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Artist Profiles: Nightnoise

Nightnoise

Nightnoise began as a collaboration between American fiddler Billy Oskay and Irish singer and guitarist Micheal O Domhnaill. Together they released the album Nightnoise in 1984. The traditional Celtic music scene was become smaller in Europe and just beginning to take hold in the United States so attracted by the environment of Portland, Oregon O Domhnaill settled there in 1982. “I was tired of playing only traditional Irish music with is fairly well set,” said Micheal, “especially in the accompanist’s role playing guitar and I was ready to write my own music.”

Three years later Micheal’s sister, Irish pianist and vocalist Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, who had previously collaborated with her brother in Skara Brae, Relativity and The Bothy Band; and Irish-American flutist Brian Dunning, joined the original duo. Nightnoise the band was born.”When it came time to do the second record Something of Time in 1985,” O Domhnaill remembered, “we knew we needed additional players so I invited Triona from North Carolina and Brian from New York. They liked Portland so much they decided to stay as well.”

Something of Time, the quartet’s first album was released by Windham Hill in 1987. It would be followed by At the End of the Evening (1988), The Parting Tide (1990) and the compilation A Windham Hill Retrospective (1992). This would be the last album to feature Oskay’s playing and writing as he chose to leave the band to run his own recording studio, Big Red Studio.

Shadow of Time (1994), the fifth album of new Nightnoise music for Windham Hill Records marked the emergence of the band in a new alignment. With famed Celtic fiddler Johnny Cunningham joining, longtime members O Domhnaill Dunning and keyboardist and vocalist Triona Ni Domhnaill (pronounced Trina Nee Donnell) the direction for the group followed an unexpected and scenic detour. The band took on a much more Irish-centric sound while still retaining their own signature style.

Born in Scotland, Cunningham was known for his role as a founder of the legendary Celtic folk band Silly Wizard and for playing in numerous folk and rock settings with Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, Don Henley, the Waterboys, Bill Morrissey and others. His membership brought a new sense of common heritage and musical unity to Nightnoise. “We’ve been playing with Johnny for years and years and years,” noted O Domhnaill, referring especially to a double sibling collaboration in the revered and wryly named Celtic “supergroup” Relativity featuring Micheal and his sister Triona and Johnny and his brother Phil Cunningham. “Relativity was almost exclusively a band that played jigs, reels, traditional folksongs, and ballads,” he continued “and Nightnoise is a band that composes its own material. That’s the biggest difference. But since Johnny’s a Celt himself, our sort of musical alliance allows a lot of things to go unsaid and makes us a more fluid cohesive unit.”

A Different Shore (1995) and the fan-favorite White Horse Sessions (1997), an album featuring live concert performances mixed in with in-studio live performances with their Windham Hill colleagues as their audience. The album also featured original material only available in this live format (the songs “Heartwood”, “Do We” and “Murdo of the Moon”) as well as a cover of Van Morrison’s classic “Moondance”. “The white Horse Sessions” marked the end of the band’s contractual obligations to Windham Hill and they decided to relocate to Ireland going on hiatus while the yeach focused on their own projects.

1997’s Sessions remains the last Nightnoise album. Cunningham left the band following its release and was replaced by Irish fiddler John Fitzpatrick. In a 1999 interview Micheal O Domhnaill stated that Nightnoise had not broken up and that the band would be getting together again shortly. The band has recorded new material since then
(both original compositions and covers of classic songs) but they’ve all been made for albums others than their own.

Johnny Cunningham died on December 15, 2003 from a heart attack. He was 46 years old. Micheal O Domhnaill died in July 2006 at his home in Dublin, Ireland at the age of 54.

Discography

Nightnoise (Windham Hill Records, 1984)
Something of Time (Windham Hill Records, 1987)
At the End of the Evening (Windham Hill Records, 1988)
The Parting Tide (Windham Hill Records, 1990)
Shadow of Time (Windham Hill Records, 1993)
A Different Shore (Windham Hill Records, 1995)
The White Horse Sessions (Windham Hill Records, 1997)

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