Noel Duggan, (seen here second from the left), a guitarist with the Irish folk band Clannad, chats with Kevin Cooper about seeing The Rolling Stones perform at Slane Castle in the 70s, winning a Grammy in 1999 for their album Landmarks, the release of their career spanning anthology In A Lifetime and their forthcoming final tour of the UK.

Noel Duggan, is a guitarist with Irish folk band Clannad. He formed the band with his twin brother, Padraig and family members Ciarán, Pól and Moya Brennan in 1970. Hailing from County Donegal they are famous for their songs recorded in both Irish and English.

From 1980 to 1982 they toured and recorded as a six piece band with another family member, Enya Brennan who provided additional keyboards and vocals. She subsequently left the band to pursue a solo career.

In 1982 Clannad attracted international attention with their hit single, the haunting Theme From Harry’s Game

After releasing their fifteenth studio album, Landmarks, the group took a hiatus in 1997 which lasted for ten years. During that time Noel recorded and toured with Padraig under the guise of The Duggans. However, the original line up of Clannad reformed in 2007 but it was Moya, Ciarán, Noel and Padraig who toured in 2008.

Having announced their In A Lifetime The Farewell Tour, Duggan has announced that this will be the last Clannad tour. Whilst busy rehearsing he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Noel, how are you?

I’m good thanks Kevin how are you today?

I am very well thank you and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s my pleasure. I am currently on a tea break, so we are fine (laughter).

How is life treating you?

Well I have to be honest with you and tell you that I have spent the last few years living over in Spain so, for me, it is rather special to be back in my hometown of Donegal. I am starting to feel my roots once again (laughter).

You have announced that the forthcoming world tour will be your final tour. How are the rehearsals going?

At this moment in time everything is going as well as could be expected, but I have to say that parts of it are totally chaotic (laughter). We will be performing Fifty Years Of Clannad. However, at this moment in time we have absolutely no idea what sort of programme that we want. The older people want to hear the old stuff whilst the younger members of the audience are wanting to hear the newer stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that this is a problem because that is peculiar to Clannad. I think that every band who embarks upon a fifty-year tour faces the same problems. To pick a best of set list really is proving to be very difficult, but don’t worry, we will get there (laughter).

What countries will you visit?

We are starting the tour over here in Ireland where we will play in Belfast and Cork. They are the only dates available to us here in Ireland. After that we will play the dates in England before moving onto Scandinavia. After that we will be touring Europe throughout April and May. We then move onto North America in September and October, and as I have said, when all of the dates get finalised together with a few new ones being added all the time, we will be back out on the road for nearly two years. It really will be nostalgic, and I imagine, quite emotional too. It will be very emotional for us to finally say goodbye.

I imagine that we will do something in the summer during the break in the world tour, whilst we are still alive (laughter). I imagine that we will play the odd festival or something like that. The forthcoming tour is most definitely the end of touring for us; we are getting a bit old now you know.

I have to ask you, is this really going to be the end of Clannad as we know it?

Oh yes, this tour will most definitely be the end of the current incarnation of Clannad. We will be travelling around the word for almost two years, and thinking about it, we will be up there in your part of the country on 10th March at The Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham.

That’s correct, and just to let you know, I will be there reviewing and photographing the gig.

Will you really, well that’s grand. Just make sure that you give us a decent write up (laughter).

(Laughter) I will do my very best.

Good man (laughter).

As well as the forthcoming tour you are also set to release In A Lifetime, a career spanning anthology.

That’s right, and let me tell you, that is a very big album (laughter).

Well I have been playing the double CD version of the anthology for the past couple of weeks now and I have to tell you that I had forgotten just how addictive Clannad songs are.

Thanks for saying that; it is always nice to hear that someone appreciates your work. I don’t really know what the tracks are on the double CD so which tracks were you playing and talking about?

Well I have to say that in my opinion, In A Lifetime stands head and shoulders above the rest.

(Laughter) well I’m sorry to have to tell you this but we don’t know at this moment in time if we are going to be playing In A Lifetime on the forthcoming tour. We might, but alas, we won’t have Bono with us. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if Bono was with us on the tour (laughter). Don’t forget that we will most certainly be performing Robin (The Hooded Man) from up there literally in your neck of the woods or should I say Sherwood Forest (laughter). What can I say; it really is going to be good. We will be playing some songs that are as old as the hills, together with some newer songs that are on the latest album.

The problem is that there are so many different choices for us to make, and which of the tracks are suitable or not. We all have different views on this so let me tell you, there have already been a few arguments when we are trying to decide just what to put on the set list (laughter).

The expanded version of the album has well over a hundred tracks on it. There must have been a few disagreements when you were selecting the tracks for that (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s what I am saying. It really is so difficult because each member of the band has their individual personal choices. To be honest with you, we are all going to sit down together and say ‘this is it’ we really do have to put together a final set list. This has been going on for far too long (laughter). There is no point in us rehearsing songs that we have no intention of playing on the tour. That would be a total waste of time.

