Hall of Fame - Shaun Davey
Colin Harper conducts the story of Shaun Davey
Born in Holywood, County Down, in 1948, Shaun Davey was a contemporary of those other Northern cultural icons George Best, Alex Higgins and Van Morrison, although as he notes: ‘I have a different background, so I behave in a different way.’
The family moved to Dublin when Davey was a teenager and he grew up listening to both Chicago blues and his parents’ record collection which included Beethoven Sonatas and Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’.
Originally wanting to be an artist, he graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1971, winning a scholarship to the Courtauld Institute of Fine Art where he took a Masters Degree and somehow managed, at the same time, to record his first album. Entitled Davey & Morris, with latter-day Windmill Lane studio supremo James Morris, mint condition copies are now valued at £100. Davey himself owns two, and plays them to no-one.
Returning to Ireland, he formed Bugle with Donal Lunny: ‘We only did four gigs, in Dublin, and some demos,’ says Davey. ‘It was a very experimental band. Donal took a year out of Planxty to pursue these things, but there was only one way for me to go at that stage - I was very keen to cross boundaries and arrange meeting-points between certain instruments and traditions, and that had to be thought out on the page.’
In the meantime, Shaun made a living writing advertising jingles, including one, ‘The Pride Of The Herd’, for The National Dairy Council, which later became a hit single and was apparently also the genesis of his career-defining work, 'The Brendan Voyage'.
Aside from popular soundtrack work during the ‘90s and beyond - much of it BAFTA and Ivor Novello nominated, including Ballykissangel, Waking Ned, Trevor Nunn’s film Twelfth Night, a stage musical of CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe, a play based on James Joyce’s The Dead and much else besides - Davey remains best known for 'The Brendan Voyage'.
Based on Tim Severin’s re-enactment of St Brendan’s legendary voyage to America, the suite was written for uilleann piper Liam O’Flynn plus orchestra and was first performed in 1979 and remains fairly regularly staged to this day. It was a ground-breaking work and led Davey down a compositional path of similar large-scale works, beginning with the incredibly ambitious 'The Pilgrim' - featuring musicians and languages from the seven Celtic nations of Europe, and requiring a cast of around 200.
Subsequent works include the song-cycle 'Granuaile' and 'The Relief Of Derry Symphony'. All are currently available on CD from the Tara label ('The Pilgrim' and 'Granuaile' being much enhanced from their original ‘80s appearances on vinyl). Other major works, though unavailable commercially, are The Belfast Harp Concerto and a massive choral piece, 'Gulliver', based on the life and work of Jonathan Swift, which premiered in Dublin in 1996.
In the mid ‘90s, Shaun brought his skills as a producer and arranger to a series of albums by Rita Connolly, Liam O’Flynn and Stockton’s Wing but since then has concentrated on stage and soundtrack commissions.