Danny Ellis
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Danny Ellis

Asheville, North Carolina, United States | SELF

Asheville, North Carolina, United States | SELF
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800 Voices Commercial Arts/Universal ****

If musicality was the only bar by which an album was judged, then Danny Ellis’s debut would hold its own alongside such otherworldly voices as Brian Kennedy. But 800 Voices is much more. It’s a searing testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the depths to which that spirit can sink. Ellis is an Artane Industrial School survivor. His tales of childhood innocence shredded asunder, of the divine inspiration of a fellow inmate’s angelic singing and the characters who populated eight long years of his life, are every bit as compelling as the Ryan report. Ellis’s refusal to yield to a consuming bitterness elevates this chronicle to a place where the listener can savour the musicianship while never losing sight of the murderous mayhem that forged it. A musically healing and lyrically breathtaking debut. www.800voices.com

Download tracks: Tommy Bonner, Stolen Child

- Irish Times

"DANNY ELLIS 800 Voices 4.5/5 stars"

800 Voices was originally released last year to very positive reviews, but little commercial action. It’s now been picked up by Dara Records and re-released – an inspired move, because the album was in danger of becoming one of the lost classics of contemporary Irish music. Written and performed by a man in his sixties, who sounds not dissimilar to Christy Hennessy at times, you could say that it is terminally unhip, the kind of thing that people who think they know it all dislike without ever listening to. Well f***’em. I can imagine the very different, more contemporary sounding record it might have been, in terms of arrangements and production but no matter: this is a great record that tells an extraordinary story and does so with heart stopping honesty and emotion.

Danny Ellis was sent to Artane industrial school at the age of 8 and spent 8 years there, and the songs on this album draw on that experience in rich colours and finely wrought detail. Terrible things happened in Artane, but that is not the immediate focus of this record. Because while he was there, in music Danny Ellis discovered the thing that enabled him to survive the loneliness, the poverty, the grief, and the brutality of the impossibly harsh regime imposed by the Christian Brothers.

There are funny songs that evoke the madness of the place and time like “The Treasure of the Sons”, a brilliant sustained lyrical riff about the cheapjack toys that were borrowed, stolen, and bartered among the boys, and even better, the fantastically moving “Who trew da boot?”, which is up there with the great Pogues and Christy Moore yarns put to music: the second
time I listened to it, the astonishing accuracy of the picture it painted had me in tears of both laughter and devastation.

“Kelly’s Gone Missin” is about a boy who made good his escape, and the alarms it sets off in what was a kind of prison, as the Brothers “gathered a posse/and off they went runnin”. “Excuses” captures perfectly the daft stuff dredged up by boys in fear of the lash, and their snarling dismissal by the Brothers. But in it, also, is a poignant evocation of the inner turmoil that speaks in ways that a child cannot control: “There’s always another/Is that what you gave/To your father and mother/Excuses/As you empty your bladder/At night in the bed/And you lie in the wet of/Excuses”.

800 Voices is full of marvelously crafted songs, packed with superb lyrical twists and turns and moments of wonderful insight. “The Twist Within The Tweed” offers a powerful metaphor for the anger that comes later, about being abandoned. The title track reveals with admirable empathy, and respect, how a battered trombone presented by Brother Joe O’Connor became a lifeline, as Danny was invited to join the Artane Boys Band. And “When Tommy Bonner Sang” is something else again: utterly, spell-bindingly beautiful, and deeply moving, it is a song about the way in which those who are lost can find themselves in the sweet sanctity of melody.

I could go on: there isn’t a song on 800 Voices that falls short. “The Artane Boys Band” describes with a dash of humour the agonizing scene on a trip to New York, where Danny finally meets his father: “Well he took the day off work/As he marched along beside us/A sad little man/Well I played so bloody loud/I nearly blew the Guiness from his hand”.” And the finale, “The Day I Left Artane”, in which the 16 year old discovers for the first time that the McIvors, twins that he has known only as inmates, are in fact his own brothers, hits you like a Mike Tyson uppercut. What sort of culture was it – what sort of a country was it – that we did this to children? In the end, as a kind of coda, on an album that is notable for the generosity of its perspective, there is room for anger. “Yeah they shattered our bodies”, Danny sings on “Innocence Back”, “And they scattered our minds/And they broke us and bent us/Till we were twisted as twine/Then set us all loose/Like rats from a sack/Now there’s no amount of money/Gonna buy us our innocence back.” No indeed. But Danny Ellis has turned the base metal of that raw experience into a very fine piece of art. An essential Irish album.

