Back to the 90s

Tubular Bells II Live from Edinburg Castle.

Mike Oldfield is probably the world’s best instrumentalist-move over Yngwie Malmsteem, and the rest of the so-called guitar legends. Not only that his repertoire is wide, he is also ambitious in his stage performances incorporating not only countless instrumentalists to back him up, but a fireworks display at the end of this 1992 performance.

The DVD sound quality is so shockingly clear that you can hear every instrument from the tubular bells to the glockenspiel. He combines theater, movie, highland music as well as Americana to create a seamless concert that progresses from one track to another without interruption. Here he displays his virtuosity in all types of guitars, keyboards, vocal and percussion. Most world renounce guitars are only good in..well, playing guitars. But Mike can play everything.

Mike’s music is a combination of folk, rock and classical elements. Those who saw him live can attest to the fact that it’s always a transporting experience. He has the power to draw you to another realm. Elements introduced me to Mike Oldfiled’s music. From then on I started discovering his albums and realize that he is a class by himself. Critics would argue saying legends like Zappa rules. Well, that’s for rockers to decide-and rock is just one branch of a big tree known as music. And Mike is the trunk.

The Celts by Enya

Originally release in 1987 in the heyday of New Wave, bad hair and padded shirts, The Celts was a rare bird in the jungle of music. Originally made for a BBC documentary of the same title, The Celts was the start of the true Enya sound. What’s so good about this is her use of vocals, Piano, Juno 60, DX7, Emulator II and Kurzweil which were the most reliable at that time. Guest musicians like Arty McGlynn (electric guitar) , Liam O’Flynn(Uillean Pipes)…..added their talents making this effort a one of a kind album. The sound engineering was still at its first stage and you can tell the difference in the sound if you play it side by side with her other albums. In 1990 it was reissued probably due to the popularity of Watermark and Shepherd Moons. This album version has also undergone re-mastering.

The album opens with The Celts which became the theme of the series. There is a war like cadence in the music punctuated by Gaelic words with a corresponding choral aahhs in the background.

Aldebaran the second track is inspired by Ridley Scott, this has a Blade Runner, floating feel to it. I tell you when I heard this the first time, the hair at the back of my neck stood.  This is a gorgeous piece with the arpeggios and Enya hitting the high notes close to the end of the track.

I Want Tomorrow is the only song that has verse chorus verse structure. There is this wonderful music video accompanying it with Enya setting a car on fire with her finger tips. Her voice at this time was young but there is that unmistakable ethereal quality to it.  The electric guitar added a rock feel to this ballad. It has a slow marching rhythm to it.

March of the Celts was actually the song that made BBC decide to sign her up for a full 72- minute soundtrack. There is a long story which you could find in her A Life in Music Documentary. The piano melody is layered by a synthesizer organ sound along with her choral  aahhs and in the end a marching  synth drum beat and a dissonant aahs before the amazing coda.

Deireadh On Tuath would sound creepy to some due to the scale she uses. There is the one article I’ve read about the time when she had to spend countless hours practicing the book of scales in high school while her siblings played out in the sun. Her voice also gets really low which is a  kind of a wonder given her usually light soprano at the time. This is when the argument comes in about her as a soprano with an alto range.

The Sun in the Stream is one song whose melody is done entirely in Uillean pipes. The mix of the melody track was also very sharp to a point that the pipes were really highlighted making it totally sharper. Again more minor chords and vocal harmonies.

To Go Beyond is an intro to the complete To Go Beyond II which is the last track.

Fairytale is akin to a fugue with it’s keyboard melodies layered over one another until it builds up. This anthem about the fairy princess Etain had been feature in TV shows . In her harmony vocals, Enya sounds as if she is blowing raspberry seeds into the mic. This is really an inventive harmonizing I never heard any singer did.

Epona is a playful keyboard piece with has a swaying and hop step feel to it.

Triad is a song cycle in three parts. Again Enya sings in low vocals that could probably be painful if done by ordinary singers. The Gregorian chant like piece is followed by an instrumental that sounds modern but the melody sounds almost medieval. It is closed by what appears to be a choral piece in an odd time signature. Down beat is the perfect description to this type of pattern or rhythm.

Portrait(Out of the Blue) is something that lovers of Rachmaninov and any romantic composers would love. This piano piece is timeless and the emotion it evokes is that of longing, wonder and melancholy.

Boadicea. Now this song has become so popular in recent times that even rappers sampled it. But when it was heard the first time, I am sure this one evoked fear, wonder and a sense of victory upon listeners-especially those who are familiar with the lore of this Iceni queen.

Bard Dance is another piece with a medieval melody. The drum part was mixed by Nicky Ryan so low it threatens even state o f the art speakers.

Dan Y Dwr is a song done in Welsh. Like Deireadh On Tuath, there is that odd scale and bell sound. And yes Enya once again singing in a vocals so low it sounds eerie and lovely at the same time.

To Go Beyond II closes this album with its crystalline light vocal mix. The violin of Patrick Halling was mixed in a lush way that like the Uillean Pipes previously, it sounds so sharp.

Over all, The Celts provides a rewarding experience that makes you dig up your music knowledge in polyphony, contrapuntal, scales, baroque and sacred hymns. I never dare mention ambient here because this is never meant to be just a background music . I don’t know, I never treat mellow music as such. For me pure musical geometry can only be studied when the music is unhurried or sounding as if they are horses charging and chasing after one another. Fast and loud are not synonymous with clever and inventive. They’re just…fast and loud.

More info here:

Gael Force

I bought this DVD for the sole reason of watching Clannad. Then I realized that acts like The Afro Celt Sound System, Ashley MacIsaac, DeDannan ,The Chieftains ,Christy Moore. Brian Kennedy among the rest are never to be missed. This is Celtic music education all in one DVD from 1997.

Ronan Hardiman: Solas

Aside from being the composer for dancer extraordinaire Michael Flatley, Ronan Hardiman is also a best selling album artist. Solas from 1998 proves to the world that electronic music, Irish melodies and a sense of the mystical can make listeners jump into the bandwagon and cry out for more. Elegant, pop and yet traditional, Solas shines as work of art in a time dominated by trying hard composers and performers selling out to the likes of David Foster.

Secret Garden: Songs from a Secret garden

Emotional, cinematic and dense and Neo Classical. The duo of Norwegian Rolf Lovland and Irish Fionuala Sherry created this one of a kind album that not only heals but is also very visual. In this 1995 recording, they incorporated stringed orchestra as well as folk musicians to create a music that spans two nations and also time. From the opening Nocturne up to Ode to Simplicity, the album feels like a trek into the magical woods. If you are a Tolkien fanatic then this is something you will never pass up. Fionuala’s violin playing is elegant as you would expect from someone who used to play with the RTE. When you mix bright Norwegian melodies and melancholic Irish atmosphere, what you get is a walk into Hansel and Gretel’s forest.


3 thoughts on “Back to the 90s

  1. I love Enya! I’ve not heard of Mike Oldfield so I will have to explore his music. As to the others, I will have to check some of them out, or check them out again!


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