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.
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.
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.
As my fledgeling ensemble realistically couldn’t compete with the trappings of Riverdance it was time to leave the show or die. 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. 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 and new singers joined us. So Anúna was reborn, albeit tainted by a two edged celebrity status in Ireland, something I managed to shake off everywhere else except home. Still today the word “Riverdance” is usually among the first few words that any interview of media appearance we do in Ireland begins with – that is very sad, as we have become so much more than that.
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.
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…