Feature: Bands that time forgot – CELTUS

Celtus in 1997

The two brothers John and Pat McManus had previously been members of eighties Irish heavy rockers Mama’s Boys. Both were multi-instrumentalists and their desire to achieve a more atmospheric, reflective groove was partly influenced by the premature death from leukaemia of their brother and fellow band member Tommy in 1994.

John McManus told me in an interview: “It wasn’t honestly a plan to form Celtus. I had written the instrumental track ‘Brother’s Lament’ and wanted Pat to hear it. We got together 6 months after Tommy died, at my studio.

We started just playing around with the fiddle and flute, which was something we hadn’t done for quite some time. Playing reels and jigs that is, a kind of therapeutic session really.

Later we started to develop some songs – ‘Moonchild’ being the first one, and a couple of others. Then, Lindy our manager started to farm the demos out to labels in America, and got some really great feedback which flooded back here to the UK, resulting in a deal with Sony.”

The debut album ‘Moonchild’(1997) was an irresistible blend of Celtic and contemporary fusion and spawned several airplay hits. The Guardian described it as  “Pink Floyd meets Clannad meets Enigma.”  However in spite of a well-received follow-up album ‘Portrait’ in July 1999, some high profile gigs and festivals, the band were dropped by Sony later that year.

Celtus tour dates in 1999
Celtus tour dates in 2000

They continued to tour to critical and public acclaim and with their third album ‘What Goes Around’ (2001) further employed contemporary synth stylings whilst grafting melodic and infectious melodies and ethereal harmonies. The live synth sound deployed by additional band member Dan Axtell was so powerful that one was reminded of sitting in seventies cinema with your trouser legs flapping during ‘Earthquake’.

Sadly, a combination of label indifference and changing popular taste led to the band’s split.

John McManus again: “Celtus didn’t really fold. It kind of faded out. I know that Pat wanted to bring his daughter up in Ireland so he moved back home. Then, we both kind of drifted into different things.

Well, it’s expensive to try and tour a band like Celtus, without the financial support of a label. Plus, the music business at that time was changing a lot, and radio was very much in support of what was going on with Pop Idol and whatever else. Or, maybe everyone just had enough of the fiddle and flute thing with Riverdance and The Corrs having so much exposure.”

John McManus and Dan Axtell subsequently immersed themselves in commissioned library music.

Pat McManus - Giants of Rock 2020
Pat McManus in 2020

More recently, Pat McManus has been touring regularly – including an appearance at Giants Of Rock in January 2020 – and releasing albums.  Pat told me in September 2021 that John is now based in Los Angeles and is pursuing his professional interest in photography.

Of Celtus’ releases ‘Moonchild’ is a good starting point (reissued with bonus tracks, see review link below), ‘Portrait’ is arguably more overtly pop and radio friendly (no doubt under pressure from their label). The album, ‘Rooted’ (2000), features material composed for library and incidental music and is well worth rooting out, and ‘Live 2000′ is a perfect document of the band in concert.

Recommended albums
Moonchild (Sony, 1997)

Worth investigating
Rooted (2000)

Further reading
Album review (Moonchild, 2005 reissue)

(iii) David Randall

© 2003-2020 David Randall/GRTR! All rights reserved.

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