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Enya

From family folk auxiliary to one of new age music’s top international female acts, contemporary Celtic queen ENYA has proved steadfast and worthy over the last three decades or so. Identified with her UK chart-topping ambient-fusion recording, `Orinoco Flow’, the Irish lass with class has never veered far from her roots. Every so often, running up to Xmas, fans of her ethereal pop would raid their piggy banks to buy an ageing loved one a stocking filler. Not quite!
Born Eithne Patricia Ni Bhraonain, 17 May 1961, Gweedore, County Donegal, ENYA’s father Led Brennan was a member of the Slieve Foy Band. Classically trained as a pianist, she made her first inroads into the music business via contributions to her family’s (CLANNAD) repertoire, duly contributing keyboards and harmony to their `Fuaim’ set, in 1982. Overshadowed by her older sister Maire Brennan and the musicianship of her brothers Ciaran and Pol (not forgetting uncles Noel and Padraig Duggan), the experience within strict group confines would be a learning curve.
Breaking from tradition in many respects, while her family took centre stage and an Ivor Novello Award for their `Harry’s Game’ TV soundtrack (Brit Award winner `Robin Of Sherwood’ followed a few years on), ENYA concentrated on her own commission: THE FROG PRINCE (1985) {*4}. A dated relic featuring horrible 80s synthesizers which rendered many of the tracks indistinguishable from dreaded elevator muzak, ENYA was behind several compositions for waning pop star RICHARD MYHILL, while various artists found favour elsewhere. Left to dish out two solitary entries, overall this OST had the feeling of a failed experiment, evident none more so than on the insipid ballad of ENYA’s title track and `Dreams’, which were so dull and simple they sounded like particularly bad hymns.
ENYA was then commissioned by the BBC to write the TV score to the cultural documentary, “The Celts”; augmented in part by husband-and-wife production team Nicky and Roma Ryan. Built around new age synths, piano, wailing bagpipes and washes of ambient atmospherics, with the leading lady singing in Gaelic, her accompanying eponymous album, ENYA (1987) {*6}, was different enough to attract interest from the mainstream music press and a subsequent Top 75 chart placing. Pastoral and preciously peaceful by way of `Boadicea’, an attempt was made at the pop charts through `I Want Tomorrow’, while the whole set was re-issued in November ‘92 (under THE CELTS motif) as a stop-gap between hit albums.
Subsequently signed by Rob Dickens to WEA/Warners (Geffen in the States), ENYA continued her association with producer Nicky (and lyricist Roma), and together they delivered the acclaimed WATERMARK (1988) {*8} opus; the hypnotic, aquatic orchestrations of `Orinoco Flow’, a metaphor for the so-named recording studios in London and the South American river, the track hit the top spot having been given initial air-time by DJ Steve Wright. The lavish arrangements and choral-like effects transported the singer’s crystal-pure vocals into an ethereal new dimension; the bulk of the Top 5 album alternating between hymn-like grace and more expansively sublime sound collages. Spawning a further two hit singles in `Evening Falls’ and `Storms In Africa (Part II)’, the record went on to become a multi-million seller, more of a landmark than a “watermark”. There’s no doubt they’d been inspired by 4 a.d. Records and ENNIO MORRICONE’s `The Mission’ OST; the latter released a few years earlier.
A subsequent follow-up, SHEPHERD MOONS (1991) {*7}, stuck more or less to the same formula, if not quite capturing the otherworldly allure of its predecessor. Nevertheless, it became ENYA’s first (and only) No.1 album, selling even more copies around the world and spending a staggering four years in the American charts; she’d inked at deal with Reprise Records. On the singles front, Brit hits `Caribbean Blue’, `How Can I Keep From Singing?’ and `Book Of Days’, proved ENYA’s calming effect was a diversion from the Stock Aitken Waterman earworms of the times.
Though the demand was intense, the reclusive star once again chose not to tour, instead ensconcing herself (KATE BUSH-like) in the studio to begin work on a third album, THE MEMORY OF TREES (1995) {*6}. The Top 5 record deviated little from her previous output, although if anything, it was more accessible, the positively jaunty `Anywhere Is’ coming as close to conventional pop music as ENYA had yet strayed. The single provided her with another Top 10 smash, whilst the album itself (featuring `China Roses’ and belated hit, `On My Way Home’) was another transatlantic success story. A poignantly-titled Top 5 compilation, PAINT THE SKY WITH STARS – THE BEST OF ENYA (1997) {*8}, filled a void before her next effort; the exclusive `Only If…’ a minor hit in the process.
Predictably perhaps, A DAY WITHOUT RAIN (2000) {*7}, offered up little in the way of innovation or anything that might win over new fans. Long-time admirers, however, would’ve found little to fault in what amounted to another seamlessly crafted (if a little on the short side) instalment of Celtic-tinged new age fluff/mood music (delete according to taste). Surprisingly, it again hit the US Top 20, and paved the way for her `May It Be’ single, via the first instalment from the mighty (The Fellowship Of The Ring) soundtrack for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
On the back of providing the chart-topping hums for MARIO WINANS monster mash-up, `I Don’t Wanna Know’ (gangsta rapper P DIDDY also on show!), plus a similar sample to the Pirates (Shola Ama & Naila Boss) on the copycat `You Should Really Know’ in ’04 – it was thankfully back to her day-job as nocturnal new age artist for 2005’s AMARANTINE {*6}. Ireland’s biggest-selling female act of all-time (beating off the controversial SINEAD O’CONNOR), ENYA’s multi-tracked swathes of spiritual, sophisti-sounds were, as usual, par for the course on the likes of `The River Sings’, `Long, Long Journey’ and the minor hit title track.
Inevitably, the holiday season would proper her (and Roma) to pen her first out-and-out Xmas set, AND WINTER CAME… (2008) {*4}. More mistletoe and less wine, it was commendable for including only two traditional tunes, `O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ and old B-side nugget `Oiche Chiuin’ (aka `Silent Night’). The cosy, fireside feel of family feasts, `White Is The Winter Night’, `My! My! Time Flies!’ and the sedate title track, conjured up a groundhog festive season while stuck in a superstore lift.
Several years in the making while she enjoyed her rich trappings living in a castle in Killiney, south of Dublin, DARK SKY ISLAND (2015) {*7} would become her 8th solo set in almost 30 years. Now approaching a time when the dreaded “new age” had become “old hat”, ENYA (and Co: Roma and Nicky) stuck to lush rhythms and patented patterns that even 4 a.d.’s roster could only dream of (THIS MORTAL COIL and COCTEAU TWINS would be long gone). Symmetry and textural aesthetics led the way for such classically cosmic cues, `Echoes In Rain’ (the lead download single), opening salvo `The Humming’, the hymnal `So I Could Find My Way’ and the spiny `The Forge Of The Angels’. An alternative Celtic Christmas for lovers of chorale music and Roland Juno 60 synth swathes, ENYA might’ve divided strong opinions of her mystical muzak, but loyal listeners would always be on cloud nine or a seventh heaven.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/BG/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Nov2015

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