Mellow Candle (Dublin)

Related: Creatures, Medium Wave Band

Vocals: Clodagh Simonds / Alison Williams / Maria White
Lead Guitar: Jimmy Faulkner
2nd Guitar: Mark Costigan
Bass: Frank Boylan
Drums: William Murray

Dublin group Mellow Candle specialised in imaginative psychedelic folk and had two excellent female singers in their line-up. At the time they recorded their first single, Clodagh Simonds was just 15, and Feeling High, despite being distributed by CBS failed to create much impact. The "SNB" label disappeared soon afterwards, and it wasn't until the 18th April 1971 that they signed to Decca's Deram label with a new bassist Frank Boylan from the The Creatures and Glaswegian drummer William Murray. Relocating to London, Swaddling Songs was recorded at Decca's studios in Tollington Park and the band then settled in Hampstead, making only occasional trips back to Ireland. The sheer quality of their performance on Swaddling Songs makes it perplexing that the band didn't get more recognition at the time. Originals now command a price from £350 upwards and it is the most expensive vinyl L.P. on Deram.

Swaddling Songs, Mellow Candle’s classic debut album has achieved ‘Holy Grail’ status and created a myth around an obscure Irish band. Originals currently sell for around $3000. It was one of most expensive vinyl LPs to emerge from Decca’s subsidiary Deram label, home to a number of highly innovative and experimental bands in the early seventies. The material covered both ballad and rock domains equally well, ranking with the best Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Renaissance albums, at the top of the folk-rock genre. Though usually categorized under folk-rock, it is more closely aligned to deftly crafted early 70s UK pop, with considerable appeal to progressive rock fans. The album is rich and varied, a truly sonic marvel of beauty. The music is loaded with catchy melodies, offbeat rhythms, and unexpected accentuation. The quality of the songs is exceptional, the lyrics marrying the mystical imagery of the period with that of the Catholic upbringing of the girls. Among the gentler, reflective tracks, ‘Reverend Sisters’, Messenger Birds and ‘Silversong’ stand out, while ‘Dan the Wing’, ‘Buy or Beware’ and ‘Boulders on my Grave’ are breathtaking up-tempo pieces delivered with great flair. The music is laced with Clodagh and Alison's celestial vocals and zigzag harmonies. Comparisons with Maddy Prior and Sandy Denny are inevitable, but these two girls sing with an individual brilliance and frequently stunning harmonies, which makes such comparisons pointless. The sheer quality of the performance on this record makes it perplexing that the band didn’t attract more recognition at the time. The group displays a prodigious degree of natural talent for songwriting, harmonizing, and arrangement, however, there is also a raw, energetic, and unpolished quality to the album. After its discovery in the 1990s leading to numerous reissues, the album garnered a global cult following. Collectors’ kudos given to Swaddling Songs and Kissing Spell’s The Virgin Prophet compilation, featuring unreleased and demo recordings, suggests that the influence of this body of work finally has been recognised. Over the years a number of artists, amongst them All About Eve, October Project and Stephen Malkmus have demonstrated this.

Mellow Candle started life in Dublin with three pre-teens around a school piano. Their raw talent was recognised by the nuns and they were encouraged to practise and perform at the Holy Child School. Frustrated by not being able to gain recognition outside the convent walls, Clodagh sent a demo tape to Radio Luxembourg DJ, Colin Nicol. He passed the recording to a producer. They recorded their first single when Clodagh Simonds was just 15 and Alison Williams (now O’Donnell) 16 years old. The girls, together with third original member, Maria White, recorded a single for Simon Napier Bell and David Hemmings’ SNB label in London entitled Feeling High, with a 22-piece orchestra and Cliff Richards’ backing singers The Breakaways > > >

Despite being distributed by CBS, the track failed to create much impact and the SNB label disappeared. Alison and Clodagh‘s parents steered the girls in different directions, but less than two years later Dave Williams, a Trinity College student who had played with a number of bands including Tina and the Mexicans, and bass player Pat Morris joined the band. Managed by Brian Tuite and Ted Carroll, they made their live debut at Liberty Hall supporting The Chieftains.

In 1971 they signed to Deram, recording their seminal album at Decca’s Tollington Park studio with new bassist, Frank Boylan, formerly of The Creatures, and Kevin Ayers’ Glaswegian drummer, William Murray. Thin Lizzy manager Ted Carroll then relocated the new line-up to London. For several years the band struggled to make a living despite appearances at concerts in the U.K. and Ireland at major venues such as Liberty Hall, The Mansion House, The Headland Festival at the R.D.S with Alan Price, Georgie Fame and Arthur Brown’s Kingdom Come, The National Stadium and Slatterys in Dublin.

The band also performed at festivals around the country, including the Wexford Festival with Fairport Convention and Tír na nÓg, where John Peel noted, ‘The seeds of something promising are there’. Between 1969 and 1972 they performed with many artists including Genesis, Thin Lizzy, Donovan, The Chieftains, Steeleye Span, Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny. Their glorious fusion of traditional and contemporary folk-rock was dubbed a ‘tax loss’ by the NME. Disillusioned and dispirited, the group persevered for a while but they were unable to avoid the inevitable break-up. Frank Boylan decided to return to Dublin and was replaced by ex Spirogyra bassist Steve Borrill. They changed their name briefly to Grace Before Space before permanently disbanding in 1973.

Clodagh Simonds remained in London for a time, contributing to Thin Lizzy’s Shades of a Blue Orphanage, three Mike Oldfield albums: Hergest Ridge, Ommadawn and Amarok, and working with Jade Warrior. William Murray put in a stint with Sandy Denny and Richard and Linda Thompson’s Sour Grapes before moving to America, where he and Clodagh formed The Same with Stephen Bray (one of Madonna’s drummers) and Carter Burwell (soundtrack composer for the Coen Bros). The group secured a residency at CBGB'S in 1982. Murray relocated to Dallas working as a fashion photographer, and ultimately to Dublin, where, sadly, he died in 1998, just a year after his arrival. In 1986 Clodagh returned to London, becoming one of Richard Branson's personal assistants. She then moved to Ballydehob in Ireland, releasing Six Elementary Songs in 1997. She currently lives in Dublin and is working on a series of three EPs, collectively entitled Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent, to be released jointly by Janet Records and Die Stadt. Clodagh’s songs are offered up by a host of innovative artists, including Brian Eno, Cora Venus Lunny, Carter Burwell and Robert Fripp, under the name Fovea Hex. Back in Dublin, Frank Boylan played for a time with the Gary Moore Band. Aside from playing music, his main interests lie in computing and sound. He is currently with Cover Story and is the bassist in Dublin singer/songwriter, Michele Ann Kelly’s band. Alison O’Donnell and Dave Williams headed off to South Africa where they formed traditional/contemporary folk group Flibbertigibbet, releasing an album entitled Whistling Jigs to the Moon in 1978. Dave became a music producer and head of light music with the South African Broadcasting Corporation in Cape Town. He has also worked with young producers and musicians, most notably writing, playing and producing the MP3 hit Sheriff Bush and Deputy Blair by the Nukular Stompers. He plays fiddle, mandolin, electric guitar and contributes vocals to contemporary folk band Shanty. In Johannesburg, Alison O’Donnell gained experience as a session singer on recordings of local singer/songwriters and bands, most notably with Terry Dempsey’s (Daydreamer) Plastik Mak, Ellamental, and in advertising, theatre and cabaret. She returned to London in 1986 and spent some years in public sector administration before relocating to Brussels in 1997. Together with the respected Flemish guitarist Philip Masure, she set up the traditional and contemporary band Éishtlinn, releasing the album éist linn in 2001. She also worked as a voice coach before returning to live in Dublin where she sings and plays bodhran in sessions and gigs. She has recorded an album with Isabel Ní Chuireáin entitled 'Mise agus Ise'. Alison is a member of the Michele Ann Kelly Band and the singers clubs, The Góilín and the Howth Singing Circle.


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