Pádraig Duggan, who has died aged 67 after suffering from a recurring illness, was a founder member of the Irish folk band , whose ethereal singing in Gaelic was brought to a wider audience when they sang the theme music for the Yorkshire Television series in 1982. The record became a UK chart success, and Clannad was the first band to sing in Gaelic on Top of the Pops. They received an for the song, which enjoyed a reprise in 1993 when used it in a US TV advert and had to install a special phone line for all the viewers enquiring about the music, rather than the cars.
After Harry’s Game, Clannad wrote and recorded the incidental music for all 24 episodes of the television series in the mid-1980s, which earned them a Bafta, with a selection of the music released on the album Legend (1984).
Clannad merged traditional and original songs, often in Gaelic, with contemporary arrangements, harmonies and electronic sounds to produce music that matched the new-age spirituality of the 1980s and bridged the folk-pop divide. Their mystical style has been described as “Celtic hush” and for a time it was synonymous with Celtic music as a whole, much to the anguish of some Irish traditional music enthusiasts who preferred a grittier sound.
All the band members came from the same community in County Donegal and were related. Pádraig was an identical twin to Noel, the two of them the youngest of six children of Aodh (Hugh) and Máire Duggan, who were the headteacher and class teacher respectively of the Dore national school. He grew up in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) of Gaoth Dobhair (anglicised to Gweedore) in north-west Donegal. The twins took piano lessons, but hearing the Shadows and the Rolling Stones led them to give up the piano in favour of guitars.
The twins’ older sister, Máire, known as Baba, married Leo Brennan, who performed in an Irish showband and ran a bar in Gweedore, Leo’s Tavern. Three of their children, Moya and her brothers Ciarán and Pól Brennan, joined Pádraig and Noel in the early 1970s under the name Clann As Dobhar [the family from Dore], soon shortened to Clannad. Another sibling, , joined them briefly in the early 1980s before embarking on her highly successful solo career.
Having grown up listening to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, the Brennans and Duggans were natural harmonisers, and their vocal style and instrumentation owed much to the British folk band Pentangle. In their early days, they also sang pop songs such as Norwegian Wood in Gaelic.
Clannad won a competition at Letterkenny folk festival in 1973 with Liza, a song written by Pádraig, who described it as a pop song in Gaelic. The prize was a record deal with Philips, and they turned professional. Their first and eponymous album included Pádraig’s song and showed early contemporary and jazz influences. Their first tour of Europe came in 1976, followed by the US in 1979. One of their most popular songs was .
The main focus of the band’s haunting singing style may have been Moya’s voice, but the overall sound was dependent on the singing of all five band members, with Pádraig also providing instrumental accompaniment on the guitar, mandolin and mandola. Moya also played the harp and, starting with the album Fuaim in 1981, Clannad added synthesiser to the instrumental mix, moving the band even closer to the then-current pop scene. The 1982 album Magical Ring, with Theme from Harry’s Game, was a turning point, earning them a gold record. Their 1985 album, Macalla, included Moya duetting with of U2 on .
After the -winning album Landmarks (1997), the band took an extended break. Pádraig and Noel soon brought their songwriting and instrumental talents to Thomas Loefke’s pan-European but Clannad-influenced band, Norland Wind, with whom they recorded the album From Shore to Shore (2004). In 2005, the twins recorded their own album, Rubicon, with a host of guest performers including . Here, their songwriting came to the fore, with Pádraig as the main lyricist. The album included a new version of Pádraig’s song Liza.
Clannad returned to the concert stage at in Glasgow in 2007, with a tour of the UK the following year. In 2013 came their most recent album, Nádúr, and further international touring.
Earlier this year, Pádraig contributed music to the short film 1916, Souls of Freedom, to mark .
He is survived by his wife, Jan, and four of his siblings, Eoin, Columba, Máire and Noel. His sister Brid predeceased him.
• Pádraig Duggan, folk musician, born 23 January 1949; died 9 August 2016