A Conversation With Legendary Irish Singer-Songwriter Paul Brady
By Stevie Connor.
Legendary Irish artist, Paul Brady, has released a new studio album, ‘Maybe So’, on Proper Records. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is one of Ireland’s most enduringly popular performers.
Born in Belfast and raised in Strabane, Northern Ireland, on the border with the Irish Republic, he was interested in a wide variety of music from an early age. A Fifties child, his first sounds were the Swing, Jazz and Show tunes of his parents generation. Then 50’s Rock ‘n Roll, 60’s pop and Motown, Blues, R’n'B and Country and Western. Through all this ran the potent flavour of Irish traditional music and song.
The 60’s in Dublin saw the renewal of interest in Irish traditional music and gave birth to the first wave of Irish ballad groups like The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, Sweeney’s Men and The Johnstons. Soon Paul became swept up in this current and joined the latter band with whom he recorded seven albums.
Moving with The Johnstons in Jan ’69 to live in London and later in ’72 to New York City, he returned to Dublin in 1974 to join Planxty, the premier Irish folk band of the early ’70’s. This was the band that was to launch the solo careers of Andy Irvine, Liam O‘ Flynn, Donal Lunny and Christy Moore. From ’76 to ’78 he played as a duo with Andy Irvine, a relationship that produced “Andy Irvine and Paul Brady”, an album loved at the time and still sought after in CD form today. Throughout his career Paul has worked and collaborated with many other artists.
We asked Paul about his new release and how some of the songs came to be...
Stevie Connor Thank you for your time Paul, where did this album begin for you ?
I started recording in my home studio shortly after the first Covid lockdown in March 2020. At the time we weren’t allowed to go more than 2 kms from our home and so there was no chance of having any other musicians or singers come work with me.
The first song was co-written with Sharon Vaughn I believe ?
The first song I had a go at was written with Sharon Vaughn. Started previously on one of her rare visits to Dublin, the tune was already there but we hadn’t quite finished the lyrics. The original theme was an adult love song in a time of chaos and we had a good shape on it. Then a couple, best friends of ours, had their first grandson and my wife Mary suggested the song could be about the love families feel on the arrival of new life on the planet. That clicked and brought it home. Sharon and I finished the lyrics, I worked some more on the recording and, realizing that less is more, resisted the temptation to overdo the arrangement. Hence the simplest song on the record. We called it ‘It’s A Beautiful World (Now You Are Here)’… to distinguish it from that other completely different song ‘Beautiful World’ from my Spirits Colliding record."
Stevie Connor How did ‘How Come I Feel Bad’ come to be ?
Paul Brady I started writing with Theo Katzman after we did some Irish gigs back in summer 2019 with Joe Dart, Louis Cato and Lee Pardini. We finished the lyrics off by email. I put most of the recording together on my own during 2020 and early 21, then added Jennifer Maidman on bass and Liam Bradley on drums. Covid and the accompanying chaos was starting to get me down big time. I describe this as a fun song about depression!
There are a couple of songs that were written in the past which you brought to this project.
‘Stories’ is one I had written a couple of decades earlier but never recorded, though it had been already covered by Maura O’Connell and Carmel McCreagh. I felt it was past time to give it my own treatment and I started working up a new recording. When I’d got a pretty good shape on it.. vocals, guitars and keys, I farmed it out to Paul Moore to play bass and Liam Bradley drums…one of the upsides of the digital age being that most musicians now have a professional recording system of their own and can work from home. I loved what came back and finished it in jig time.
‘The Tower Of Gone’, lyrics by Michael O’Keefe …my co-writer on Spirits Colliding’s ‘Marriage Made In Hollywood’… was waiting patiently for its time to come. I was out walking one evening during lockdown with my iTunes on shuffle and the demo I’d made a couple of years earlier popped out and pleasantly surprised me. I hadn’t heard it since and forgotten how much I’d liked the original feel and lyrics. A song sung from father to son. Hard to be a father, equally to be a son. I related strongly to it. As I got back into developing it, I thought I’d send it to Theo Katzman and Lee Pardini. They both loved the feel and between them covered drums, guitars and keyboards. Richard Nelson on pedal steel and my old bandmate Jennifer Maidman on bass finished the stew.
With close to twenty albums under my belt over the past decades, it would be surprising if there weren’t a song or two I didn’t feel I got right first time. For a variety of reasons I always thought I could do a better job on ‘Love Goes On’… originally on the ‘Trick Or Treat’ album and ‘To Be The One’ from ‘Back To The Centre’. Here they are, re-recorded and dressed in a totally different set of clothes.
‘Improvisations On The Galway Reel’ was a recording I made back in ’79 at the tail end of another session in Keystone studio on Stephen’s Green. Andrew Boland engineered. I had a lot of fun throwing the tune into different shapes, playing piano first to the tune in my head, then overdubbing the mandolin. Had to try out that Polymoog! Thought it worth an outing after all this time.
There were also a couple of collaborations with old friends, can you tell us about those songs ?
Having so enjoyed my collaborations with Paul Muldoon on my last album, we had another go here with ‘Nothing Is As It Seems’. Paul’s lyrics always lead me into unusual musical spaces. I end up liberated and surprised at what comes up. The lyric recalls, among other things, his time working in BBC radio in Belfast back in the era when sound effects were created in magical ways. I’m immediately transported to those classic radio recordings of the Goon shows. For some reason I ended up in Argentina in the middle of the tune. I’m never too far away from a tango.
My dear departed friend Shay Healy and I wrote ‘Just Behind The Veil’. Largely Shay’s lyrical concept, the character in the song has already left the building and is assuring his loved ones left behind that everything’s ok. On completing it, when we finished laughing, we made a promise to each other that whoever departed the planet first, the other would sing it at his funeral. I did that back in April ’21. I know you’re laughing up there, Shay!
‘When Love Comes Tumbling In’ was written in LA back in 2002 with Dillon O’Brian and Leah Andreone. This recording was begun back then and it hung around as a demo ever since. I added some vocals and keyboard strings in my studio in 2021 and finished it. I don’t know why I sat on it this long. So many songs, so little time.
The last song on the album brings us full circle back to Sharon Vaughn
Finally, ‘The Shape That I’m In’, written with Sharon Vaughn, is a little self-pat on the back for having managed to survive the many pitfalls I’ve stumbled into over the years. Time to go easy on myself. ‘How big a sin is too much fun?’
Thank you so much for your time and for giving us insight into the songs on this album Paul.