Key Track: “When Tommy Bonner Sang”
Niall Stokes, Editor of “Hot Press”

- Hot Press Magazine, Ireland

"The Story of Danny Ellis"

The revelations of the recent Ryan report have shocked the world. People are struggling to understand how the religious orders that ran Ireland’s industrial schools and orphanages were allowed to torture those in their care.
One person who may have the answers as to why society turned a blind eye, but who can tell what it was like on the inside, is Danny Ellis, an Irish musician who now lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Danny released his first album – 800 Voices – in June. It’s a collection of songs which tell the story of the eight years he spent in Artane Industrial School, an institution that is now recognized as one of the cruelest of its day.
Should this strike you as a depressing note, rest assured that these songs are brimful of hope. They reflect Danny’s belief in humanity, which has endured throughout his life.
Danny was born in Dublin in 1947. His earliest memory is of his mother, his two sisters and himself sitting around a turf fire in their home, singing Irish ballads and American pop songs. “My mum could raise the hair on the back of your neck when she sang,” he remembers.
At that time, Danny’s father was working in America. “My mother fell pregnant while he was gone and had twins,” he recounts. “This broke the family apart and she was left to raise five children on her own.” She struggled for several years but by the time Danny was eight she had no option but to hand her children over to the care of the State.
“I came home one day and my family was gone,” says Danny. “My mother said she had to leave me in Artane for a while but promised we’d all be back together by Christmas.”
Artane Industrial School was set up by the Christian Brothers in 1871 as a home for orphaned or abandoned boys or those involved in petty crime. By the time Danny arrived in 1955, the majority of its boys were from broken homes.
Coming from a close-knit family, he was thrust into a borstal of 800 boys – a rag-tag bunch he describes as “thieves, tinkers, bullies and blackguards; all screaming and fighting from dawn until dusk.”
The Christian Brothers were just as frightening. Danny was playing in the yard on his first day in Artane when a whistle blew. Within seconds, all of the boys were lined up in neat rows. Nobody had explained this rule to Danny and his failure to obey it had terrible consequences.
“I was beaten with a big black leather strap,” he recalls. “I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from the violence of that beating. Having been wrenched from my family without knowing why and then being beaten, I went into the deepest shock.”
Beatings occurred regularly after that. Danny had often played truant from school and was behind the other boys in his schoolwork. “I’d be beaten for not knowing my spellings or my tables,” he remembers. “I was so frightened of the next beating that I couldn’t enjoy anything.”
There was one moment in those early days that allowed Danny a release from his fear. This moment is captured in one of the most moving songs on his album, “Tommy Bonner.”
“Tommy sang at mass that first Sunday and his voice was full of emotion,” says Danny. “It was as though he was crying into his voice, as though he was singing for every one of us. I broke down and cried in a way that I hadn’t allowed myself to do until then.”
Meanwhile, he was counting down the days to Christmas, when he expected to be reunited with his family. However, apart from one 30-minute visit his mother paid him a few weeks after he arrived at Artane, he never saw her again.
“Nobody has seen her since,” he says. “I think she must have been broken by the shame of it. She went to England and got lost.”
Danny was eventually forced to admit he had been abandoned. There was to be no escape from Artane but there was some respite from the violence – in the unexpected form of the Artane Boys’ Band.
Following its first public performance for the Prince of Wales in 1874, this band went on to become a regular fixture at events in Dublin. They played at all the big matches in Croke Park.
Danny had resisted auditioning for the band, believing there was little point as he’d be returning home at Christmas. Once he realized this was a false hope, he auditioned and became a trombone player.
“It was my saving grace,” he realizes now. “Things started to change after I joined the band. Practicing kept me off the playground. I could avoid trouble and not be beaten. I also discovered that I loved music, that I could pour myself into it.”
At one stage, Danny was excluded from the band for fighting. He would not have been allowed to return were it not for the intervention of the kindly Brother O’Driscoll.
“Some of the Brothers were good, almost saintly,” Danny admits. “But others had no control over their emotions. Corporal punishment was their release. They all carried a leather strap and had full permission to use it.”
The abuse wasn’t just physical (or in some cases, sexual). There were quieter acts of cruelty.
When Danny was leaving the school at age 16, he discovered that his twin brothers had been in Artane for the previous two years.
“Nobody had told me and I hadn’t recognized them because I’d last seen them as babies,” he says. “It was too late by then because all I wanted to do was leave. I didn’t want to have contact with family or depend on anyone.”
Nor did he stay in touch with his classmates. Many were so damaged by their time in Artane that they sank into a life of alcoholism, or homelessness and, in some cases, committed suicide.
“I was lucky,” says Danny. “I had music. I found it hard to fit into society but music made it easier. I don’t know what I’d have done if I hadn’t had it.”
His performances with the Artane Boys’ Band brought Danny to the attention of some of the show bands that were popular in Ireland in the early 1960s. The Boyne Valley Stompers offered him a job when he left school.
“Soon after I left in 1963, I was playing ‘Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey’ as loud as my 16-year-old lungs would let me,” says Danny.
He played with many show bands over the next ten years, including the Miami Show Band with Dickie Rock. He wrote the first original record by an Irish show band – “A Knock on the Door” performed by The Air Chords. He even had a record in the Irish top ten.
“The money was good and I loved the life,” recalls Danny. “There must have been 200 dance halls in Ireland and I played every one of them.”
In 1973, after ten years on the road, it was time for a change. Danny left for England and so began a time of introspection. “The trauma was beginning to surface,” he says. “I had a short fuse, a long face and a hundred emotions I’d never faced. I found it hard to have relationships with women as I hadn’t even seen any in Artane. All I knew was that there was something very wrong inside.”
He tried meditating as a means of self help. All it did was touch the surface of his pain.
The years went by and he continued to play and write music. He met and married an American called Liz and moved to America with her in 1989.
Danny was still haunted by his past. “One night I was playing music at home, winding down after a gig,” he says. “I started to fool around with chords and melodies that were sad and desolate. Out came the words, all at once, of the first verse of ‘800 Voices,’ my CD’s title track.
“800 voices echo/ across the grey playground/Shouts of fights and God knows what/ I can still hear that sound/With their hobnail boots and rough tweeds/ angry seas of brown and green/The toughest God-forsaken bunch that I had ever seen.”
Danny was taken aback by the rawness of the lyrics. After years of denial, he was suddenly overwhelmed by loneliness, anguish and hurt – feelings he had never allowed himself to experience as a child.
His wife encouraged him to continue. Over the course of five years, he wrote 24 songs about his life in Artane.
“Writing the songs was a strange experience,” he says. “I started to discover the eight-year-old child inside me and the loneliness and the terror he had felt. Each song felt like I was tapping into that eight-year-old waiting for his mother. Each song felt like it gave him more strength
Sixteen of these songs are now recorded on Danny’s album and he has been pleased by the response so far.
“I’ve been contacted by lads from Artane and other boarding schools who’ve had similar experiences,” he says. “I hope my music can play some part in helping them face up to what happened to them and start some kind of healing.”
The CD reunited him with Tommy Bonner, the boy whose singing made him cry all those years ago. “His son heard the song on the Internet and brought his dad along to a concert I gave in London,” says Danny. “It was the first time we’d seen each other in 50 years.”
Even luminaries such as Bill Whelan have been affected by Danny’s music. “He told me there’s a universal core of feeling in my songs that everyone can understand,” says Danny, proudly.
Danny has also been reunited with his siblings over the years. His two sisters live in America and he sees them often. His twin brothers live in Ireland and he hopes to see them in September.
It will be his first trip to Ireland in a long time and he plans to perform his music while he’s there. In the wake of the Ryan Report, he believes he has an important message:
“I’d like people to understand that there was a great deal of hurt but that beyond the hurt, there’s also hope and strength. The Brothers didn’t put an end to our hope, our humanity and our optimism.”
He would also like to see society face up to the role it played in the abuse. “They turned a blind eye to what was happening,” he says. “This should be recognized. And more than that, the people responsible should admit what they did. They should own up. It would be healing for everybody.”
More than anything else, he wants to reach out to men who were once boys like him, boys who were abandoned to neglect and cruelty. “We were abused and we must recognize that,” he says. “We must bring it into the open. Only then can we get past what happened to us and move on.”
After decades of struggling, Danny finally seems to have succeeded in doing just this. He is now working on a new album – one that is completely unrelated to his life in Artane – and is penning his memoirs.
“That eight-year-old that was buried inside me has been set free,” he says.

For more about Danny Ellis,
visit www.dannyellismusic
- Irish America Magazine


This Tenderness
800 Voices: My Childhood in an Irish Orphanage

Innocence Back

Songs on the Radio:
"800 Voices"
"Tommy Bonner"
"Innocence Back"
"Artane Boys Band"



I was born in Dublin, Ireland. Music has always been my biggest passion. My earliest memories are of my sisters, my mum and I sitting around a turf fire in Green Street, Dublin, singing Irish ballads and American pop songs. My mum and dad split up when I was around five. I was a pretty wild kid and I'm sure I shortened my mum's life considerably. At the age of eight with failing health, poverty and five crazy kids, my mum gave us all up to the care of the state. We were interred in separate orphanages on opposite sides of Dublin. My institution was called Artane Christian Brothers School. My latest CD, "800 Voices", documents my 8 years in the "care" of the Irish Christian Brothers in what has become known as one of the cruelest orphanages in Ireland. Actually at that time in 1955 this institution was crossing over from being a really tough borstal, or correctional school, to a full blown orphanage. So, half the boys there were delinquents of one kind or another. I myself was no angel but these kids had plenty to teach me!! There were 800 of us aged eight to sixteen. Thieves, tinkers, bullies and blackguards. All screaming and fighting from dawn 'til dusk. One hundred and fifty to a dormitory. Twenty to a table in the huge dining hall. Thirty or so Christian Brothers (monks), neurotic and celibate(?), most of them resentful and vindictive and more than willing to beat you within an inch of your life for a wrong look or imagined slight. This was to be my home for the next eight years. Pretty grim stuff!! But music was to be my saving grace.
I moved in and out of what you might call minor league showbands for about a year or so. Then I was approached by a band with the very forgettable name "The Air Chords". Despite the name these lads could play. Better still, they could sing too. The Air Chords were the first band to let me sing. First it was just "Ooohs" and "Aaahs" like the Temptations but soon I was singing harmonies. We could sing exactly like the Beatles. In fact we copied the sound of every English hit in the charts. I could sound like Paul McCarthney. Someone else had Lennon down and another did Mick Jagger and so on. This band had the dubious distinction of releasing the first original record by an Irish Show band. it was a song I wrote called "A knock on the door". It sold fifteen copies. But this was the most fun I'd ever had in my life and it didn't matter that we never slept, spent most of our time in smoky vans and cold dance halls and lived on sausages and chips. I was a pop star!! In time I made a bit of a name for myself as someone who was a serious musician and I was headhunted from one band to another every couple of years.
As far back as I can remember I loved to make up little songs and wrote for many of the Irish Showbands. When I moved to England I had a publishing deal with Big Secret Music where I was commisioned to compose what I thought might be top 40 hits for the likes of Kenny Rogers, Whitney Houston, Tom Jones, Ray Charles ......in fact anybody who didn't write their own material. Even though I never had any luck, this was great fun and really hellped me hone my writing chops under the "honest ears" of my publishers Guy Fletcher and Doug Flett. But the songs, for the most part were a tad hollow and insincere. I didn't know I had a huge part of myself wrapped up tryng to be hip whenin fact I was as far from hip as Elmer Fudd. One day when I came home late from a gig, tired and lonely and fed up gigging as a one man band. My wife Liz was asleep and I unpacked my gigiging keyboard, plugged it in and started to fool around with some chords and melodies that were deeply sad and desolate. Out came the words, all in one block, of the first verse of my new CD's title song "800 Voices";

"800 Voices echo, cross the gray playground
Shouts of fights and god knows what, I still can hear that sound
With their hobnail boots and rough tweeds , angry seas of brown and green
The toughest god forsaken bunch that I had ever seen"