Altan on their North America Tour in 2010. L-R: Ciarán Curran, Ciarán Tourish, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Dermot Byrne and Dáithí Sproule.
|Origin||Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland|
|Labels||Green Linnet Records
|Associated acts||String Sisters, Capercaillie, Clannad, Enya, Paul Brady|
|Members||Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh
|Past members||Frankie Kennedy
Altan are an Irish folk music group. They were formed in County Donegal in 1987 by lead vocalist Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and her since-deceased husband Frankie Kennedy. They brought Donegal's rich collection of Irish language songs and instrumental styles to audiences around the world, and they remain the world's foremost Irish traditional group with over a million records sold. They were the first traditional group to be signed to a major label when they signed with Virgin Records in 1994. Altan have established a large following in Ireland, UK, Europe, United States, Canada and even in Japan. They have worked with a wide variety of well-known musicians including Dolly Parton, Enya, The Chieftains, Bonnie Raitt and Alison Krauss.
- 1 Origin
- 2 Pre-Altan years: Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh & Frankie Kennedy
- 3 Mainstream success as Altan: 1987–present
- 3.1 1987–1994: The «Green Linnet» years
- 3.2 1994–2000: The "Virgin" years
- 3.3 2000–2005: The "Narada" years
- 3.4 2005–2009: Recording hiatus & solo projects
- 3.5 2009–2014: The «Compass» years
- 3.6 2014-present: The «Pledge Music» years
- 4 Line-ups
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Discography
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Frankie Kennedy, as a young musician from Belfast, used to travel to Gweedore, County Donegal on his summer holidays, learning Irish and playing traditional Irish music on Irish flute and tin whistle. There he met native Irish-speaker and musician Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, the daughter of famed musician Proinsias Ó Maonaigh from Gweedore. Ní Mhaonaigh learned the Donegal-style of fiddle-playing from her father, however, Donegal music was little known outside of the county at the time. Kennedy's repertoire included a number of obscure northern flute tunes drawn from his travels in County Tyrone and County Fermanagh. The pair married in 1981.
Pre-Altan years: Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh & Frankie Kennedy
Ní Mhaonaigh and Kennedy featured on the first three albums of the well-known Belfast singer and Irish language enthusiast Albert Fry.
1983: 1st album: Ceol Aduaidh
Two years later, in 1983, they released their first album together, Ceol Aduaidh, on the Gael-Linn Records label. This record featured a then unknown musician from Gweedore, Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, now known as Enya. It was a collection of Gaelic songs and Ulster jigs and reels.
Inspired by the success of their début effort, Ní Mhaonaigh and Kennedy began to work on a new group of ballads and jigs from the North. Released on the Green Linnet Records label, the result was 1987's Altan, named after a lake in Gweedore, County Donegal which sits in the shadow of Mount Errigal. The album features many of the musicians who would later join the band under that same name. In the Irish language, altan means "stream".
Mainstream success as Altan: 1987–present
1987–1994: The «Green Linnet» years
- Horse with a Heart, The Red Crow, Harvest Storm and Island Angel
In 1987, Ní Mhaonaigh and Kennedy decided to form the band Altan (named after their second studio album). Altan as a band began as a quartet with Frankie on flute, Mairéad on fiddle and songs, Ciarán Curran on bouzouki and Mark Kelly on guitar. Later on, Dublin's Paul O'Shaughnessy joined the band on fiddle, participating in the first three Green Linnet recordings (1989–1992).
In 1989, Altan released their very first (well-received) album, Horse with a Heart.
In 1989, Altan released The Red Crow, which became the first of three Altan albums to win the prestigious "Celtic/British Isles Album of the Year" award from the National Association of Independent Record Distributors and Manufactures (NAIRD).
In 1992, Dáithí Sproule (from Derry, Northern Ireland) on guitar and Ciaran Tourish on fiddle & whistle joined the band for the Harvest Storm recording. With the arrival of Dáithí Sproule in 1992, Mark and Dáithí shared the role of guitar player, Mark touring with the band in Europe and Dáithí in the United States.
