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This article by David McDonough was prepared for the June 11, 2003
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Radiant Sounds from Ireland to America
It’s pronounced "EE-fa," meaning
in Irish — and it fits. Aoife Clancy, who will be appearing at
Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton on Saturday, June 14, has a voice
that shines like the sun after a summer rain.
Aoife Clancy has been a fixture on the folk circuit for over 10 years
now, first as a solo act, then as the vocalist for the traditional
Irish super-group, Cherish the Ladies, and since 1999 as a solo act
again. She has released three CDs, the first "It’s About
in 1993, and the second, "Soldiers and Dreams" in 1997. Her
most recent album, "Silvery Moon," came out on Appleseed
in August, 2002.
"`Silvery Moon’ is more me, I think," says Clancy in a phone
interview as she relaxes in a hammock in the back yard of her
"It really shows who I am. It’s a nice combination, and I had
time to think about the songs I wanted to put on there. I love both
contemporary songs and traditional ones, but when you are making a
CD, you’re concerned about the blend. If you do too many songs from
all over, it’s a mish-mash.
"I filled `Silvery Moon’ with songs I wanted like `The Sliprails
and the Spur,’ which is a beautiful poem written by the 19th-century
Australian poet Henry Lawson. And I wanted to do more contemporary
songs like `The Nightbird’ by Mark Simos — he’s a songwriter from
California now living on the East Coast."
In fact, "Silvery Moon" succeeds admirably in accomplishing
exactly what Clancy set out to do. The album is just about half
from the Appalachian "Across the Blue Mountains" to the Scots
tale of how "The Earl of March’s Daughter" met an unhappy,
if not unexpected end — we are not giving too much away (or
if we hint that love had something to do with it.
In a more contemplative vein, Clancy includes another Mark Simos tune,
"Giving." There is also a lovely version of "Kisses
than Wine," performed with her father, Bobby Clancy, and a
optimistic song that she sings in memory of 9/11, "There is
It’s a first-rate collection of songs, and all enhanced by Clancy’s
strong clear mezzo with its natural range.
"There is Hope" was written by the singer Robbie O’Connell,
Clancy’s cousin, and that is just the tip of the family iceberg. Two
other cousins, Donnchadh Gough and Donal Clancy, play with the
high-energy traditional band Danu. And her brother, Finbarr Clancy,
is readying a solo album.
But to Irish music fans of an older age, the name Clancy conjures
up the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, the singers who introduced
a whole generation of Americans to Irish folk songs in the late 1950s
and early ’60s. The original line-up included Paddy, Tom, and Liam
Clancy. Tommy Makem left the group in the late ’60s, and Bobby Clancy,
who had made a name for himself as a solo act in his native land,
crossed the water to join his brothers. When Bobby Clancy died last
September, he left the memory of a warm voice and a winning stage
personality, and another legacy, his daughter, Aoife.
"But I was painfully shy," recalls Aoife Clancy. "I would
run upstairs and hide when I heard people coming in — I didn’t
know what to say to them. Still, I loved singing and acting, even
though I had to struggle to get up in front of people. A lot of people
in this business are like that."
Encouragement from her father helped. Bobby Clancy
with his brothers and recorded, but nothing made him happier than
playing in pubs and at gatherings for his friends around their home
county of Tipperary, and he made sure Aoife enjoyed it too —
she wanted to or not.
"When I was in my teens, and friends called at the door and were
going to the disco, my father would say, `What are you going to learn
at a disco? There’s a lovely seisiun (session, an informal
gathering of musicians) going on down the road. Why don’t you come
out and we’ll have a bit of craic (crack, a good time).’ I
didn’t want to go to the bloody seisiun, but I couldn’t say
no to him. And of course, I would end up having a great time, and
learning a lot."
A girl’s got to get away on her own sometime, though, and at 19, Aoife
made her way to Dublin, where she studied drama at the Gaiety Theater.
Her dream was to be a famous actress, but being a Clancy came into
"An old friend of my parents was living in Australia and belonged
to some sort of Irish society out there," she remembers. "They
were bringing Irish musicians over for St. Patrick’s Day. He heard
me and asked me to come over for six weeks. I packed my guitar and
off I went. I enjoyed it, and more work came, and I just ended up
taking that road. But I love acting, and I’ve always wanted to do
more of it. It’s hard to combine acting and music, and anyway, at
36, I’m too old."
