State Theatre, October 30

Clannad res
Clannad cunningly camouflage themselves as trees.

Swirling mists, gentle mizzle, stark landscapes, human conviviality and human heartbreak: they are all present in Clannad’s music at its best. Then much of the appeal lies in the lightness with which Moya Brennan’s voice dances across the melodies, like a young girl’s feet barely seeming to touch the ground when she skips.

Forty-three years after Brennan, her two brothers and twin uncles formed the band in a pub owned by their family, and nearly two decades after last visiting Australia, Clannad remains a curiosity. The elements that make them irresistible in a pub – the warmth of the collective singing and perhaps the wanness of Brennan’s harp – dissipate on a big stage. Such a stage is kinder to the drama of the drums and synthesizers; kinder to the hazy blend of new age and faux-medieval mystery shrouding that drama.

So in songs like Vellum from the new Nadur (Nature) CD or the medley from their distinctive soundtrack to the Robin of Sherwood TV series any inherent drama was mellowed with aural dry-ice and breathlessness, until they sounded rather like the Wharf Revue sending up Clannad (perhaps with Jonathan Biggins in a blond wig).

But then there were joys such as Brennan’s wistful harp on Lamh ar Lamh (Hand in Hand), and the collective singing and Pol Brennan’s flute on Dulaman. As they strolled through their back catalogue, and wandered from traditional to pop to insistent grooves, it was never less that pleasant, although only intermittently was it compelling.

This contrasted with the support act, Daniel Champagne, a young singer/guitarist who faced an audience more interested in the idea of drinking his namesake than in him. Yet in his short, three-song set he swiftly had everyone living off each word and note. After two originals he concluded with Don McLean’s Vincent, delivered with a tentativeness that caught all the anguish of Van Gogh in a way McLean never did, while accompanying himself with startling guitar. Watch out for him.