This week sees the arrival of the new artwork for Anúna’s third/fourth album Omnis. The CD has had no less than five, yes, five separate covers and three released versions. You can see the original artwork at the bottom of this article. You may justifiably ask why have a sixth cover? Are you an obsessive compulsive? Do you have no life?
This new cover was actually intended to be the first one, and despite being pretty off-the-wall now, at the time it fitted into my own view of what Anúna was. You see, in 1995 we were pretty cool, so creating an image such as this would have fitted very much into the ethos that I had created for us. I can’t remember why I didn’t include it as I had planned, but I suspect it was because Omnis was created when Anúna were involved in Riverdance, and the association between both projects wasn’t pleasant.
Its hard to believe that Anúna was once “happening” in the early 1990s in this country. We were a genuine underground “cult” band – rock stars, cool people and our general audience mingled together at our concerts. In 1995 we were stars…
We had an ever increasing following, and while Riverdance catapulted us forward onto an international stage in an unprecedented manner, we had earned the right by 1994 to be called then what we still are today – a true Irish original. While Anúna had migrated from audiences of 3-400 to playing 4000 seater venues with the biggest show on the planet in just a few months, I only saw the original vision I had for the group. I created Omnis to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, and also to make an effort to bind the singers who had travelled part or all of the way with me to that concept. I decided to record this new album in the same church acoustic as I had Anúna (1993) because many of the new songs needed “space” within them. I believed that I could only achieve this in a sacred space.
At the time of the recording we were two choirs – one in London and one in Dublin. We had always had more singers than we needed on stage, so it was only a case of recruiting a few new faces. I have to admit that it was significantly easier to do this after we had spent 18 weeks at number one in the Irish charts with the Riverdance single, but I find that success usually makes one taller, thinner or more attractive in the eyes of others. Two groups, one at home in Dublin, another in London. Two worlds – one passionately created from hard slog for seven years, the other singing loudly over a backing-track on a London stage full of glamour and stardom. These two collided forcibly in Omnis in summer 1995 and this resulted in a rather unsatisfying series of recording sessions. It was also far more musically complex, demanding a much more choral feel to it than the previous two CDs, and it did stretch some of the singers to the limit of their capabilities.
I remember that Dúlamán and Geantraí were originally one single piece, but needing another up tempo number forced me to split the song in half. Some of the material was wildly odd – O Viridissima was like a banshee conference, while Tenebrae III sounded like it had fallen off the soundtrack of 2001: a Space Odyssey. But for some reason the album worked quite well. The 1995 release sold by the bucket-load at home, probably the first and only time an Anúna album would do so well in our own country. Its mix of traditional Irish songs on the same disc as works by Hildegarde von Bingen was oddly cohesive.
Then we shattered. I decided I had had enough. I couldn’t compete with the trappings of Riverdance. The primary reason I wanted out was a complete lack of any artistic input in the music we sang, with the same material being performed night after night. While some of the singers loved being a minor celebrity in London, they also wanted to be part of the thrill that forms the essence of Anúna. It just wasn’t possible for them to have both. I jumped and they stayed. A handful of singers tried to remain as part of both for a short while, but life is not about going backwards. They eventually went their own ways.
So Anúna was reborn, albeit tainted by a two edged celebrity status in Ireland, something I managed to shake off everywhere else except home. Which was actually great. I was forced to reach beyond these shores, and that is why Anúna still exists today.
Paradoxically the influx of new blood in 1996 resulted in what is arguably one of our finest recordings Deep Dead Blue, but at the time it was pretty hard going for me. By the time Omnis was hot off the presses it was a historical note, not a new album. I remember my mother saying to me after she first heard it that she couldn’t believe something so beautiful had been born out of so much trouble. In retrospect I can’t either. The beauty of it is in the music rather than the performances I believe, and I am still very proud of the compositions on that record. Dúlamán has become a choral mega-hit all over the world thanks to my friends in Chanticleer who included it on their album Wondrous Love in 1997.
For contractual reasons, I had to provide our record company at the time with a new album for US release in 1996, so I decided to re-record Omnis with the new team of singers. This album was called Omnis : Special Edition and is pretty much the same album as the first one. The recording sessions were as difficult as those for the 1995 album. Who wants to record an album twice? I see the two recordings as one project, not two. Neither created in happy times, neither particularly fulfilling artistically. In 2002 I revisited them both, remastered them and there it was – Super Omnis! And it is pretty good… This 2012 issue removes the track Diwant Bugale from the 2002 album, a last minute addition on the 1996 release and instates the new edit of Mariam Matrem Virginem with its beautiful solo by Monica Donlon.
By the way, the image was photographed by the photographer Nigel Brand who
had taken many pictures of the first lineup of Anúna (circa 1991-3). I remember discussing the album with him, and giving him free reign to create a image with an impact rather than something out of the “Celtic Mysts of Ancient Tyme” ethos. Thanks Nigel…