It wasn’t easy for vocalist-harpist Moya Brennan to watch her 50th anniversary world tour with her family band Clannad get snuffed out by the coronavirus pandemic. Worse still, she says, was the shuttering of Leo’s Tavern, a tiny venue in her native County Donegal, purchased by her parents Leo and Maire Brennan in 1968, that was the first place she and her brothers and uncles performed together onstage in 1970.
“So Leo’s is still going strong, and when cruise ships come into Donegal, people can actually catch a tour bus up there if they want to visit for an Irish coffee or a bit of a sing-song,” she says of the local landmark. “My youngest brother runs it now, and I run a special night there every month with an open stage. But would you believe, this last Friday was the first time we had to cancel it in the eight years since I started this.”
Brennan hopes Clannad’s big tour, named “In a Lifetime” after a two-disc career retrospective out this week, will be rescheduled.
The set traces the group from its early Gaelic beginnings through to its 1982 breakthroughs — “Theme From Harry’s Game” and the Bono duet “In a Lifetime” (which defined the soon-to-be-popular New Age Celtic-pop sound) — to its Grammy-winning 1997 album “Landmarks.”
The group became the go-to outfit for film soundtracks such as “Titanic,” “”Patriot Games,” and “Last of the Mohicans.”
Although her kid sister Enya might have streamlined a more marketable version of the traditional music when she left the group in 1982, the ethereal-voiced Brennan herself — through Clannad and several solo releases — who was aptly dubbed Ireland’s First Lady of Celtic Music.
Laughingly, Brennan, one of nine siblings, still recalls when her entertainment-minded father — a virtual one-man band himself — sent her to a boarding school to specifically learn to play the unwieldy harp. She despised the instrument, thinking it too colleen-like.
“But it was only when the boys asked me to play with them in 1970, when I started doing all these arrangements and riffs, that I fell into really liking it,” she says. “Now I think it’s lovely, but it’s got 34, 35 strings, so you really do have to practice it. And I’m my own roadie — you’ll see me going through the airport all by myself sometimes, with my harp on wheels.”
Often, her two children (with photographer husband Tim Jarvis) Aisling and Paul are happy to help, as they’ve joined both Clannad and her solo band. (And Aisling, who studied engineering, also produces her mom’s albums in the family’ home studio in Dublin.)
But in these trying times, Brennan’s been busy with her favorite hobbies — painting and completing 1,500-piece jigsaw puzzles — while still trying to fathom the coronavirus depths.
“You kind of wake up each morning and think, ‘Did I have a bad dream or something?’” she says. “Because it’s hard to believe that such a small thing can stop the world. But you have to have belief in civilization, because you can really see the goodness in people coming out of this, as well.”