An article about Mellow Candle written for 'Mojo' :
"Alison O'Donnell reclines on her living room couch in Brussels reflecting on her time with seminal Irish folk-rockers Mellow Candle. "It was an intensively creative period in my life. At the outset we were enthusiastic Dublin schoolgirls and were ready for anything!"
'Swaddling Songs', Mellow Candle's debut album has achieved 'Holy Grail' status and created a myth around an obscure Irish band. Mellow Candle's story begins in 1963 at the Holy Child Convent in Killiney, Co. Dublin. Pianist/vocalist/songwriter, Clodagh Simonds formed 'The Gatecrashers' with fellow students, Alison Bools (now O'Donnell) and Maria White. The trio, soon known as 'Mellow Candle' quickly became school concert regulars. "Over the years, and after Maria had left, the nuns encouraged Clodagh and I despite the fact that it interfered with our studies. We were usually allowed to have one of the school music rooms during our lunch hour. Quite a few girls dropped by to listen to us including Sinead and Sorcha Cusack".
Mellow Candle found getting gigs outside the convent walls fruitless. In 1968, frustrated, 15 year old Clodagh wrote to Radio Luxembourg DJ Colin Nichol with a demo tape. "We tried all the hotels but no one would listen to us. Nobody here has ever offered us an audition. They must have thought we were immature - just stupid kids with a dream. But we're not, I swear to you". Nicol passed the tape to producer Simon Napier-Bell who arranged a recording session in London. Mellow Candle's first single "Feeling High"/ "Tea with the Sun", both Simonds originals, emerged on Napier-Bell's short-lived SNB Records. Complete with kitchen sink production, "Feeling High" received airplay on Radio Luxembourg and Manx Radio. Clodagh's parents thought learning a language better than playing music so she went to Italy for six months.
Once home, Clodagh, Alison, guitarist Dave Williams, a Trinity College student and bass player Pat Morris reformed Mellow Candle. Managed by Brian Tuite and Thin Lizzy overseer Ted Carroll, they made their live debut at Liberty Hall supporting The Chieftains. Gigs in Dublin's Mansion House, Liberty Hall, and 'The Mug's Gig' in Slattery's Capel Street (with Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine supporting) and opening slots for Thin Lizzy and Skid Row created a vibe. "We didn't need a drummer for a long time because Paddy Morris had a very percussive slapping style of bass playing. He was much straighter than the rest of us. During the making of the demo for the album, we went to an Andy Warhol movie in London about homosexual cowboys. Some way in Pat stands up, loudly proclaims what a load of crap it is and marches out with the rest of us slinking along behind him." Slots followed at the 1971 Wexford Festival of Living Music where John Peel noted 'The seeds of something promising are there', the 'Headland' festival at Dublin's RDS Showgrounds with Alan Price & Georgie Fame and Arthur Brown's 'Kingdom Come', and also at The Mansion House. One gig in particular almost proved to be Mellow Candle's undoing. "Marmalade's manager came all the way from England to listen to us. He probably thought we were awful given the fact that Terry O'Neill, who was operating the sound system, was well into some fantastic trip and thought he was operating a light show as opposed to a sound system. We couldn't hear anyone or anything and the result was a disaster but Terry thought the gig was wonderful!"
Enter ex-Creatures bassist Frank Boylan and Kevin Ayres' drummer William Murray. "Frank was a heavy smoker and a diehard rock and roller whereas the rest of us were into more mystical stuff". I thought Willie was very sophisticated when I first met him in London because he drank Earl Gray tea which I had never heard of!" Mellow Candle signed with Deram in London on April 18th 1971. Based in a tatty rooming house in Belsize Park, they made for the kitchen one day, bumping into Gay and Terry Woods who were also living there. Amongst others, in the U.K.and Ireland they gigged alongside Lindesfarne, Genesis, Curved Air, Tír na n'Óg, Horslips, Donovan and Fairport Convention.
'Swaddling Songs' was released in April 1972 preceded by a double A side single 'Silversong'/ 'Dan The Wing'. Christened a 'Tax loss' by the NME, 'Swaddling Songs' was a glorious fusion of traditional and contemporary folk-rock, laced with Clodagh and Alison's soaring vocals and zigzag harmonies but bombed. Frank Boylan was replaced by ex Spirogyra bassist Steve Borrill and Mellow Candle changed their name to Grace Before Space but split up in 1973.
Alison O'Donnell and David Williams moved to South Africa where they formed folk band Flibbertigibbet and worked in the satirical 'Tortue Reviews'. Alison currently sings with Flanders-based Éishtlinn, 'a mix of Irish, North American and European styles, a cultural melting pot!' David Williams became head of light music with the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in Capetown. Frank Boylan disappeared and Willie Murray played with Sandy Denny and Richard and Linda Thompson's 'Sour Grapes' before moving to the US with Clodagh. They formed 'The Same' with Stephen Bray (Madonna's producer) and Carter Burwell (soundtrack composer for 'Millar's Crossing' /'Rob Roy') and were resident in CBGB'S from 1977-78. Murray relocated to Dallas working as a photographer for 'Playboy', and more recently to Ireland dying from pancreatic problems in 1998. Clodagh worked with Jade Warrior, Mike Oldfield, Robert Fripp and Andy Warhol. She studied music and became one of Richard Branson's personal secretaries. She returned to Ireland, recorded 'Six Elementary Songs' and now lives in Dublin.
Collectors' kudos given to 'Swaddling Songs' and Kissing Spell's 'The Virgin Prophet' compilation suggest Mellow Candle's influence is finally recognised. "This revival of interest in Mellow Candle is fascinating but it's something I always hoped would happen. I am delighted to see people getting into 'Swaddling Songs' and 'The Virgin Prophet'. I'm proud of what the band achieved and wish it could have continued a little longer".
© John O'Regan January 2001. (For print media use only).