On the heels of their 1979 US tour – the longest by any Irish band back then – a five-piece Clannad fetched up in Germany having their live show recorded by Radio Bremen. Previously unbroadcast, the recently resurfaced recordings are now available as Turas 1980 (“an turas” meaning “a journey”), a twenty-track double album. Drawing on the band’s early output, the album also features some otherwise unrecorded tracks. It’s a collector’s dream.
It also represents a fascinating point in the band’s evolution. After ten years together, this Donegal family group was on the cusp of achieving unimaginable mainstream global success. Yet here they are, unaware of what’s yet to come, just happy playing to their strong German fanbase.
The live radio recording was a first for the band and Máire Brennan recalls how nervous they all were, although it doesn’t show. This is intensely powerful, rooted and earthy music with a curious timelessness. In tunes like opener ‘Turas Carolan’, the beguiling air of ‘Paddy’s Rambles Through The Fields’ or ‘The Old Couple’, there’s almost a sense of a timeslip: a sidelong glimpse revealing something ancient, raw and deep from the land.
The tracks here also lack much of the misty ethereality characteristic of some of Clannad’s later output, although the roots of it can clearly be heard in songs like ‘Siúil a Rún’ and the bell-like ‘Dúlamán’. The band’s legendary tight harmonies and Moya Brennan’s cool flowing water vocals are beautifully represented, particularly on ‘Valparaiso’ and ‘Máire Bhruinneall’.
The musical tightness and versatility of the band is evident, too. A standard like ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’ may be taken at a respectful, stately pace, but an entirely different mood emerges from the looser, jazzy bass interludes of ‘Níl Sé’n Lá’ that closes the album.
As to sound quality, the music is excellent with all the band parts crisply audible and a pure clean sound. During the often drily witty between-song chat, there is some quality loss and distracting ambient noise, but it’s a small price to pay for an otherwise excellent live recording. It does repay quality audio replay, as the lossy formats don’t really do it justice.
Surviving members of Clannad were involved in bringing this album to fruition and it stands proudly both as an historical memento and a bittersweet memorial to absent friends: to founder Pádraig Duggan, as well as “father of the band” Leo Brennan. It’s a glorious and appropriate tribute.
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A selection of Clannad songs recorded in 1978: