No Sex and the Single Girl
Mail On Sunday (UK) You Magazine 12 February 1989
In the smoky Dublin drinking establishments where the city's folk musicians congregate, dark tales are told of family betrayal, domination and imprisonment. It could be the stuff of some lurid rebel song, but it's not. It's real life they're talking about, the life in question being that of Eithne Ní Bhraonáin - better known as Enya.
Now that same Enya sits shivering in her manager's freezing living room, thanks to one of Dublin's regular power cuts, cups a glass of red wine in both hands and talks quietly about 'several strange stories' concerning her relationship with her manager Nicky Ryan and his wife Roma.
'They say that Nicky is a Svengali and that I'm locked inside this house' she says. 'They say that everything I do or speak or think I have to do through them. That hurts me.'
That's not all they say, of course, but the more lurid gossip is of less concern to this unlikely pop star, she of the pale and interesting looks and debut single 'Orinoco Flow' which was the surprise smash of 1988. To Enya, music equals destiny. She hurts when people suggest she's not in control of her music; the rest is just so much background noise.
You get the message: Enya is very serious, very intense. This is the 27 year old who turned on her record company boss and gave him a good telling off for fooling around during the photo-call for her album Watermark. 'You tend to behave yourself in her company,' Warner Bros chairman Rob Dickens (1) ruefully admits after the event. 'Make even a small joke about her songs and she gets angry. And she does have a peculiar effect on men. I've watched normally sane journalists waxing metaphysical when they meet her.'
Naturally, Dickens maintains he wasn't so smitten when he parted with £75,000 of company money to sign Enya in 1987 (2). But it was, he admits, 'a self-indulgence that proved to be a sound decision'. He'd been impressed by the Donegal girl's assured score for David Puttnam's film The Frog Prince (3) and hypnotised by her soundtrack for the BBC television series The Celts. 'Sometimes the company is there to make money, sometimes it's there to make music' he says. 'Enya was the latter'.
Happily, she was the former too, but you wouldn't know it to visit her. She lives far from the show-business crowd in the nondescript Dublin suburb of Artane, sharing a modest bungalow - with recording studio back extension - owned by Roma and Nicky Ryan. They describe their talented lodger as their best friend. It's a complex and happy liaison: Nicky produces the records and Roma writes lyrics, often in Gaelic or Latin, in between taking care of business and looking after two young daughters.
Enya hasn't willingly listened to a note of music other than her own since studying classical music at her boarding convent. 'I had to play Brahms, Schubert, Bach and Schumann, but none of them fascinated me enough to go and buy their albums' she says matter-of-factly, the way others might mention Dire Straits or Bryan Ferry. 'Peace and quiet are my main sources of inspiration'.
Raised in Gweedore, Co. Donegal (4), Enya was the fifth of nine children. 'So any moments of tranquillity were to be treasured.'
A career in music seemed inevitable. Both parents are keen players while two of the older children Moya and Kieran (5), are founding members of Clannad, the Irish troubadours who won international acclaim with Harry's Game and Robin Hood. But Enya didn't plan on entering the family business until Nicky Ryan, then managing Clannad, persuaded them to add the gifted 19-year old's voice to their traditional Celtic bedrock in 1980.
Her two-year stint with Clannad 'thrown in at the deep end', instilled a love for stage and travel but ended in acrimony on both sides.
'The dust has settled now but I didn't regret leaving. When you're told after two years that you'll never be a partner you think "How can I be treated this way?". It went sour.'
Nicky Ryan walked out with Enya. 'She wasn't even getting an unequal share. They were giving her pocket-money and patting her on the head. I wouldn't know what they think of our stuff now, we don't speak to each other.' (6)
The split became, and remains, a cause celebre in Ireland's close-knit music community. To avoid embarrassing her parents in Gweedore, Enya moved in with the Ryans, forming what Nicky calls 'our magical little trinity'.
Whatever the enchantment, their lives together are unglamorous. Working from the studio overlooking neighbours' gardens and washing lines, Enya develops her songs surrounded by the Ryan girls' toys and trikes; the family cat mush-mush often sits on her lap as she enters a semi-induced trance, multi-tracking intricate harmonies in real time for hours at a stretch.
