What is / who are the Legends of Tomorrow? Some people have trouble with the concept, but it isn’t complicated – just unusual. It’s an ongoing, evolving, periodic studio ensemble led by songwriter / tunesmith Colin Harper. The core collaborators, from day one (or close to it) are Cormac O’Kane (producer, multi-instrumentalist, studio owner), Ali Mackenzie (bass behemoth) and Mark Case (design sensation).
For Colin, it’s a great adventure that involves lots of other people – like-minded souls from rock, folk, blues, trad, rock, jazz, punk and classical – and it’s a vehicle for his songs and tunes. Mostly, its members hail from Northern Ireland but guests from elsewhere have always been part of the fun. And that fun – the camaraderie of music-making people kicking around in the cultural equivalent of an oxbow lake – is a large part of why the music exists. We might be drowning, but we’re waving.
The Legends of Tomorrow first emerged on CD in 1996 with, curiously, a concert recording, ‘Dear Anne', on the multi-artist album Live At The Belfast Empire. That short performance was followed a year later by another one at the Rotterdam Bar, launching the first Legends album Nothing is Easy (1997), featuring around 30 musicians. Up to now, these have been the only live performanes by the Legends of Tomorrow. A song on the Bert Jansch tribute album People on the Highway: A Bert Jansch Encomium (2000) followed, then songs on the various-artists charity project The Wildlife Album (2004).
The name went into hibernation for a while, but the project effectively continued in disguise with 2007’s Freedom & the Dream Penguin credited to the Field Mouse Conspiracy and 2010’s albums Rust (vocal) and Titanium Flag (instrumental) credited to Colin Harper. These were all low-run, under-the-radar affairs. However, the albums Sunset Cavaliers (2016) and Titanium Flag: Expanded & Remastered (2017), each credited to Colin Harper, were nationally released and marketed and pleasingly well received.
The Legends of Tomorrow name was revived in 2019 with the Don’t Go to Nashville EP, followed by the albums Days Full of Rain (2022) and the career anthology The Weather at World’s End: 1997–2022, nationally released via Talking Elephant and featuring 50 musicians – including the first second-generation Legend in Miadhachlughain O’Donnell, daughter of regular collaborator Tíona McSherry.
In November and December 2023, the Legends of Tomorrow will emerge from obscurity with three concerts, in Portrush and Belfast, to be filmed for a documentary directed by Barry Devlin. No doubt a live album will follow. With all this stuff going on, long-time Legends designer and promo video auteur Mark Case reckoned it was time for a website. He was probably right. Of course, if we were starting now, we’d pick a name that Googled rather better, wasn’t hiding behind self-deprecation and wasn’t likely to be confused with a TV show.
But as we said back in 1997, nothing is easy…