“Omnis” and Riverdance, 1995-96.

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…

11 thoughts on ““Omnis” and Riverdance, 1995-96.

  1. A very interesting piece Michael. When you refer to the Nigel Brand image at the end, which image are you referring to ?

  2. The cover one Josh – the other five covers are by various different artists including Brendan Donlon, Karen Dignam, John McGlynn [yes, the one in the field is my brother Tom] and the one with the statues was the US release cover. I don’t know any of the statues personally.

  3. I really enjoy these insights Michael although I’m not sure I like the idea that I was part of a ‘cult following’ …

  4. Hah! Yeah – sounds like a religon… but you know what I mean. I used to feel the same way about certain artists, and still creep around their fringes, hearing the same things in them that I first saw when I was younger. Some have remained the same and are still infinitely fascinating, but some have moved on [not always for the better].

  5. Riverdance and Omnis were where I caught on. It is so fascinating to get the behind the scenes story. I think your mom’s comment says a lot. While every project has been fantastic, I have always felt something more for Omnis. It’s like Anuna’s own Rumors (arguably Fleetwood Mac’s best album…and look at the turmoil there!).

  6. Oh wow, major time-warpage!

    I remember the 1995 recording well – a beautiful summer’s day in the chapel in Blackrock College. I was facilitating the session when I was working in Windmill Studios. It was a weekend if memory serves – a Sunday? I also remember the session had to be stopped on the hour every hour for the bells of the clock tower in the College.

    Moments that bubble up from the stockpot of my memory:
    * Maria Matrem – chills up and down my spine and all the boys staring rapt from the back of the chapel, no-one outside sunbathing, everyone gravitated in to the chapel.

    * Brian Masterson, as unflappable as ever, manning the tech with Ciaran assisting.

    * Miles and miles of gaffer tape holding all the cables in place.

    * Some very rude names being proposed for the album’s name as we lounged in the sun with coffees and cold drinks. (Wasn’t Miriam near-term in her pregnancy at that time too?)

    * Michael pretty much losing the plot during Tenebrae III – I thought you were going to have an aneurysm!

    * Priests, and various others from the College, standing slack-jawed outside the chapel while Dulaman was being recorded.

    What a day…

  7. Wow Rowan – pretty much as it was… I’d forgotten you were there! Yes – very sunny, pretty surreal!

  8. Well I suppose we all know that popular success is not an everlasting phenomena and is not what motivates the artistic life.
    Now I am hoping to be on a new decadent picture as the one at the top!

  9. Hi Michael,

    As life has it, this is not the first recording that has used this wild Znd date I say decadent picture?! An EP called “Rosin Dubh” with an outstanding tecording of a song written by Patterson and Clarke “Risin Dubh” and a new recording of “Codail a Linbh” on there. And the pic is in colour! I am one of those fans from ‘the beginning’ you refer to and it’s because you always are trying to create something new, keen and bring choral singing to another uncharted space. That’s really dating and deserves not only support but celebration. You know I have been listening for a long time and while I welcome a fifth recording of an album, I have to ask is it as much to keep newer members in touch with the origins as much as perfecting music with fresher voices…? (But, I also have to say I love “Illumanation” and want a video to ” Ah Robin” soon!).

    And finally: I am continually drawn back to “Sensation” and IMHO the most perfect song ever composed is “Whispers of Paradise”. Thank you from the bottom of my choral heart…

  10. Hi Lisa
    No – there have been only 2 versions of Omnis – one 1995, one 1996 – the 2002 edition is just a remaster, not a re-recording. This new version is that one minus Dowanit Bugale :-)

  11. May i make some needed corrections: that’s ROISIN DUBH. And it’s a WILD AND DARE I SAY DECADANT PICTURE!! Of course many have brought their dates to your concerts (me included!) but I did mean to say ‘daring’ (auto corrector is the fun thing in life now!). Thanks again!!

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