In the meantime, Frankie Kennedy learned in June 1992 that he had Ewing's sarcoma, a type of cancer that attacks bone structure. He endured surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy in an effort to cure himself while simultaneously continuing his work with Altan.
In 1993, the band released Island Angel. Billboard cited Island Angel as the fourth-best-selling album of world music in 1994. In 1994, they were asked by US President Bill Clinton to perform at the White House on Saint Patrick's Day, and they played for him again on his visit to Ireland in 1998. Also, President of Ireland Mary McAleese requested they accompany her on several State visits.
Frankie Kennedy died on 19 September 1994. After a period of mourning, the band resumed their touring as requested by Kennedy himself before he died.
1994–2000: The "Virgin" years
- Blackwater and Runaway Sunday
While doing battle with cancer, Frankie Kennedy continued to steer the band to international recognition, negotiating with Virgin Records UK to sign the band before his death in September 1994. This was a significant signing, as up until this traditional music was not on any major label.
Dermot Byrne from Buncrana, County Donegal who had previously guested on accordion on two Altan recordings The Red Crow (1990) and Island Angel (1993) officially joined the band in 1994. Thus, the band (recording) line-up became Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh (vocals, fiddle), Ciarán Tourish (fiddle), Mark Kelly (guitar), Ciarán Curran (bouzouki), Dáithí Sproule (guitar) and Dermot Byrne (accordion) and has remained unchanged until Dermot Byrne's departure in 2013.
In 1995, Green Linnet Records released their first greatest-hits package entitled The First Ten Years.
In 1996, Altan released Blackwater, their first album on Virgin Records.
In 1997, Altan released their next album, Runaway Sunday, which featured their popular version of "Gleanntáin Ghlas' Ghaoth Dobhair", a song written by Mairéad's father and a favourite at all their live shows.
2000–2005: The "Narada" years
- Another Sky, The Blue Idol and Local Ground
In 2002, The Blue Idol featured the vocals of American singer Dolly Parton, who became close friends with the group after she invited them to play on her 2001 album Little Sparrow. The album garnered them the award for Best Group at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
In 2002, Altan (along with other artists signed to Green Linnet such as Cherish the Ladies) sued for unpaid royalties. Most artists were paid and most claims were settled in 2006 as Compass Records (who would later sign Altan) bought the company.
In 2003, they released another greatest hits compilation CD called The Best of Altan: The Songs.
In 2005, they released Local Ground. Like almost every other Altan offering, it was met with positive and enthusiastic reviews.
2005–2009: Recording hiatus & solo projects
- Down The Line, The Crow in the Sun and Imeall
In 2005, Ciarán Tourish released his début album Down The Line
In 2007, Dáithí Sproule released his début album The Crow in the Sun
In late December 2008 in Ireland (and in February 2009 worldwide), Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh released her début album Imeall.
2009–2014: The «Compass» years
2009–2011: Celebrating the 25th anniversary
- 25th Anniversary Celebration
In April 2009, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh announced that the band would be going into the studio in early May 2009 to record a new Altan album with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra just after a show on 7 May 2009 in Pornichet, France (near Saint-Nazaire).
In July 2009, Ní Mhaonaigh announced that Altan would also release their first DVD as the video recording of a concert on 14 August 2009 in the National Concert Hall (NCH), Dublin, Ireland (again with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra).
To commemorate their 25th anniversary, Altan released 25th Anniversary Celebration, a compilation album of studio re-recordings of previous material (plus one brand new song) with the contribution of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. It was made available in January 2010 in Japan (where it had its launch in December 2009 during Altan's Winter 2009 Japanese tour), in February 2010 in Ireland & UK and in March 2010 in North America.
After a few European dates in January, February & April 2010 and an extensive 18-date (March to April) tour of the United States, Altan launched on 23 April 2010 in Dublin, Ireland their 14-date "25th Anniversary" (April to June) tour of Ireland. During Summer 2010, Altan took part in a few European festivals. A 10-date tour of UK & Ireland took place in September 2010.
