Davy Spillane

Interview by Tina Alvarez

When Davy Spillane plays the bagpipes, he coaxes, caresses, cajoles, pries, and draws out the most intensely beautiful sounds to be found on this planet.

Spillage's forte are specifically the Uilleann pipes and the low whistle. The Uilleann pipes are the traditional Irish version of the bagpipes which consists of the bag, bellows, chanter, three drones and three regulators. The low whistle, on the other hand, is a six-hole single-system, flute-sized instrument that demands "more blow" than the tin whistle and is more effective for slow airs.

"One of the main roles traditionally of the Uilleann pipes is the invocation of deep Irish soul. Its purpose is always to strike the listener very deeply. It's not a warlike instrument," Spillane informed. "It is my heritage to be involved in making deep music on the Uilleann pipes and low whistles."

How Spillane became acquainted with the pipes was more by chance than choice. As an adolescent in Dublin, Spillane first played the tin whistle. He attended a musical school and the day when each student could choose an instrument, they all rushed into the classroom and grabbed one.

"There was a scramble and all that was left was the pipes," Spillane recounted. "It was definitely a challenge. The pipes are very emotionally and mentally demanding, as well as physically, because they're extremely hard to control."

He went on to hone his talent on the pipes as a teenager, forming the Moving Hearts, a traditional Irish folk-rock band with a flair for tough political lyrical observations that garnered the band van searches, as well as kidnapping and death threats. After the group disbanded in 1986, Spillane was widely sought after by the likes of Elvis Costello, Enya, Van Morrison, Kate Bush, Steve Winwood and Chris Rea. He also appeared on the River Dance album, and in the video and theatrical performance.

During this time he also released a number of solo albums - "The Storm" (1985), "Atlantic Bridge" (1986), "Out of the Air" (1988), "Shadow Hunter" (1990), "Pipedreams" (1991), and "Place Among the Stone" (1996).

Now Spillane weaves his magic on "Sea of Dreams," an ambitious undertaking that includes 11 tracks (plus one bonus track) and spotlights Sinead O'Connors' special touch on "Danny Boy" and "The Dreaming of the Bones," of which she also penned the lyrics.

Spillane is especially pleased with the way "Danny Boy" emerged on the LP. A number that is legendary for its political nature, Spillane chose to present it as a more focused dialogue from father to son.

"I'm pretty delighted about it," he enthused. "With Sinead I've achieve a unique version of a song that's usually driven home in another way."

Covering the song also had a special meaning for him - the album is dedicated to his father who passed away while he was recording. The number embraces the themes of hardship, conflict and resolution, traits that are found throughout "Sea of Dreams."

"I like to think the loss and struggle is also resolved here; that the music is uplifting as well," Spillane conceded. "I didn't write about specific events, but rather evoked feelings from a culmination of events regarding relationships, separation and death, from throughout my life."

On "The Dreaming of the Bones," O'Connor's voice is a lovely compliment to his music.

"Working with him on this record was like working with God. I was awestruck," she raved. "This summer, when Davy guested with my band, I would look over and I couldn't believe I was right next to him, that I was playing with this man. 'The Dreaming of the Bones' is - for me - one of my favorite songs I've worked on over the years, out of all of them."

Listening to songs like "Big Sea Ballad" which gently takes you for a melancholy ride on the sea, or the hauntingly delicate "Inagh" with its rich, elegant tones coupled with guitar and percussion, one can only imagine how his home environment contributes to his sound.

Spillane resides by the cliffs of Moher and the Burren, located on the West Coast of Ireland. The area is home to a variety of tropical plants not found elsewhere in the world. And the cliffs, noted for their peacefulness and beauty, are the tragic site for continuing suicides, usually young men of European descent between the ages of 29-34.

But wherever he draws his inspiration, "Sea of Dreams" is an impeccable assortment of his brilliance.

"It takes a lot of courage to make a slow album. In a way, put my heart on the line," said this man who knows no other way.

"It's very important to me that the integrity of what I do - even if I don't like it in years to come - is always high. I'm very particular about that," he concluded. "I don't want to feel lousy about myself down the road because I comprised the music somewhere. And I haven't."

Return to Tina's Home Page

EMOLorg Music Home Page

1999, Entertainment Magazine On Line, EMOL.org