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Clannad Finds Road to U.S. Exposure : Pop music: The use of 'Harry's Game' in TV car commercials has given the Irish folk-pop group another shot at the American market.

June 02, 1993|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

U2 couldn't do it.

New Age star Enya couldn't do it.

But now a German car company might be finally doing it--giving Irish folk-pop group Clannad a hit in the United States.

Volkswagen has been using the lush, haunting Clannad song "Harry's Game" in a series of TV ads in recent months, and to the group's singer, Maire Brennan, it's the best ride the group's had in ages.

"It has really been a vehicle for us to break into something there," said Brennan by phone from Dublin, where the band was rehearsing for a rare U.S. tour that includes a concert Friday at the Wiltern Theatre.

"It was nice that people got a chance to hear us whether it was in a commercial or whatever," said Brennan, 40, who co-founded Clannad 20 years ago in rural County Donegal with her brothers Ciaran and Pol and their twin uncles, Padraig and Noel Duggan, mixing traditional Gaelic tunes with modern styles. Pol left two years ago to produce world music for Peter Gabriel's WOMAD organization, though younger sister Bridin--Maire is the oldest of nine Brennan siblings--now serves as a background singer.

"Harry's Game" was actually a hit in the U.K. and Europe in 1982 when it had been used as the theme for a BBC-TV spy series. Soon after, it caught the attention of U2's Bono, who became a Clannad booster. "Harry's Game" was played on the public address system at the close of U2 concerts for years and he made a guest appearance with Clannad, dueting with Maire on the 1985 song "In a Lifetime."

But the group failed to tour the United States at the time and remained relatively obscure here. In 1988, Brennan's sister Enya, who had a brief stint in Clannad from 1979 to 1981, scored a huge hit with her album, "Watermark." That, Brennan said, was a new opportunity for Clannad.

Despite a 1988 U.S. concert tour, however, Clannad's profile stayed at about the same cult-status level.

That's changing with the Volkswagen ads.

"Sometimes it just boils down to doing the right thing at the right time," Brennan said. "We feel like we're getting a second chance, and it's really brilliant. It's like love--you don't know when it strikes."

Even before the German auto maker had tabbed the song for its ads, Clannad had geared up for another try at the American market. Last year, the group signed with Atlantic Records, which released "Anam" (which added "Harry's Game" and "In a Lifetime" to a collection of 10 new songs), Maire Brennan's solo album "Maire" and a reissue of the 1982 album "Fuaim." A fully new album, "Banba," is in stores this week.

But to get the full measure of Clannad's roots, Brennan said, you'll have to catch the whole family back at the County Donegal pub. But don't be surprised if the traditions are not strictly Irish.

"We're quite a close family," she said, noting that there was no jealousy in Clannad over Enya's success. "At home when the five girls are all there, we still get up and sing together--but something like an Andrews Sisters song."

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