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Emmet Spiceland

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Emmet Spiceland was not a man, but a 1960s Irish folk group with several members who went on to more famous bands and projects, though not all of them were in the group at the same time. They grew out of the Emmet Folk Group, formed by Dónal Lunny, Brian Bolger, and Mick Moloney. The lineup changed, however, when Moloney left to join the Johnstons, one of the few Irish folk vocal groups of the time to make some impact on the pop scene abroad. Lunny and Bolger then joined with brothers Michael Byrne and Brian Byrne of Sheffield's Spiceland Folk, naming the new aggregation Emmet Spiceland. When Bolger left, Emmet Spiceland continued as a trio, in which guise they recorded their sole album, 1968's The First. Emmet Spiceland's recordings, which also included a string of non-LP singles, usually leaned toward the tame acoustic side of harmonized folk-pop. To listeners from the U.S. and U.K., their late-'60s records might sound a few years out of date, as if they're refugees from the slightly more commercial side of the early- to mid-'60s folk revival. Within the context of the Irish folk scene, however, their sound was more contemporary than the norm, as was their image, since they looked as much like pop/rock musicians as folkies. With a repertoire favoring (though not limited to) earnest and polite if good-naturedly executed ballads (sometimes with orchestration), they topped the Irish charts in 1968 with "Mary from Dungloe." "Baidin Fheidhlimi" and "Buncloudy" made the Irish Top Ten the same year, and some of their non-LP singles opted for material and production with slightly more of a pop/rock influence, as heard especially on their cover of Leonard Cohen's "So Long Marianne." In 1969, Leo O'Kelly replaced Lunny, who intended to give up music to focus on art. They did a few tours with O'Kelly, including a final one that saw them go to the United States, Lunny back in the lineup in place of Michael Byrne. They broke up after this last 1969 tour, with O'Kelly forming the Irish folk-rock group Tir Na Nog, and Lunny, after a time making jewelry, joining Christy Moore in one of the most respected Irish folk groups of all time, Planxty. With Brian Byrne (who had performed in the London stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the early '70s) in the lineup, Emmet Spiceland did re-form a few years later for a 1973 single. ~ Richie Unterberger

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