You have mentioned Bono; will there be any surprises along the way?

No, at this moment in time I have to say that I don’t think so. If there are to be any surprises, then maybe Paul, our manager is keeping that to himself (laughter). Although I can’t definitely say if there will be or not, but if there were to be a surprise or two, I would think that would most probably happen during the London dates (laugher).

You formed the band back in 1970 in Gweedore, County Donegal. Can you believe that here we are some 50 years later and Clannad are still as influential as you were back then?

No, I have to say that I simply can’t believe that for one minute. To be honest with you we didn’t actually go professional until 1972, but at that moment in time we all thought that there was something definitely happening with the band. We found that suddenly there was a chemistry between us, so we decided to go professional. And in answer to your question did I think that we would still be performing, not in a million years (laughter).

You have recorded sixteen studio albums so I will ask, what has been your favourite period in the band?

That would have been back in 1983 when we were recording the Magical Ring album. I have always thought that the Magical Ring album signified a significant change in Clannad plus it is one of my all-time favourite Clannad albums. Anam which we recorded in 1990 is another of my favourite Clannad albums so as you can see, for me, that is a difficult question to answer because all of the albums are different in their own right. I loved the early days when we were very acoustic, but we very soon became a little bit too pop sounding for my liking (laughter).

Are there any Duggan or Brennan family members who aren’t musical?

(Laughter) I know what you are saying. The answer to that would have to be no. In fact we currently have Moya’s (Brennan) niece and nephew playing with us at the moment and I have to say, they are really musical. I personally feel that they will be the cornerstone of the next version of Clannad when the old guard have passed away (laughter).

Taking you back to 2008, you wrote a book called Clannad: Moments In A Lifetime. Was that something that you felt you had to do?

Yes, I did as at that time there were no books at all on Clannad. There is everything in there and I mean everything (laughter). I really wanted to do that and why not (laughter).

You have won many awards, including the 1982 Ivor Novello Award for the Best Soundtrack for the Theme From Harry’s Game and the 1984 BAFTA for the Best Television Music for Robin of Sherwood. Which one has given you the most pleasure?

For me, that would have to be the Grammy Award in 1999 for the best new age album that we won for Landmarks. Don’t get me wrong, winning the BAFTA and the Ivor Novello was great, but for me the pinnacle was winning a Grammy award and getting up on stage to say a few words. That really was magical for us.

If I was to put you on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That would have to be getting the Grammy Award. However, being totally honest with you there have been so many highlights over the years, but that to me would have to be the highlight. I really do think that is the ultimate.

Are there any regrets?

No, none at all. I always say that you should never look back in anger. There were times on the last tour that we did in America when it was snowing quite badly and we had to cancel a few gigs, and we all felt bad for having to do that. That was a period that wasn’t nice. But regrets; no never.

Did you have a Plan B just in case the music didn’t work out?

No, not at all (Laughter). I have my own band over in Germany who I have toured with for the past thirty years now. In fact, I intend to keep touring with them for as long as I can. I do odd little bits with bands in my hometown and whilst I feel that I am up to it, I will never stop playing.

Fifty years on the road, in the studio and on the stage with family members, has it ever caused problems?

I can categorically say to you today that it has never caused any problems whatsoever. Even when we are on stage, there have never been any problems with any of the family members.

You’ve had fifty years in the business, if you were starting out tomorrow would you do it all again?

Yes, I would I really would but at this moment in time I honestly do feel that our time is up. Let’s just relax and enjoy our Farewell Tour.

If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out in the business, what would you tell them?

To hold their heads high, focus on the music and concentrate on not getting too rich or too poor. Just get out there and do your bit.

Who has musically influenced you?

You most probably won’t believe this, but it was a sixties band over there in the UK called Pentangle. They had the late Bert Jansch on guitar and Danny Thompson on the double bass. We were influenced with how they were singing their songs in English and how they were influenced by jazz. To be honest with you, I can listen to any kind of music; I like good country, but not modern music (laughter). I haven’t got a clue who’s who anymore. I was watching The Brit Awards the other day and I simply didn’t have a clue as to who’s who (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

That would have been a Rolling Stones album, but please don’t ask me which one because I haven’t got a clue (Laughter). Back then I was a really big fan of the Stones so the first record that I bought would have most definitely been a Rolling Stones album.

Who did you first see performing live?

That was The Rolling Stones at Slane Castle back in the 70s. They are probably the biggest band that I have ever seen.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

(Laughter) I need to think about that for a minute. That would have been What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong.

Noel, on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been delightful. You take care and good luck with the tour.

Thanks Kevin, you take care and I am looking forward to seeing you on 10th March. Good man, we will have a few words up there in Nottingham.