After attending the Irish Festival of Oulu in Finland and visiting France twice (Paris and Saint-Louis) in fall 2010, Altan gave in 1 & 2 January 2011 their annual New Year Irish concert (exceptionally a 2-date one) at the Scoil Gheimhridh Frankie Kennedy in Gweedore, followed by a special 25th Anniversary Concert in late January 2011 at the Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland. Altan then embarked on a 5-date tour of France in early 2011.
An extensive 12-date US tour followed in March 2011. In spring and summer 2011 Altan toured Europe, notably visiting France (Fontaine near Grenoble on 1 April 2011 and, for the first time, the city of Lyon on 13 & 14 May 2011). After a 4-date (3-location) US visit in August 2011, Altan participated on 8 September 2011 in a special Celebration concert of Fiachra Trench at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Just a month later, on 8 October 2011, Altan gave a special Irish gig in Letterkenny, County Donegal with the Donegal Youth Orchestra and young traditional musicians from the Donegal Gaeltacht. The same month, after a 3-date visit in Belgium and Netherlands, Altan embarked on an extensive one-month German tour called "Affairs of the Heart" during which they played (almost) every day.
2012–2014: Gleann Nimhe - The Poison Glen and touring
- Gleann Nimhe - The Poison Glen
After celebrating the launch of the 18th Frankie Kennedy Winter School programme on 29 November 2011 by performing a show taking place during the Liffey Banks Sessions at The Grand Social, Dublin, Ireland, Altan celebrated the new year as well as the release of their new studio album Gleann Nimhe – The Poison Glen on the occasion of their performance on 1 January 2012 at Scoil Gheimhridh Frankie Kennedy, Ionad Cois Locha, Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland.
Exactly seven years after Local Ground, Altan released Gleann Nimhe - The Poison Glen, their new studio album of original material, on Compass Records in the US on 28 February 2012, in Europe & Australia on 8 March 2012, in Ireland on 9 March 2012 and in the UK on 12 March 2012. Started in April 2011, the recording took place in famous sound engineer & bass player Billy Robinson's Steeples Studios in Ramelton, Ireland and ended in early January 2012.
- Extensive touring in promotion of Gleann Nimhe - The Poison Glen
In March 2012, they performed a 7-date tour in the US and a 7-date tour in France (in the north-west part of the country) with Dáithí Sproule rejoining the band on the two tours. An extensive 14-date tour in Norway followed in April 2012, still with Dáithí Sproule touring with the band.
On 12 May 2012 in Baltimore, Ireland, Altan embarked on a tour of Europe including a 2-date visit in France on 15 May 2012 in the suburbs of Lyon (Altan's third performance in the area of the Gallic capital in exactly a year) and on 16 May 2012 in Fouesnant, Brittany, visiting Ireland once again, Belgium, UK (taking part on 2 June 2012 in the Ireby Festival, Cumbria), Germany, Switzerland, France once again (on 7 July 2012 in Tain-l'Hermitage) and ending in Ireland, visiting Dunlewy near Gweedore, Altan's homeland on 10 August 2012, Cavan at the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann on 16 August 2012 (double bill concert with Clannad) and at Ranelagh Arts Festival in Dublin, Ireland on 15 September 2012. A 5-date tour of the UK followed in October 2012. Before a 6-date tour of Germany in November 2012, Altan played two shows in early November 2012: back in Ireland in Graiguenamanagh and at the Irish Fleadh in Cáceres, Spain. Altan gave their last concert of 2012 in France on 6 December 2012 in Strasbourg.
After their annual show on 1 January 2013 at Scoil Gheimhridh Frankie Kennedy, Ionad Cois Locha, Gweedore, County Donegal, Ireland, Altan will play two shows in France in early 2013 (on 15 January in Savigny-le-Temple near Paris and on 1 February in Cherbourg) and a unique show in Scotland on 23 January 2013 (at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with some very special guests including Tommy Peoples, Maighréad Ní Dhomhnaill, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, The Friel Sisters (from Glasgow) and The Henry Girls) before to embark on a 12-date tour of the United States in March 2013 with Dáithí Sproule rejoining the band.
