Have you heard? … Altan (The first in the series)

I want to write some posts about bands or music that maybe not so many people have heard. Or just something that I really like.  Not because I have any great insight: rather it’s just music that I’ve stumbled upon at some stage that I think is worth sharing with others.

I’ve chosen Altan for my first post, not because their name begins with a capital “A” but because I was reminded of them as I was writing my book about my journey through music.  As I noted in my first post, I’m working through a chapter on “Celtic soul” at the moment.  Altan are the epitome of that.

The band’s roots were in County Donegal, and the name is derived from a lake in the shadow of Mount Errigal in Donegal.  They were led by singer Mairead ni Mhaonaigh and instrumentalist Frankie Kennedy (who sadly died in 1994 from cancer). They formed in 1987.  I first heard their music when they released an album called “Island Angel” in 1993.  It was just a recommendation from Q magazine, as I recall.  I was immediately struck by the depth and beauty of the album.  The songs alternated between jigs and reels and some lovely ballads.  It was the latter that really grabbed me.  Mairead ni Mhaonigh has one of those voices that is just so pure. And mystical. The second track on the album, “Brid Og Ni Mhaille” is one of those songs that is so beautiful that it absolutely doesn’t matter that I have no idea what it is about, given that it is in Gaelic.  I just know it is about love, maybe lost love, maybe a sense of exile and longing, all those things that make up the best Irish melancholy.  And if I’m wrong it doesn’t matter.  The sound is the sound of purest Celtic soul.

I bought some more Altan albums, like “Blackwater” and a greatest hits.  They didn’t have the same impact on me as “Island Angel” but only because I didn’t give them as much time.  I reckon you could start with any album and derive that same enjoyment I got from “Island Angel”, connecting for the first time with a truly authentic slice of Ireland.

Here’s a link to their website.


And here’s a link to a performance of one of the songs on “Island Angel”, “Dulaman”.

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. I’ve written a novel called “The Decision”, a futuristic political thriller, and first of a trilogy. I’m also the author of a book on music since the 1970s called “ I Was There - A Musical Journey” and a volume of poetry about youth, “Growin’ Up - Snapshots/ Fragments”. All available on Amazon and Kindle.
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