Just before the start of this year's European tours we had the chance to meet Loreena McKennitt in Zurich for an interview.
On the terrace of the Kongresshaus with a view of Lake Zurich, Loreena McKennitt answered questions about the current tour as well as questions about her musical connection to Celtic culture, which is an integral part of her music.
Here the interview:
Your tour for the spring 2012 is called „Celtic Footprints“. How did you discover Celtic Culture for you?
Loreena McKennitt: My Father had something called a Shaleil. A shaleili is a wooden stick and it comes from Ireland and from his father and grand father and so on… And for me it was interesting in terms of my own history that the real big moment when I became really infatuated with Celtic music was when I moved to Winnipeg in the late seventieth and I was part of a folk club there and a number of members of the folk club were from Scotland, Ireland and England and what they were doing there was bringing in some recordings of groups like Steeleye Span, playing Steve Arkly Band and as soon as I heard this music I said Whow, that’s fantastic and so we already played it in traditional sessions. So, that was really my first exposure. Alan Stivells recordings, yes!
Then I worked on a basis that the Celts were primarily based in Ireland, Scotland, England , Wales, etc. So that was in 1991 that I went to the exhibition in Venice that was the most extensive exhibition ever in Celtic artefacts. But forward after the disintegration of the Soviet Union so they hadn’t really been seen by a large public and then I came to learn that the Celts dated back to 500 BC, that they were all over Anatolia, all over Europe.
Can we say, from that point there is a personnel view on the history especially on the Celtic people?
LMcK: A personnel view? Yes, I mean, it is not an academic view. I am not a trained academic. I am someone, you know, many people have their own passions, their hobbies, I would say my interest lies in a …. I mean it is a core ingredient to my professional career but I am not a professional academic. It is a sort of history a sort of personnel passion and a hobby and they bring that in into my profession.
It is a little bit similar to what we are doing. We are not the experts getting too deep into the history, but…..
LMcK: yes,….., yes,…..
That’s the point. You can reach much more people, if you are not going to deep sometimes?
LMcK: Yes, I agree absolutely. But it also give people an awareness that if their own personnel curiosity wants to go deeper they can go to the academics. I have spoken to a number of archaeologists, one from the University of Arizona, some from Pennsylvania, some people from Turkey, so people want more, they are searching more.
This is one of my next questions already. Do you have any personnel resources you are getting the information’s from? Are you doing own research?
LMcK: It´s a mixture of some books I have or academic books or even people who made it their study or as I mentioned speak with people such as archaeologists’ when I was out to that side out of Ankara… you know, they were talking about the Phrygian and the Lycian, all the human layers and here is the Celtic one. So reading and speaking to people of some authority that my own personnel travelling is really more just then to get light in the sky, temperatures of sounds, the feelings of air …..
When you are saying you are doing own research as well, what is, I mean this is something especially for theTurkish people, they would like to hear more about that….
LMcK: Yeah, I know….
What is your idea about the population over there?
LMcK: About Turkey? Oh, yes….
It is an incredibly rich culture, unbelievably. And, as I said over the years, since I ´ve travelling to Turkey I just wish, people in North America knew much more. But I am trill to say, that there are direct flights from Toronto to Istanbul now. When I go to the airport to flight even to Winnipeg and I could see oh, there is the Turkish Airlines, Oh, I know I could go on there. So there is been a lot more promotion in Canada on Turkey. You know, ….I mean every country is complex and it is a result of its own history and Canada is that way such as well, but there is so much wonderful stimulation, hospitality and cultural enrichment from being engaged with it.
And it is still not discovered too much, right? Means, there is still a lot people can find.
LMcK: Oh, yes. I would even say, that the world needs Turkey. And I think that we have been seeing that, and you know…., yeah, I really think we all need the historical background, we need to see the perspectives and its involvement.
When you doing these travels, for sure, you have said, you have been to Ankara, to Istanbul,
Your songs are little bit mystical as well. Have you got any relation to mystical Turkish writers f.e. Yunus Emre?
