The shadows play on Saluda Grade in the cold November air Around the bend, where the seasons end, we left our answers thereWe offered up our empty cup like valleys to the rain, And by and by, in the Land of Sky, we touched the ground again.“Land of Sky” from the album The Space Between the Lines
An Irishman in Fairview
When Irish-born singer/songwriter Danny Ellis’s wife Liz urged him to come to America, he agreed on the condition that they live in Florida; his image of strolling on white sand beaches wouldn’t be denied, and they did live and work along the Gulf Coast for ten years. It was a good life in many ways, and he felt secure and productive there, but he says “I never really had a sense of place until I came here.”
On their first visit to the Asheville area, “I could actually hear the land,” Danny says. “It was like a hum…” and here he sings a soft, warm note and holds it for a moment … “and I can walk out into a field today and still hear it.”
Danny and Liz left their life in Florida and came to the mountains “empty-handed” like the empty cup in his love song to the Land of Sky on his newest album, The Space Between the Lines. “We abandoned ourselves to the grace of the winds.” They now live in Fairview in a house from which they can see the sunset over the mountains each day and hear the wind in the trees.
Their Fairview home is their workplace, too. Danny composes, teaches and rehearses in his home studio and Liz conducts the business of a musical and writing career in the comfortable and spacious house among trees and winding mountain roads. When they came to Asheville that first time on a vacation, Liz says they were captivated and, she adds, “Every time we drove out to Fairview we fell in love with it again.” And then they found the house they had always wanted and Fairview became their home. At first, Liz was worried that it was too far afield, because she had always lived right in the city, “but there’s never been a problem, it’s such a beautiful area that people say they always enjoy the drive to lessons and workshops.”
In the beginning of their life here, Liz had owned and operated her own spa in Asheville and was a consultant in the creation of the Grove Park Inn’s world-class Spa. With the success of 800 Voices and several new projects underway, she transferred her talent and experience to the family business. As Danny puts it, he and Liz are “partners in every sense of the word.”
Forbidden to look round us in church, but I didn’t have a choice I had to see what kind of human being stood behind that angel voice And in his eyes you saw the place where prayer first began And you knew that God was listening when Tommy Bonner sang Dark as any moonless night, clean as morning dew He sang as if to save his life while saving your life too“When Tommy Bonner Sang” from the album 800 Voices.
Danny Ellis’s powerful and inspirational album 800 Voices is based on his childhood experiences in the Altane orphanage in Ireland where he lived from the age of six to sixteen. It was a harsh place, and yet there were moments of light in those dark days, the seeds of joy taking root in sadness. Song by song, a compassionate and uplifting picture emerges of, in Danny’s words, “the tomfoolery on the playground, the friendship and mischief, the blessing of music, and the astonishing courage of the lads.” In one much-praised song from 800 Voices, “When Tommy Bonner Sang,” Danny sings of a boy in the church choir who every Sunday lifted them all up with the beauty of his voice. 800 Voices lifts the listener up in the same way; its emotional power is not in the dark past but in the triumph of the human spirit that turns hardship into beauty. It seems appropriate that many years later, Danny was able to reconnect with Tommy Bonner, the boy in the song, and let him know how his singing in the orphanage church inspired Danny to find his own life’s expression in music.
Music was always his saving grace, Danny says, but it took time for him to find his truest voice. He spent a number of years in England working as a songwriter for others, writing songs whose style and meaning were fashioned for other voices; though he was good at the job, it felt to him like “trying on trousers that were made for somebody else.” He adds, “I had a huge part of myself wrapped up in being hip when in fact I was as far from hip as Elmer Fudd.”
Late one night, tired and dissatisfied, he began playing with chords and melodies that came from within himself. Suddenly “out came the words, all in one block, of the first verse of my title song for 800 Voices.” His music now reflects the many layers of each experience, embracing the conflicting feelings any life event can bring. He balances his years in the orphanage with the music that came from them. And in the voice lessons he teaches, he tries to lead his students to express their own multileveled stories, conflicts and all, in their music as well.
Danny will perform 800 Voices, the first of a two-concert series, on Friday, March 9 at 8 pm. The second, entitled “An Irishman in America,” will be on Saturday, March 10 at 8 pm. Both concerts will be at the Diana Wortham Theatre, Asheville.
Sing to me a mountain stream to cool the burning sand Winter roses opening though spring is not at hand You’re the song that sailors sing when land is out of sight I know that you can make it home tonight“Make it Home Tonight” from the album The Space Between the Lines
Danny’s newly released 2011 album, The Space Between the Lines, is filled with songs of love and stories of life. From first love to lasting love, to the love of the land where he has chosen to live, Danny blends aspects of many musical genres with the poetry of his lyrics to make a uniquely moving work. His inspiration ranges from the streets of Dublin he once knew to the mountains of his new homeland. A number of songs from this new album will be included in his upcoming performance of “An Irishman in America.”
The poetry of his images isn’t just pretty language; it springs from within, Danny says from “a desire to find what’s in the heart of human beings.” In the song “Make it Home Tonight,” for example, the visual images are beautiful and complex, and the emotion behind them is heartfelt and true.
After the current series of engagements and workshops including the two Asheville events, Danny plans on returning to Ireland for a concert tour. When asked what aspects of America he might take back with him, he answers that the broad and eclectic tradition of singer/songwriters in America has allowed him to explore many different musical avenues. Living here in the mountains, he says, has also contributed to a deeper understanding of his own life. He will be taking that expanded musical voice back to the place it all began.
Songwriting, concerts, teaching — as if this weren’t enough, Danny has just completed an autobiography scheduled by his London publisher for summer release. In his narrative style as well as in his songs, he explores the many levels of feeling and reaction to his life’s experiences.
And now in his new home, the song of the land and the grace of the wind have become part of that experience, just as Danny and Liz enrich the life of our Fairview community.
For more information about Danny Ellis’ work and schedule visit dannyellismusic.com.