Not long after, Aoife Clancy followed the familiar path to America.
"In Ireland," she says, "you have to be strictly
or strictly contemporary; it’s hard to combine the two. When I came
over here, I felt I got work much easier. On the other hand, there
were always people who said, `Oh, I thought you would do more Irish
stuff.’ Sometimes I think when you’re Irish, you’re branded with a
shamrock, and that’s a little frustrating. Now that I’ve been here
a few years, I’ve established myself and who I am, and I don’t have
to deal with that so much."
Clancy did turn back to the strictly Irish stuff, though, in 1993,
when Joannie Madden, the leader of Cherish the Ladies, asked her to
join the group. She ended up staying five years, but there was some
inner conflict. The singer in a traditional Irish band seldom performs
more than a few times per set, and that can be frustrating.
Aoife explains: "You’ll often see in folk groups that it’s the
vocalist who wants a solo career. I just felt like, do I want to
doing just three songs a night? It was a big decision to make —
you’re playing these big houses and theaters, selling CDs, and the
fun; we used to have such fun on the road, but I just wanted to do
more of my own stuff. They were open to my doing more, but it was
me wanting to be off on my own."
She admits to missing the camaraderie, but has found solace in the
occasional tours she does with Pennsylvania-based singer Anne Hills
and the English vocalist Belinda "Bill" Jones, under the nom
de gig Faire Winds. And in her own appearances, Clancy usually has
a couple of musicians with her, although that can be a problem, too.
They tend to leave, just like a vocalist with a traditional band.
"It’s a constant struggle to find good musicians," she says.
"Just when you get somebody you’re happy with, then they start
their own group. You can’t blame them, but it’s `Here I go, looking
for more musicians.’ — Fortunately, I found Matt Heaton, a great
guitar player, and his wife Shannon, who plays flute, whistle, and
accordion, and I very much enjoy working with them."
There are two questions that always come up with Aoife Clancy. One
is, "What’s with the hair?" and the other, "Where do you
get your songs?" As far as we know, the questions are unrelated.
Aoife has a fine, wild, curly mane, that appears
on the cover of each of her CDs. On "It’s About Time," she
let it run free. She tamed it for "Soldier and Dreams," as
she went for a sultry, come-hither look. By contrast, the hairstyle
on "Silvery Moon" is quite sedate, as she poses by the
track, with guitar, in approved folkie style. She laughs as the hair
question comes up again, and she confides, "Well, I’ve just got
it cut again. It’s short, it’s still curly, and" — her voice
sinks to a confidential whisper — "it’s a little blonde. Just
for the summer."
The songs? "Oh, you must be constantly out looking for new
Constantly, constantly. It’s funny, but a lot of my friends are
and you might hear a song and think that nobody’s doing it. But the
minute you hear a song that nobody has, you can be sure someone will
She’s trying her own hand at songwriting these days, but admits that
she is her own harshest critic. Her father’s recent death has inspired
her to write some very personal things.
"My father just passed away when `Silvery Moon’ came out. I had
said to the record company, `I want my father on it.’ There was a
song that we used to sing and I said, `That’s it.’ We sat down with
two mikes and did it. It’s a tribute to him, and I’m so glad he got
to hear it. `Always be yourself onstage,’ he used to say. I had gone
through a stage where I thought I had to act a certain way onstage.
My father said, `Be yourself and they’ll see that. If you are up there
and you’re having fun, they’ll see that.’"
One of Bobby Clancy’s last performances was at Paper Mill Playhouse
in Milburn, in concert with his musical offspring. The look of pride
on his face as he stood watching his children was evident. It was
the smile of a man who knows he has passed along something good.
Aoife Clancy, through the songs he taught her and the songs she has
learned on her own, and the fun that she has onstage, that smile lives
— David McDonough
Road, Hamilton, 609-689-1089. Celtic and acoustic music co-sponsored
by Concerts at the Crossing. Dinner by Souffle in the cafe before
the concert. Jennifer Erb opens. Concert $18. Saturday, June 14,
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