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Clannad – The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester: Live Review

In this strange land… Coronavirus denied as Clannad put on a show for a sold-out and defiant Manchester crowd. Their In A Lifetime final tour hits the grand Bridgewater Hall.

A nostalgic evening that many wouldn’t have wanted to miss too. One that certainly won’t come round again. However, the smattering of empty seats meant that health came first for many and at least allowed some of us to enjoy the show while self-isolating, well away from anyone, on the back row.

A shame too as the occasion demanded and delivered an all-encompassing career-spanning set. Taking the stage as a family of four with three acoustic guitars, we travelled back to the early days when they were making their mark as an Irish band playing songs rooted deep in their own culture. The voice of a generation, Moya Brennan stage centre, an ethereal presence as she caressed the harp and sang like an angel. Ciarán Brennan sporting the dark glasses, little hat, Van Morrison look; Pól Brennan doing what passed for some gentle rabble-rousing in the jauntier numbers while swapping around an arsenal of instruments; Noel Duggan sat discreetly at the back and if you were in line with Moya you may not even have noticed him.

A grateful welcome and no small thanks that they were remaining “one step ahead of what’s going down” followed Moya’s solo introduction – the hold your breath moment – that heralded proceedings. The four ran the gamut of music from their early days, pretty much I’d guess as to how they performed in the early seventies. The Mermaid and then dipping as far back as their entry into song competitions from 1970.

Finding themselves supplemented by a further trio that included Ged Lynch on drums, there was plenty of harp to keep the ethereal counter ticking and a chance too to sing along with Moya. The opportunity that no-one should pass but no way could anyone match her. Two Sisters, all umpteen verses (and choruses) lifted the roof after it’s auspicious start before we crept into the new age with Ciarán and Pól stepping behind the keys to provide that distinctive Clannad wash.

Bringing things more up to date in the second half, ie, more songs sung in English and the brand new Celtic Dream. The one ‘new’ song in the set, its words are prophetic for a band who celebrate half a decade of music-making. “It was such a long time ago, we didn’t have a care in the world.”

They even did ‘the hits’ – Harry’s game, Closer To Your Heart, I Will Find You, In A Lifetime all making the show seem like a game of two halves. Herne’s son, Robin Of Sherwood,  also still looms very large in the Clannad consciousness. Aside from the Hooded Man/Marian/Herne/Strange Land/Ancient Forest medley, Clannad music made its way into the series via Newgrange and second set opener Caislean Oir also featured in the series – I’m a RoS bore so could even pinpoint particular scenes.

There was probably no other way Clannad could say goodbye other than with Down By The Salley Gardens. For some, their signature tune and a poignant farewell to a musical family the likes of which are a rare jewel.

Their In A Lifetime album is reviewed here.

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Clannad online:  Website / Facebook / Youtube / Instagram

Photography by Mike Ainscoe. You can find more of Mike’s work on the At The Barrier Facebook page.

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