Irish music legend Donal Lunny talks about his new project Atlantic Arc Orchestra and his role as producer to some of Ireland’s most acclaimed albums.
PRODUCER, composer, guitar and bouzouki player Donal Lunny has been at the forefront of music in Ireland for decades – the list of trailblazing Irish music groups speaks for itself – Planxty, The Bothy Band, Moving Hearts, Coolfin and in recent years Mozaik. He has produced albums for Kate Bush, Baaba Maal, Elvis Costello and Fairground Attraction, to name a few.
Donal picked up the Gradam Lifetime Achievement award this year and also added Folk Alliance International Award in September.
At the young age of 70, Donal has no intention of slowing down. His latest project brings highly regarded musicians from Brittany, Scotland, Wales and Ireland for the Atlantic Arc Orchestra. Their tour comes to Lime Tree Theatre next week.
Atlantic Arc Orchestra is Donal Lunny; Jarlath Henderson (uilleann pipes) played with Lau, Capercaillie and Paddy Keenan; Pauline Scanlon (vocals) of Lumiere; Pádraig Rynne (concertina) part of ground-breaking band NOTIFY; Aidan O’Rourke (fiddle) – the Scottish musician is a founder member of folk acts Lau and Blazin’ Fiddles; Sylvain Barou (uilleann pipes, flutes) from Brittany Sylvain has recorded with Guidewires, Altan, Guichen and Trilok Gurtu; Ewen Vernal (bass) played with Deacon Blue and Marillion’s Fish; John Blease (drums) toured with Paolo Nutini, Anthony & The Johnsons and Ellie Goulding.
Donal describes the project as a “brilliant line up of people.” The musicians share a Celtic heritage that makes up this Atlantic Arc.
“It is not always obvious in the music but there is a general cohesion of some kind of tribal culture among Celts.”
For an upcoming RTE programme Donal travelled to Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, Isle of Man, Brittany, and Galicia.
He followed the Celtic songlines on a journey of musical discovery along Europe’s western coasts. He met and played with musicians and illustrated the cultural ties, between the countries.
That series called Línte Ceoil Cheiltigh – The Celtic Songlines starts on RTE next week.
Atlantic Arc Orchestra and their music reflect this musical synergy among Celtic nations. The group has played shows at Gradam Ceoil and the Celtic Connections Concert.
Rehearsal and preparation have involved exchanging MP3s and ideas as the players are scattered across the continent, explains Donal.
“The basic scaffolding has to be in place and we have done that very fast. Everybody is really on the case.
“Some new ideas have been explored in recent rehearsals. We’ll float a few of those in the next couple of weeks as well.”
He plans to record the group on this tour and says a “serious visit” to the studio in the planning stages.
Donal Lunny’s production credits are as varied as they are many (Kate Bush, Baaba Maal and Clannad to namecheck a few). What makes a productive recording session in the veteran producer’s opinion?
“Everything depends on the enthusiasm which people have for the project and the focus.
“So if everybody puts their energy into it – it is at the moment of fusion when people get into combination then the energy happens.”
Does the producer have to control the recordings?
“It is usually a joined effort. There would be a democratic atmosphere about the whole thing.
“Everybody has their view. It is not just calling the shots as such. It is a matter of everybody having input, having their ideas heard, and explored.”
“A producer’s job is to have an overview. To make the decision that a particular take hasn’t hit rung the bell. That there is another one there or stop now!”
Donal Lunny has played a major part in some of the most influential Irish music recordings ever made – from Planxty to Moving Hearts to Christy Moore to Andy Irvine and Paul Brady. But what was Donal’s music soundtrack growing up?
“It was pop music, Radio Luxembourg, where you got the top twenty every week. The scope of popular music when I was a teenager was much wider than it is now, I think.
“You had jazz, like Take Five – Dave Brubaker and Ella Fitzgerald. They were enormous hits in the context of pop music.”
“On top of that my dad would listen to classical programs on the radio. Both my parent knew traditional songs, my mother came from Gaeltacht and she used to sing songs that she learned when she was small. We remember them still.”
The first instrument Donal played as a kid was drums in a band in secondary school. It was a “way in” for the musician. He learned guitar and loved it, almost too much!
“I went mad about the guitar – nearly failed me Leaving Cert over the guitar.” Laughs.
Donal played music professionally in art college, then he met Andy Irvine.
“Andy gave me the bouzouki – it just changed me life – and then I changed the bouzouki.”
And the rest is history ….
Atlantic Arc Orchestra performs at Lime Tree Theatre this Tuesday October 17.