In November 2012, the Earagail Arts Festival (which takes place annually in Carrickfinn, West Donegal, Ireland) has announced (as part of its 25th birthday celebration) a unique double bill concert on 13 July 2013 entitled "Abhaile – The Homecoming" gathering two of Donegal's (and Ireland's) most famous groups, Clannad and Altan, the second time for the two bands to share the same stage after their performance in Cavan, Ireland in August 2012.
After taking part in two spring shows in May 2013 (the Vantasival in Dundalk, Ireland and a European celebration in Paris, France), Altan shared a double bill concert with Clannad in July 2013 (which attracted 1,500 people). The same month, Altan gave three extra festival shows: their participation in the European P.I.I.G.S. Festival show in Athens, Greece and two shows in France, a scheduled one in Plouescat, Britanny and a surprise[nb 1] one the next day in Montrevel-en-Bresse, Rhône-Alpes, their first one in the Lyon area in over a year.
Altan announced a 17-date tour of Germany, Switzerland and Austria for November 2013. On 4 December 2013, Altan celebrated the launch of the 20th and final "Frankie Kennedy Winter School" at the Tigh Hiúdaí Beag pub in Gweedore, Donegal, Ireland before performing their annual new year show on 1 January 2014 at Ionad Cois Locha in Dun Luiche). After a few shows in Ireland (Dublin in St. Patrick's Cathedral during the Temple Bar TradFest), Spain (Gijón and Vizcaya) and Scandinavia (Middelfart, Denmark and Uppsala, Sweden), Altan embarked on an extensive tour of Australia in February 2014 (unfortunately, not a single show was scheduled in New Zealand) followed by two shows in Shanghai and Beijing, their first ever shows in China.
Altan's French booking agency Naïade Productions announced two shows in France: one for 28 March 2014 in Angers and the other for 5 April 2014 in Nantes. The show at the "Eurofonik" Festival in Nantes was later cancelled. Two other shows in France were scheduled for 26 March 2014 in Haguenau, Alsace (their first one in the Strasbourg area in almost a year and a half) and for 25 April 2014 at the Festival "Nuits Celtiques" in Nesle, Picardie, north of the country.
2014-present: The «Pledge Music» years
2014-present: working at the new studio album and going on touring
On 3 June 2014, in their Twitter page and Pledge Music website page, Altan announced that they were at the time working on a new studio album planned to be recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. Indeed, the band was in pre-production and had started rehearsing potential material for the new album with the intention to play and sing these new pieces at various concerts during Summer 2014.
Altan performed a few shows in Europe in Summer 2014: one in Switzerland (on 28 June 2014 in Corbeyrier), one in Ireland (on 19 July at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, Ireland) before to embark in a 5-show US tour (on 26 July in Sellersville, PA, on 7 August in Brooklyn at Celebrate Brooklyn! at Prospect Park Bandshell, on 9 & 10 August in St. Paul at the Irish Fair of Minnesota and on 12 August at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee, WI).
In late July 2014, while touring the US, the band all united (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Ciarán Tourish, Ciarán Curran, Daíthí Sproule, Mark Kelly and Martin Tourish replacing Dermot Byrne) started in Nashville, Tennessee the recording sessions of the new studio album. On 6 August 2014, fiddler Stuart Duncan joined the band to play some tracks for the new album.
Earlier this year 2014 (the 1st of May), Martin Tourish had released his first solo album entitled Under A Red Sky Night on Claddagh Records.
After a show in the United Kingdom (on 17 August 2014 at the Wickham Festival) and a show in Ireland (on 30 August 2014 in Bangor, Co. Down at the Open House Festival), Altan embarked on a 6-date tour of the UK with a visit on 11 September 2014 at the famous Cecil Sharp House in London. The two following shows were scheduled on 19 & 20 September 2014 in Scotland but ultimately cancelled due to the Scottish independence referendum. However, Altan put on two Festival shows on 3 & 4 October 2014 in Ireland.
