Do Not Disturb
Q (UK) 2 December 1988
Despite her staring brown eyes and her tendency to walk in the sea in long dresses during photo sessions, the 26-year-old Enya assigns the success of her LP Watermark more to hard work than divine inspiration.
Gratified, if slightly nonplussed, by the speed with which her first single, 'Orinoco Flow', has topped the charts, Enya has no fear that her name will consign her to the dustbin of pop history alongside the likes of Anneka. "Enya" is the phonetic spelling of her Irish first name, Eithne, and her single is an unlikely slice of fortune for an artist who never listens to pop music. 'Orinoco Flow' was the last piece of music completed for Watermark and takes its title from the London studio in which it was recorded. Despite her somewhat rarefied appearance on the artwork of the album, Enya doesn't play up to the mystic air of her music or act the woman in white. Yet her practical air does nothing to dispel the magic of Watermark's massed vocals and haunting melodies, even if Enya still recalls its making as a matter of solitary and often miserable labour.
"I'd sit at the keyboards in the studio constantly, working away," says Enya of the 10 months she spent composing Watermark in a studio in the basement of her manager's house in Dublin. "I'd get a big spate of six pieces written and then, all of a sudden, nothing would happen for months on end and panic would set in. The sky doesn't open and there, lo and behold, somebody's talking to me saying, 'Your next piece is on the way'. I wish it was that romantic but it's hard work."
Those 10 months of solitude allowed Enya to draw deeply on the childhood that, along with the themes of water and journeys, is at the heart of Watermark. Christened Eithne Ní Bhraonáin in Gweedore, County Donegal, she left home in 1980 to tour with her older brothers and sister in Clannad. Growing up in what the Irish call "the wild country", she spoke Gaelic as her first language amidst a family and an area steeped in traditional Irish music and harmony singing. At 14, she went to boarding school and began her study of classical composers, studies that combined with her traditional background to give her a love of melody. Cocooned amidst these two otherworldly forms of music, Enya avoided pop completely and nowadays asserts that she never listens to any music at all, preferring to compose her own. Her recent exposure to the rest of the British charts has left her, in her own words, frightened.
Enya's two years with Clannad coincided with the group's decision to incorporate keyboards into their traditional material. It was her keyboard work on Wurlitzer piano and then Prophet 5 synth that helped fashion the style that emerged with Clannad's hit 'Harry's Game'. Eventually, tired of being kept on the fringes of Clannad as the eternal kid sister, she left alongside manager Nicky Ryan and his wife Roma with vague thoughts of forming her own group. Enya and the Ryans lived together in Dublin for the next six years. The Ryans set her up in their house where she practised classical piano only to find herself improvising and then composing. Roma sent some of the first pieces to David Puttnam who promptly commissioned Enya to write the score for his 1985 film The Frog Prince. Soon after, she found herself composing for the BBC series The Celts and evolving the multi-textured method of recording that she employs on Watermark. It is a halting method of composition in which layers of keyboards and vocals are added and subtracted until she and Nicky Ryan agree and Roma steps in to add lyrics.
Warner Brothers chairman Rob Dickins, who makes an appearance amidst the lyrics of 'Orinoco Flow', heard The Celts album and promptly fell head over heels in love. Three weeks later he found himself at an Irish awards show some 20 miles outside Dublin where Enya was in reluctant attendance. After breathlessly explaining that he'd "fallen asleep to her music every night for the past three weeks", Dickins promptly signed Enya "as an escape from what I do every day - it was kind of the boss being self-indulgent".
'Orinoco Flow's' chant of liberation must have suited Enya's sense of release when the piece finally fell into place after months of trial and error and Watermark was finally completed. "The Ryans' studio is really quiet and isolated and that's how I spend 10 months of the year," she explains. "I don't exactly party every night or go to Dublin's in-spots."
Indeed, she appears somewhat out of step with the giddy world of singles chart success. When asked "Do parsnips scream when you chop them?" in a Smash Hits interview, she seemed completely bewildered. "I've never been asked such obscure questions in all my life."
Note: Transcribed by Book of Days.