LMck: Ah…. A bit. Not as really as much as I would like, you know, but it is not finished yet. We will see.
When you are going to Turkey, do the instruments people use over there have any influence on you and your music?
LMcK: Oh, yes absolutely I remember couple of situations. I think, the first time we played in Istanbul about 1995 or 96 and I remember going to that Roman Cistern, I have forgotten the correct name now…… the Sunken Palace…. And there is a little platform where the musicians playing. There was Kemence a Turkish instrument. As soon as I heard that, I fell in love. And that was in 95 and it wasn’t like I was working on ancient music until 2005, a decade later, that I was finally able to bring in the Kemence, particularly the Kemence, oh, God it is such a fantastic instrument. I really love it.
There are couple of questions about the Tour now. I know from your calendar that little later you will start a second tour again from Zürich, exactly on the 14th of July, with different name for the following tour. First part is “Celtic Footprint Tour”, then it is changing to “A Midsummer Nights Tour”. Is there any reason?
LMcK: No, not really. At least not as much as one might think there is or should be? We committed ourselves to this Tour and then we started speaking about our strategy to do some more events in Germany and so my agent spoke with the promoter here in Zürich and said, would you like another performance, I mean from my common sense it seems halt. So then the next question was how that will differ from this tour. I mean, in the summer time, of course, you can do a lot of outdoor venues. That’s for sure.
But secondly the summer tour we will more integrate the Eastern flavours and textures, this is quite squarely more western Celtic, more Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English. There is no Eastern in it at all what we are doing this tour. So instead of a comenchi player we have got an Irish pipe player, a Celtic guitarist, because people haven’t really heard so much from us for a very long time.
This is nearly an answer for one of my next questions. Are you changing the musicians for the following tour?
LMcK: Yes, but just in some instruments to get higher influence from eastern parts.
Or is the program different?
LMcK: There will be some songs which will be same, but there is a whole bank of six or seven songs that we are not doing here, we are doing in the summer time. This, with the view, that people come to see the concert now and I think the place will be the same in the summer, as we are in the spring tour, if the people really want to come together to another one, they would hear a mostly different concert. And I felt this is only fair to all.
I heard that with the second part of the tour you are doing more Open Air concerts:
LMcK: Of this tour?
No, not this one.
LMcK: Oh, you mean in the summer. Yes I expect lot of them.
I heard as well, there might be some places in between like ancient theatres or castles?
LMcK: I need to say that so far I have not studied them personally. There was no time due to lot of things to organise so far for the spring tour.
But you like to play open air?
LMcK: In the summer, absolutely. I like very much. Whenever I can be outside, it is a pleasure for me. It is very different to play in a historical place, not just for us, especially for the audience. We were just talking about some places during the last night, like in the south of Italy or in Famagusta in Cyprus, Oh, God, it was great.
Because there are lot of places like that, there is my next question: When are you coming back to Turkey?
LMcK: Probably not this year, no, that’s not possible. We were there in 2009 and the last two, nearly three years I was looking after my mother, who was very, very ill. So I couldn’t work at all. And after I decided, now this is the time of the year to be away from Canada, where it is cold and snowy, come to Europe and then move to Southern Europe, the Mediterranean until June. It is quite possible for the following years again.
For sure Turkish audience is awaiting you again:
LMcK: Oh, I would love to go back.
Especially some people from Izmir were asking, why are you not coming to our Agora?
LMcK: I would really love to. We were to Izmir, but this was couple of years ago.
I think that was in 2008 or like that.
LMcK: Was it like that long ago? I cannot really remember right now. I mean I have been to Izmir personally, I stayed on the island of Chios and I took the boat over from Chios to Izmir.
Seher, actually from Izmir.
LMcK: Oh, really. So there should be a concert in Izmir again.
We would like to invite you working on that idea. Dear Loreena, thank you very much for your kind way in answering our questions. We are sure there is a successful tour awaiting you. Thank you very much.
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