On 9 October 2014, on their Facebook page, Altan confirmed that, at the time, they were «steeped in mixing [their] new album» and announced that they «hope to have it [released] in the Spring of 2015».
On 19 October 2014, on their Facebook page, Altan announced that the new album was being already mixed and overdubbed, containing «loads of surprises».
Since the arrival of accordionist Dermot Byrne in 1994, the band recording line-up has remained unchanged until his definitive departure from the band in 2013 and his lasting replacement since early 2014 by Martin Tourish (Ciarán Tourish's cousin) who wrote (but didn't record) the song "An Ghealóg" from the 2012 studio album Gleann Nimhe - The Poison Glen.
Thus, the band recording line-up is now (2014):
- Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh: lead vocal, fiddle
- Ciarán Tourish: fiddle
- Ciarán Curran: bouzouki
- Mark Kelly: guitar
- Dáithí Sproule: guitar, vocals
- Martin Tourish: accordion
Based on the recording line-up, the band touring line-up may differ sometimes:
- Dáithí Sproule (guitar) is touring occasionally with the band, mostly in the US, then replacing Mark Kelly.
And the band has welcomed occasionally on tour three other musicians :
- Tim Edey on guitar sporadically replacing Mark Kelly in 2010 & 2011,
- Harry Bradley on flute sporadically replacing Dermot Byrne in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and
- Martin Tourish on accordion replacing Dermot Byrne temporarily starting from the extensive Fall 2013 (mostly) German tour and permanently since Dermot Byrne's departure from the band in early 2014.
Dermot Byrne has not been playing with the band since 2013.
For two decades (from December 1994 to January 2014), a winter school of music was held in Gweedore, County Donegal each year in honour of co-founder Frankie Kennedy, The Frankie Kennedy Winter Music School. Ni Mhaonaigh is regarded as one of the great female singers of Ireland, standing alongside the likes of Mary Black, Moya Brennan and Sinéad O'Connor.
Frankie Kennedy and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh albums
Altan studio albums
- Horse with a Heart (1989)
- The Red Crow (1990)
- Harvest Storm (1992)
- Island Angel (1993)
- Blackwater (1996)
- Runaway Sunday (1997)
- Another Sky (2000)
- The Blue Idol (2002)
- Local Ground (2005)
- 25th Anniversary Celebration (2010) (a compilation of studio re-recordings of previous material (plus one new song) with orchestral arrangements)
- Gleann Nimhe - The Poison Glen (2012)
- TBA (2015) (new studio album due to be released in Spring 2015)
- The First Ten Years (1986–1995) (1995) a Green Linnet 1-CD compilation
- The Best of Altan (1997) a Green Linnet 2-CD compilation; the 2nd CD is a 31-min Bonus CD of a live performance on 15 January 1989 at Museum Bochum, Bochum, Germany (this is the only live recording available from the band to date)
- Altan's Finest (2000) a Erin/Valley Entertainment 1-CD compilation of the Green Linnet years
- Once Again 1987–93 (2000) a Recall Records UK 2-CD compilation of the Green Linnet years
- The Best of Altan: The Songs (2003) a Virgin Records compilation of songs from the Virgin and Narada albums: five songs from Another Sky, four from Runaway Sunday, three from Blackwater, and two from The Blue Idol
Although the band members record solo albums, various Altan members sometimes appear as guests.
- A Heart Made of Glass (1995)
- The Crow in the Sun (2007)
- Lost River, Vol. 1 (15 August 2011)
- Down The Line (2005)
- Imeall (2009)
- Dermot Byrne and Floriane Blancke (2012) (duet album with French harpist, fiddler, pianist and singer Floriane Blancke)
- Under A Red Sky Night (2014) (Claddagh Records)
- The Altan show on 24 July 2013 in Montrevel-en-Bresse was a surprise one in that it wasn't announced in the Altan website regular "Upcoming Performances" page but only a few days earlier in a post via the band's official facebook page.
- The announced Altan show on 16 June 2014 in Fès is the second ever Altan show in Morocco since the first ever one at the Mawazine Festival in Rabat on 18 May 2009.
