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Dónal Lunny, 2006
10 March 1947|
Tullamore, County Offaly, Republic of Ireland
|Musician, songwriter, record producer|
Dónal Lunny (born 10 March 1947) is an Irish folk musician and producer. He plays left-handed guitar and bouzouki, as well as keyboards and bodhrán. As a founding member of popular bands Planxty, The Bothy Band, Moving Hearts, Coolfin, Mozaik, LAPD and Usher's Island, he has been at the forefront of the renaissance of Irish traditional music for over five decades.
Dónal Lunny was born on 10 March 1947 in Tullamore. His father Frank was from Enniskillen and his mother, Mary Rogers, came from Ranafast in Donegal; they raised four boys and five girls. The family moved to Newbridge, County Kildare when Dónal was five years old.:4
He attended secondary school at Newbridge College and, in 1963, joined the Patrician Brothers' school for the Intermediate Certificate year.:6 As a teenager, Lunny joined an occasional trio called Rakes of Kildare, with his elder brother Frank and Christy Moore. They played mostly in pubs and were also booked for a couple of gigs, one at Hugh Neeson's pub in Newbridge for Easter Monday in 1966.:9
In 1965, Lunny had enrolled at Dublin's National College of Art & Design where he studied Basic Design and Graphic Design. He also developed an interest in metalwork leading him to become a skilled gold-and-silversmith, although he only practised the craft for a short time before devoting his energies fully to music.:53-54 During his time in Dublin, he played in a band called The Parnell Folk, with Mick Moloney, Sean Corcoran, Johnny Morrissey and Dan Maher.:52
Later he formed the group Emmet Folk, which also included Mick Moloney and Brian Bolgor,:52 and they started a club at 95 Harcourt Street called The 95 Club. "At that time, we'd reached the stage where we had our own repertoire and ... developing [our] own identity rather than just singing everybody's songs. We were taken quite seriously.":53
Eventually, Lunny and Bolgor joined forces with brothers Brian and Mick Byrne from Spiceland Folk to form Emmet Spiceland, which continued as a trio after Bolgor resigned. Their debut album, The First, was released in 1968. As a vocal harmony group, they had a number 1 hit in Ireland with the single "Mary from Dungloe", which had earlier been popularised in Dublin's folk clubs by Lunny and his Emmet Folk group partner Mick Moloney.:53
In 1970, Lunny formed a musical partnership with Andy Irvine—who had returned from his travels in Eastern Europe—after an initial gig at a party for the Irish-Soviet Union Friendship conference organised by Seán Mac Réamoinn.:84 They also created their own club night, downstairs at Slattery's Pub in Capel Street, Dublin, which they called 'The Mug's Gig'. This featured Irvine and Lunny, and guest performers such as Ronnie Drew, Mellow Candle, and the group Supply, Demand & Curve.:95-96
In 1971, Lunny and Irvine played on Moore's second album, Prosperous, which led the three of them, plus Liam O'Flynn, to form Planxty shortly thereafter. Their first professional performance took place in Slattery's, in early 1972. The band became a leading proponent of Irish traditional instrumental music.
In 1974, Lunny produced and performed on the album Celtic Folkweave by Mick Hanly and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, who had been supporting Planxty on tour. Hanly, Ó'Domhnaill, and Lunny were supported in the studio by O'Flynn on uilleann pipes and whistle, Matt Molloy on flute, Tommy Peoples on fiddle, and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill on harpsichord--players who would join Lunny in forming The Bothy Band.
Also in 1974, Lunny left Planxty to form The Bothy Band, playing guitar and bouzouki. The Bothy Band quickly became one of the prominent bands performing Irish traditional music. Their enthusiasm and musical virtuosity had a significant influence on the Irish traditional music movement that continued well after they disbanded in 1979.
After the Bothy Band disbanded, Lunny became a session musician on various projects, including Davey and Morris, the first album to feature Shaun Davey. In 1981, Lunny reunited with Moore to form Moving Hearts, along with a young uilleann piper, Davy Spillane. Following the example of the group Horslips, Moving Hearts combined Irish traditional music with rock and roll, and also added elements of jazz to their sound. The group disbanded in 1985. In February 2007, Moving Hearts reunited for a concert in Dublin. In 2008 and 2009, the group performed again in several concerts in Ireland and the United States.
