Frankie Gavin's De Dannan at
Celtic Connections, Glasgow, 2010
|Labels||Gael-Linn, Shanachie Records|
Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh
De Dannan (originally Dé Danann) is an Irish folk music group. It was formed by Frankie Gavin (fiddle), Alec Finn (guitar, bouzouki), Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh (bodhrán) and Charlie Piggott (banjo) as a result of sessions in Hughes's Pub in An Spidéal, County Galway, with Dolores Keane (vocals) subsequently being invited to join the band. The fiddler Mickey Finn (1951-1987) is also acknowledged to have been a founder member.
The band was named after the legendary Irish tribe Tuatha Dé Danann. In 1985 the spelling of the name was changed from "Dé Danann" to "De Dannan" for reasons that have never been made clear. Since 2010, however, Finn and McDonagh have recorded and performed with a line-up named "De Danann", and, since 2012, Gavin has recorded and performed with another line-up named "De Dannan".
The group's debut album was the eponymous Dé Danann, produced by Dónal Lunny and recorded at Eamonn Andrews Studios, Dublin, in 1975 and released on Polydor. In early 1976, Keane left to marry multi-instrumentalist John Faulkner, with whom she subsequently recorded three albums of folk music.
To fill the vacancy left after Keane's departure, Dé Danann brought in Andy Irvine. Irvine never recorded on any full De Danann album but he can be heard on three tracks recorded with the band on 30 April 1976, during a folk festival in Germany. Irvine left soon thereafter because of scheduling conflicts but proposed Johnny Moynihan as his replacement,:243 who participated in the recording of the band's second album, Selected Jigs Reels & Songs.
This album featured a bodhrán solo by McDonagh on "Over The Bog Road" but has never been released on CD, reportedly because the master tapes were lost. Moynihan left in 1978, being replaced by singer and accordion-player Tim Lyons; for a short period in 1978 the band toured as a six-piece featuring both Moynihan and Lyons.
Their third album, The Mist Covered Mountain, was released in 1980 and featured various older traditional singers. That year, the group had a surprise hit single in Ireland with their instrumental cover of the Beatles' song "Hey Jude", later re-released on their fourth album, Star-Spangled Molly in 1981; on this album, they were joined by Maura O'Connell.
As an indication of their diversity, they also recorded Handel's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba", which they jokingly retitled "The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (in Galway)", on their 1983 album Song for Ireland. Later, they would also record Bohemian Rhapsody and Jewish klezmer tunes, learned from bluegrass and Klezmer superstar, Andy Statman.
When O'Connell left the band, they brought in Mary Black for two albums: Song for Ireland and Anthem. Like O'Connell and Keane before her, Black subsequently went on to explore country, blues and jazz, hopping backwards and forwards between Nashville and Dublin.
After Black's departure, Keane returned to the fold for two albums: Anthem and Ballroom. Other singers with the group have included Eleanor Shanley (1988-1992), Tommy Fleming (1994-1997) and Andrew Murray (1997-2000).
On the instrumental side, Frankie Gavin and Alec Finn were the only constant members of the group. Jackie Daly (accordion) is a star in his own right and later went on to join the group Patrick Street. He was replaced on accordion in 1983 by Martin O'Connor until 1987, Aidan Coffey until 1995, and Derek Hickey until 2001. The fiddle-accordion-bouzouki combination became synonymous with the inspirational De Dannan instrumental sound. In 1988 Colm Murphy replaced Johnny McDonagh playing the bodhrán.
The band members went their separate ways in 2003, at which point the name De Dannan was copyrighted by Alec Finn. This led to a high-profile dispute with Frankie Gavin in 2009 when the latter used the name for his pre-existing Hibernian Rhapsody band.
In 2008 the original band (Johnny "Ringo" McDonagh, Charlie Piggott, Dolores Keane, Frankie Gavin and Alec Finn) were commemorated on an Irish 55c postage stamp. Attending the formal issue event, Piggott said, "Having contributed to the promotion of Traditional Irish Music and as a keen philatelist, I consider it both an honour and a privilege to be celebrated on an Irish stamp."
In 2010 De Danann [sic] recorded Wonderwaltz, an album with a line-up of Finn (guitar, bouzouki, tenor guitar, mandola, mouth organ), McDonagh (bodhrán, bones), Eleanor Shanley (vocals), Brian McGrath (banjo, piano, tenor guitar, mandola), Derek Hickey (accordion) and Mick Conneely (fiddle, viola, whistle), with guest musicians Cian Finn (backing vocals) and Trevor Hutchinson (double bass).
Since 2012 De Dannan [sic] has been performing as a 5-piece band and has recorded Jigs, Reels & Rock n' Roll, an album with a line-up of Gavin (fiddle, flute, whistles), Damien Mullane (accordion), Eric Cunningham (percussion, flutes, whistles), Mike Galvin (bouzouki, guitar) and Michelle Lally (vocals).