- "Altan". Ceolas. 19 September 1994. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- "National Geographic – Inspiring People to Care About the Planet Since 1888". Worldmusic.nationalgeographic.com. 17 February 2010. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- [dead link]
- MPI (Martin Nolan & Associates – International Booking Agency and Band Management Company based in Dublin, Ireland) / Altan
- [dead link]
- "Donegal County.com & Dún na nGall.com – Altan". Dun-na-ngall.com. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- "Altan Study Guide & Homework Help – Reference". eNotes.com. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- [dead link]
- "'Music is a great healer'". Independent.ie. 6 March 2010. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- altan.ie / The band / Dermot Byrne
- "The Online Dolly Parton Newsmagazine. Your premier resource for Dolly Parton news and information". Dollymania. 1 October 1998. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- "Radio 2 – Cambridge Festival Diary". BBC. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- "> News & Events : Green Linnet Records Update". LiveIreland.com. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
- Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh – Ryan Tubridy Show
- Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh – Summer Is Here!
- Altan's Official Web Site – Altan 2010 Tour Dates
- Altan's Official Web Site – Altan 2011 Tour Dates
- entertainment.ie/tickets Altan and Guests / Scoil Gheimhridh Frankie Kennedy / Gig on 1 January 2012 at Ionad Cois Locha
- Tradschool / Altan / New album / Gleann Nimhe
- altanmusic, official Twitter account of the Irish traditional music group Altan – Tweet on 24 November 2011
- facebook.com / altanofficial / posts / Altan's new recording project
- facebook.com / altanofficial / posts / Gleann Nimhe
- Dáithí Sproule Official Website / Page "Gig Archive – 2012 Performances"
- Théâtre Le Karavan – Chassieu – France / Programme 2011/2012
- events.glasgowlife.org.uk / What's on in Glasgow Life / Altan with special guests at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on 23 January 2013 (7:30pm-10:30pm)
- www.celticconnections.com / Altan with Special Guests on 23 January 2013 (7:30PM) at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
- Dáithí Sproule Official Website / Page "Dates – Upcoming Shows"
- donegalnews.com / Article "Earagail Arts announces Altan Clannad double bill for 2013 Gathering" – 28 November 2012 at 4:17 pm
- Altan Facebook page / Albums / Post "ALTAN en concert en plein air à Paris (1er) le 9 mai 2013, à 18h00 (Parvis de l'Hôtel de Ville)" on Friday 3 May 2013, 14:23 from Marilene Burlot sharing a photograph of a Naïade Productions flyer about an Altan show on 9 May 2013 in Paris (Parvis de l'Hôtel de Ville) and the 4 next Altan shows in France in 2013 and 2014 : Plouescat 2013, Montrevel-en-Bresse 2013, Angers 2014 and Nantes 2014
- www.relais-culturel-haguenau.com / Page "Altan in concert" : on Wednesday 26 March 2014 (8:30pm) at Théâtre de Haguenau
- Twitter / Altan / Post "Friends and fans..... today we launch our Pledgemusic Funding for our new album ..." on 3 June 2014
- Pledge Music / Altan
- Pledge Music / Altan / Discussion
- Pledge Music / Altan / Post "Rehearsals" on 12 June 2014
- Altan Official web site / Page "Recording in Nashville, and US Gigs"
- Altan Facebook page / Post "Daíthí and Ciaran on the way to the studio" on Tuesday 29 July 2014, 17:09
- Altan Facebook page / Post "Photo shoot, Nashville, Mairéad and Mark" on Monday 4 August 2014, 22:29
- Altan Facebook page / Post "Another from the photo shoot" on Monday 4 August 2014, 22:31
- Altan Facebook page / Post "Stuart Duncan is in the studio with us today playing some tracks for our new CD" on Wednesday 6 August 2014, 00:38
- tickets-scotland.com / Under Red Sky Night (Martin Tourish)
- Independent woman web-site / The sadness behind the smile of Ireland's true queen of trad... – Wednesday 5 November 2008