In October 1997, Irelands all-star quintet Lúnasa released their first CD Lúnasa, a mix of concert and studio tracks gathered from their prolific year together. It was immediately hailed as one of the finest, freshest recordings of Irish music in years, called “moving, pulsating, and thrilling to the very marrow” by Folk Roots and “a true must-have disc” by the Irish Voice. From the start, Lúnasa met with instant acclaim. Their first album became an immediate best-seller in Ireland, topping Hot Press folk charts and nominated one of the years top ten by the Irish Echo in the USA.
Since that auspicious beginning, Lúnasa has become one of the most sought-after bands on the international Irish music scene. The bands inventive arrangements and bass-driven grooves are steering Irish acoustic music into surprising new territory. On their first American visit, word-of-mouth led to sold-out shows and rave reviews. “A standing-room only crowd in New York confirmed Lúnasas reputation,” wrote the Irish Voice. “This is the hottest Irish acoustic group on the planet.”
Like the younger generation of Nashville musicians such as Bela Fleck or Edgar Meyer, pushing the boundaries of bluegrass into jazz and beyond, Lúnasa are redefining Irish music by going right to the heart of its rhythms. With its distinctive use of the upright acoustic bass — brought front and center by Hutchinsons remarkable playing — teamed with Hennesseys percussive guitar, the group seeks out the essential heartbeat of a tune. “There are lots of great melodies in Irish music but often people dont hear the rhythms underneath,” says founding member Sean Smyth. “We try to relate the swing or energy out of the music, using new rhythms, letting each instrument add its own unique layer. Well play the same tune over and over searching for the groove, exploring it. We let the music find its pulse.” The result is a sound that, though distinctly Irish in flavor, touches on jazz and other improvisational music forms.
Inspired by Irelands great 1970s group The Bothy Band, Lúnasa use melodic interweaving of wind and string instruments, pairing flutes, fiddle, whistle and pipes in often breathtaking arrangements. “I had a vision of the type of music I wanted to create,” says Sean. “In my books, the most influential band was the Bothy Band, who were flute, pipes and fiddle based.” Seeds for Lúnasa were planted when Sean hooked up with Trevor and Donogh for a short tour of Scandinavia in late 1996. The trio clicked so well that back in Ireland, they brought in John McSherry and Michael McGoldrick to record some concerts. A tour of Australia in January 1997 brought Kevin on board, and the band began to take off. “The response when we started playing at home was just great,” adds Sean. Within several months, they were filling venues with spellbound audiences in Ireland, and began to expand their tours to other parts of the world. After a particularly memorable concert at Matt Molloys — a renowned music pub in the West of Ireland, owned by the former-Bothy Band and current-Chieftains flutist — Molloy himself gave the new band his blessing, remarking “they remind me of a band I used to play with!”
Named for an ancient Celtic harvest festival in honor of the Irish god Lugh, patron of the arts, Lúnasa is indeed a gathering of some of the top musical talents in Ireland. Its members have helped formed the backbone of some of the greatest Irish groups of the decade – Bassist Trevor Hutchinson was a key member of The Waterboys, and later he, with guitarist Donogh Hennessy, would form the dynamic rhythm section of The Sharon Shannon Band. Fiddler Sean Smyth is an All-Ireland champion who has played with Donal Lunnys Coolfin; Kevin Crawford, considered to be among the finest flutists in Ireland played with the acclaimed traditional group Moving Cloud; and, piper Cillian Vallely (of the same talented musical family as brother Niall Vallely of Nomos). They were rightly called an “Irish music dream team” in the magazine Folk Roots.
In 1999 Lúnasa signed a 3 album deal with US label, Green Linnet. The deal was the largest Green Linnet have ever offered a new signing. In October of that year Otherworld was released. The album was described as a stunning cycle of instrumentals that captures all the performance intensity for which theyre widely acclaimed. This record strengthened Lúnasas growing global reputation as one of the hottest, most electrifying bands in Irish music today. The album was Green Linnets fastest selling record in its 25-year history.
They performed at the HOLLYWOOD BOWL to 13,000 people in Summer 2000. June 2001 saw the release of The Merry Sisters Of Fate, described by Mojo as the brilliant third all-instrumental album by the new gods of Irish music, and recently named by Thom Duffy of Billboard magazine as one of the top ten musical events of 2001. In 2001 Lúnasa toured in US, Australia, Israel, Austria, Scandinavia, France, Ireland, and UK. In summer 2001 they toured as Special Guests of MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER. They also worked with actress HOLLY HUNTER on her theatre project By The Bog Of Cats. In November Lúnasa toured Ireland with LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO.
In 2002 Lúnasa toured constantly visiting the USA, Canada, Spain, Italy, UK, France and Holland. In the middle of their Spring US tour they scheduled two weeks at the famous Prairie Sun Studios in California to commence recording their fourth album, “Redwood”. The album was completed in Dublin. In March 2002 Lunasa were awarded British/Celtic Album of the Year for “Merry Sisters of Fate”, by the Association for Independent Music in the USA.