In 1987, Lunny recorded a solo album titled Dónal Lunny (Gael-Linn 1987), which included many guest musicians playing his music and arrangements. In 1998, he produced a similar group project album titled Coolfin.
From 2002 onwards, Lunny and Andy Irvine founded a multicultural band called Mozaik, with Bruce Molsky, Nikola Parov, Rens van der Zalm. Mozaik have performed worldwide and recorded two albums to date.
On Friday, 20 January 2012, Lunny appeared on stage with LAPD, the latest grouping of players from Planxty; the moniker is made up from the first name initials of Liam O'Flynn, Andy Irvine, Paddy Glackin and Dónal Lunny. After a series of occasional concerts, LAPD disbanded and their last gig took place on Saturday 26 October 2013.
On Tuesday, 27 January 2015, Lunny's latest musical association performed at Celtic Connections 2015 in Glasgow. Called Usher's Island (a reference to the Dublin quay), it had morphed from LAPD and comprises: Lunny, Irvine and Glackin, plus Michael McGoldrick (uilleann pipes, flute and whistle), and John Doyle (guitar).
Lunny continues to contribute to contemporary music in Ireland: as well as touring with many musicians (including Andy Irvine, Paddy Glackin, Michael McGoldrick, Paul Brady and Kevin Burke), he formed in September 2016 an Irish trio with Zoë Conway and Máirtín O'Connor.
When Moving Hearts broke up in 1985, Lunny diversified and became a producer. He had already produced a 45-rpm single for Skid Row (featuring 17-year-old Gary Moore) and, in 1975, had produced the album A Silk Purse for electric folk band Spud, managed by Paul McGuinness.
He was closely involved in the establishment of a new Irish record label: Mulligan Records (acquired in 2008 by Compass Records), and produced and played on many of its early releases, the first of which was from Pumpkinhead. He played on several Christy Moore albums, and was a producer & session musician on Kate Bush albums. He played bouzouki and bodhrán on Shaun Davey's Granuaile, and fiddle on Midnight Well's "Saw you running". He composed the soundtracks for a Turkish film, Teardrops, and the Irish film Eat the Peach. He also played on the soundtracks of the film This Is My Father and the TV program The River of Sound. In 1989, he contributed synthesizer on Mary Black's breakthrough album No Frontiers.
He was the producer and music director of the soundtrack of Bringing It All Back Home, a BBC television documentary series charting the influence of Irish music throughout the world. He produced albums for Paul Brady, Elvis Costello, Indigo Girls, Sinéad O'Connor, Clannad, Maurice Lennon, Baaba Maal, and Five Guys Named Moe. He appeared on compilation albums - The Gathering (1981) and Common Ground (1996). In 1994, he produced Irish Australian singer/songwriter Mairéid Sullivan's first recording, Dancer.
He pushed new boundaries with his band Coolfin (1998) which included uilleann piper John McSherry. He appeared at the 2000 Cambridge Folk Festival, and the album that commemorated it. In 2001 Lunny collaborated with Frank Harte on the album My Name is Napoleon Bonaparte. He produced the album Human Child (2007) by Faeroese Eivør Pálsdóttir, which is published in two versions, one English and one Faeroese.
Dónal Lunny has some claim to popularising the bouzouki in the Irish music sphere after being gifted an instrument by Andy Irvine,:85 who had himself been introduced to it by Johnny Moynihan in the early days of Sweeney's Men. Lunny ordered a custom-built bouzouki from English luthier Peter Abnett, with a flat back instead of a traditional Greek rounded back.:170 In 1981, he went one step further by creating an electric bouzouki.
He also invented an acoustic drum kit designed to solve the problem of a bass/percussion instrument in Irish traditional music. The process of building and developing the instrument was featured on his 2010-2011 RTÉ series Lorg Lunny.