No Irish traditional band in the last dozen years has had a wider impact on
audiences and music lovers throughout the world than Altan. With their
exquisitely produced award-winning recordings and dynamic live performances,
Altan have moved audiences from Donegal to Tokyo to Seattle.
Founded in the early eighties by Belfast flute-player Frankie Kennedy and
Gweedore singer and fiddler, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, they delivered a combination
of old Donegal fiddle music and unusual Northern Irish flute tunes with a
force and fullness that made it hard to believe there were only two people
playing. It quickly became clear to them and others that they could go places.
In 1984 Frankie and Mairead turned professional, making trips to the United
States to play concerts in New York, Minnesota, Madison, Portland and
Seattle with Derry guitarist, Daithi Sproule, a Minnesota resident and, like Ciaran
and Mark, an old friend. Daithi had played a big part in an earlier wave of
development in the music, being one of the very first people to adapt the
guitar to old Gaelic songs, and in 1986, Daithi joined Frankie Kennedy &
Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh duo when they grew into Altan. Although the band had a
totally unique repertoire, they undoubtedly drew inspiration from other great
Irish bands such as the Bothy Band, Planxy and De Danann.
In succeeding years, the band recorded albums for Green Linnet, all of which
won accolades and awards and appeared in the Billboard charts - their
collaborators on these albums were of the highest calibre including Donal Lunny,
Brian Masterson and Steve Cooney. Master fiddler Paul O'Shaughnessey,in
particular made great contributions over the years, and the two-fiddle sound stuck,
but when Altan toured more and more widely, Paul had to leave due to
pressure of work, his place was taken by another great young Donegal fiddler, Ciaran
Altan other members are the fine bouzouki-player Ciaran Curran from Co.
Fermanagh. Ciaran has invented his own style on the instrument, and his playing
lies at the heart of the Altan sound.
Guitarist Mark Kelly shows a gift for tastefully bringing fresh rhythms and
chordings to the band arrangements. Mark and Ciaran were heard on the '87
album "Altan", which inaugurates the band's studio sound.
The final element was added to the sound in the early nineties -
accordion-player Dermot Byrne, another Donegal man weaned on the music of an older
generation of Donegal fiddlers. Dermot's status as a complete virtuoso had been
secure for many years before he joined the band.
In 1991 Altan was dealt a devastating blow, when band leader and manager,
Frankie Kennedy was diagnosed with cancer. Through a long illness, the band
continued to tour and perform with Frankie's participation whenever possible.
Although Frankie passed away in 1994 he continues to be a presence and
inspiration in Altan's life and music.
Altan's international status and success found a very practical recognition
when they were signed in 1996 to Virgin Records, the first Irish band of
their kind to be signed by a major label. The band gained gold and platinum
albums in Ireland and toured larger venues, literally thoughout the world, with
tours in Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Europe as well as regular successful
The 2006 Altan tour marks Altan's 20th anniversary - and also marks Altan's
return to South Parade Pier in Southsea, where they played the very first
Barking Spider gig in 2000!
Further information on Altan can be found on the band's excellent website,
ALTAN appear at South Parade Pier in Southsea on Sunday May 15th 2006. Doors
open 8 p.m.