he asked me to co-write the end-credits song, I couldn't believe it.

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to face in life?

Writing my autobiography! It was a really difficult process of serious reflection and being prompted to remember things almost forgotten. I had a very dark period in my life, which I knew I had to describe and despite having come through it all with God's grace it still wasn't easy.

If there’s one thing you could change, what would it be?

I take my life as it as and have learned to live with my mistakes. You can't dwell on things you did wrong or have too many regrets. You have to move on, improve and build on the positive things.

As a Christian, how do you stay close to God being part of the world of celebrities and media?

 I try to have a quiet time with the Lord every morning. It’s really important on tour - travelling and being in new places all the time so it keeps me grounded

What's the most recent passage from the bible you have read?

I read the bible every day and most recently it’s been Psalms 27 and 103 and Proverbs 15

What do you love about God?

My favourite thing about the Lord is knowing that when I wake up and face the day I'm not doing it on my own.

Have you had a personal experience that has shaped you in anyway?

I wouldn't say that there any big personal experiences that have shaped my life. I'm more aware of lots of little things that continue to encourage me daily.

What’s your favourite place to travel to?

The most special place is Africa. I have visited Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania with CBM (the charity Christian Blind Mission) and been very moved by the people I met there.

Who is the most famous person you’ve ever performed in front of?

I have performed in front of various kings, queens and presidents but perhaps the most significant person was Pope John Paul II. In 2001, I was invited to sing Perfect Time at the first World Youth Day in a huge area outside Rome. I believe it was the largest gathering ever of people in one place in Europe - around 2.3 million. It was literally an awesome experience to look out from the stage and not be able to be able to see the back of the crowd. Pope John Paul II was on the stage behind me - it was just before the Prayer Vigil.  A great privilege to be invited. 

What’s the best thing about performing at home?

No travel, no airports, no packing or any of that stressful stuff! To be appreciated by your neighbours, friends and peers is the ultimate thumbs up for what I'm doing.

What advice would you give to young musicians/artists?

Don't be attracted by the fame! Not that it is not attractive but it's far more satisfying in the long run to continue to enjoy your art and music. If you're serious about it it will show in your performances and all the other stuff will fall into place. Fame passes quickly but talent will always grow and be enjoyed more and more by others.

What do you like to do for leisure time on your days off?

Days off - what are they? With so much traveling in my work I do make it a priority to relax and recharge my batteries. I love doing stuff around the house and particularly like decorating and painting. We live in an old house so there are always things to be done.

Your husband Tim is a well-known photographer, and fell in love while doing a shoot for youWhat’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done recently?

The simplest things are always the most romantic. Walking the dog and being together.