In 2003 Lunasa undertook 3 separate US tours, further consolidating their position at the very pinnacle of Irish music in North America. They also appeared at Celtic Connections in Glasgow where they were the subject of major media attention including BBC television and radio. Lúnasas latest album Redwood was released and the band having fulfilled their recording commitment, announced the termination of their troubled relationship with the controversial US label, Green Linnet.
Also in 2003 Lúnasa won the “Coup de Coeur Miroir” prize for their performances at the Quebec City Summer Festival July 2003 – one of the worlds great cultural happenings
This prize is defined as :
“Recognizes an artist, in any popular music genre, who the jury agrees has given a truly outstanding performance. The concert must stand out from all the others on the basis of one or more criteria. The method of evaluation and criteria for this prize is left to the discretion of the jurors”.
The stellar line-up at the Festival included:
Daniel Lanois, Bruce Cockburn, Rosanne Cash, Mary Gauthier, Howe Gelb (Giant Sand) Buffy Ste-Marie, Billy Bragg, Bob Geldof and many other Music greats.
In 2004, seven years and three albums on from that acclaimed début, the band revisited the immediate, live-in-the-studio recording style on the riveting new album The Kinnitty Sessions. recorded before an invited audience of friends and supporters in the supposedly-haunted walls of Irelands Kinnitty Castle, the album is clearly the work of an ensemble in peak form. Sharpened by constant touring and endless refinement of the material in a live setting, The Kinnitty Sessions is the most inventive and intense recording yet from Lúnasa, capturing the vitality and interplay of their concert appearances with a rich, crystal-clear studio sound. The album received a nomination for Folk Album Of The Year in the BBC Radio 2 Awards. It was also voted Best Traditional Album of 2005 by the readers of Irish Music Magazine.
At the end of 2004 guitarist Donogh Hennessy decided to take some time out to develop his own projects. He was replaced by Time Edey and Paul Meehan – two of the most dazzling young guitar/multi-instrument talents in the Celtic genre today. Both shared guitar duties on Lúnasa’s 2006 release. Paul Meehan is now a permanent member of the band.
Between their stunning début (available in a remastered/expanded edition as Compass Records COM 4317) and the heights scaled on The Kinnitty Sessions, Lúnasa released three superb albums for the US Green Linnet label. Otherworld (1999), The Merry Sisters of Fate (2001), and Redwood (2003) were each met with wide critical accolades, and furthered the development of the bands richly detailed, driving vision of acoustic music. The albums were supported by tours through Ireland, the US, the UK, Canada, Japan, Australia, Italy, Holland, and Spain.
In 2001 Lúnasa went to Hollywood (and performed in front of 13,000 people at the Hollywood Bowl). In 2005 Hollywood came to Lúnasa in the form of their debut composing for a feature film, Irish Jam. Lúnasa also recorded two songs for the soundtrack of Irish Jam with ex-Brookside Babe and now film star (of Land Girls, Rogue Trader), ANNA FRIEL. The film also starred US film star/comedian EDDIE GRIFFIN (Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Undercover Brother).
Lúnasas 9th birthday is celebrated with the release of their sixth album Sé (pronounced shay the irish for 6). Sé is receiving even greater critical acclaim than the usual high praise which has greeted each album release. The Irish Times made it their CD Of The Week journalist Siobhan Long writing Lúnasa have embarked on another journey, full of hairpin bends and vertiginous peaks, fuelled by an insatiable appetite for reconnoitering routes previously uncharted . Sé is a snapshot of a band whose rigorous attention to detail repays the listener time and time again. Hidden treasures lurk in every nook and cranny within.
Possibly the hardest touring band in Irish music are keeping up the intensity through 2006 with a schedule of 140 shows. They started the year with a 1,400 sell-out at Celtic Connections, Glasgow then on to Hawaii; mainland USA (3 tours over the course of the year); a dozen countries in Europe finishing up in Japan in December. One of the highlights of 2006 will be Lúnasas headlining appearance at Dublins National Concert Hall on 8th June. The concert is being recorded by RTE Radio One. It will be preceded by national TV appearances and extensive media coverage.
2007 celebrates 10 years of Lúnasa. The BBC showed their support by filming their headlining show at Glasgows international jamboree, Celtic Connections making Lúnasa the only band to have been filmed twice by the BBC at the event. Soon after the band set off on a 7-week jaunt that saw them travel across Australia (taking in all the major cities), on to Alaska and back through shows in 13 US states including Florida in the South. In March Irish Music Magazine gave the band the front page and a major feature celebrating their Decade Of Excellence.
Founding member Trevor Hutchison spent much of 2007 pouring over the bands body of work to select the tracks that best represent not only the energy, drive and fire that Lúnasa is known for, but also the uniqueness of their compositions and arrangement style. Along the way, the band made a side trip to the Compass Sound Studio in Nashville to re-record Aibreann and Morning Nightcap as a way of illustrating the sound of the current lineup and in the process redefined these band favorites as classics of their repertoire. The end result is a mind-blowing showcase of arguably the greatest instrumental group ever to exist in Irish music.? Lúnasas 2008 CD release,?The Story So Far… includes expansive liner notes on the bands history and an extensive photo journal of the past 11 years.