Because Enya and the Ryans lead a cloistered life and avoid Dublin's trendier haunts they sense a resentment to their method. To this Enya attributes those 'several strange stories' about Nicky the Svengali and the Ryans' imprisoned pop star.
'Perhaps people feel I'm too precious, but I won't do anything against my wishes. I did go out for the night three years ago and I thought, "My God! Is this what they call fun and games?" No, it's too removed from the things I like. I must have home comforts - open fires, lots of cats, the odd meal out and very good red wine.'
'I'm a country girl so I love the countryside but I don't wander about conjuring up revelations and mystical experiences.'
Simple country girl she may be but her debut album Watermark has already sold over 250,000 copies and provided Warners with their first number one single in six years (7). Naturally, the pressures are beginning to mount.
Any mention of sexual connotations in her watery imagery brings a slight blush and a firm rebuke. 'My music is emotional, NOT sexy. It matters to me so much that I've made it my preference in life. Everything else is secondary.'
Everything else includes boyfriends. 'I may come across as a romantic or moody person but I'm very hard to get along with. I can't have a boyfriend. I'd be saying "Can you wait till July?". Falling madly in love and getting married would be the most horrible thing that can happen. You can avoid putting yourself into relationships. I know, because I have.'
But a sea change is occurring in the Ryan household. A closely guarded privacy is now beset by inquisitive visitors, cars that stop outside and a phone that never stops ringing. Finding her seclusion under threat, Enya is moving into her own apartment. The trinity's seven year spell has inevitably been broken by success.
'It's all happened too fast in a way' Enya says. 'I feel a bit trapped. My first thoughts on seeing myself on TV were "Does this mean I can't go to the shops any more?"'
When Enya really needs to escape she likes to return to Gweedore and the Gaeltacht, the Gaelic speaking community of her childhood. 'The people at home are very proud of me but they don't treat me in a special way. I also go back to speaking Irish. It's my mother tongue and the first sounds I heard as a baby. I think in Irish and dream in Irish, all the important things.'
Enya's determination to cling to the roots of her childhood and the civilised pleasures of the hearth face their sternest test when she enters the international marketplace. The Japanese and Americans are already chafing at the bit. She remains resolutely unimpressed. 'I know that solo careers don't last, especially for a girl singer. I want to be remembered as a serious composer. I want my music to be remembered.'
Enya lays both hands firmly on the table. 'Above all, I want to make my mark.'
Report by Max Bell
Note: Originally transcribed by Jonathan White, and posted to the Enya mailing list, May 4, 1993. His notes follow.
The feature opens with a two-page spread picture of the subject, in a plain white jacket and brown scarf, against a moorland background. The picture is in slightly fuzzy focus. Enya's expression suggests either she is uncomfortable or (and knowing the winter weather of Donegal, this is possibly more likely) she's freezing cold
1. Note that throughout this article several names have been mis-spelled. With Irish names, such as Máire, it's understandable, but getting Rob Dickins's name wrong was a mistake. Mr. Dickins is quite a powerful figure in the entertainment industry in the U.K., and I dare say he wouldn't be pleased.
This signon fee is VERY small. New bands this year are AVERAGING about £120-150,000. Looks like Dickins got a bargain. At a rough estimate her album sales in the U.K. alone netted about £2.4 million up to the end of last year. I would guesstimate Enya's personal wealth as well into the millions of pounds at standard album pay rates...
One of the U.K. channels showed The Frog Prince as part of a Valentine's Day special. It isn't a great film, but it's not bad. The music is standard film instrumental, with her style only showing in certain parts of certain pieces. If I hadn't known, I wouldn't have guessed. Only worth searching out if you are an ABSOLUTE completist (but then I've already got it...).
This is no longer true. The family were together last year for their father's birthday, where apparently Máire and Enya sang a duet as a celebration. If anyone has a tape of that, I would be quite willing to sell my entire family into slavery to acquire it...