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INTERVIEW In conversation with Paul Brady

Going Out
Paul Brady, singer and songwriter.

Brady’s long journey

Paul Brady is playing in the Radisson Blu Hotel, Galway, on Sunday, May 2. His new album, ‘Hooba Doopa’, will be released this Friday, March 12. Edwin McGreal caught up with the iconic singer/songwriter last week

Edwin McGreal

Up here we sacrifice our children
To feed the worn-out dreams of yesterday
And teach them dying will lead us
into glory

Paul Brady, The Island, 1984

IT would have been easy for Paul Brady to go with the flow. Coming down to play in Dublin from Strabane in County Tyrone in the 1970s, it seemed any folk singer with a smidgeon of talent could assure themselves of success if they hitched themselves to the bandwagon that was sympathetic to the Republican movement in Northern Ireland.
The Troubles were in their embryonic stages, and Paul Brady’s career was only starting too as he made inroads in the folk scene. But he was aghast at what he saw. Here was one issue he felt strongly about, and while he may have been in a certain minority in the music scene at the time, history has shown the wisdom of his reticence.
Speaking about his own experience of the Troubles, Brady says: “I grew up in that situation and knew people from both sides … People down in Dublin were very polarised, but the situation up there was quite complex. A lot of people who were mouthing off had no experience about the north of Ireland. It was flavour of the month – that if you played folk music you were identified with the provos. I didn’t want to be seen like that. I objected to it.”
Brady took a much more considered approach. He achieved fame with Planxty, working with Andy Irvine while he made his own songs like Arthur McBride and The Lakes of Ponchartrain.
It was The Island, a song released in 1984, that was Brady’s first truly big hit, and the evocative words capture the futility of war, particularly on this island.
“I feel that in writing and playing the song I had taken a stand and I just like the song to speak for itself. I didn’t like having to justify my view. They were very heated times and people were very polarised in their views.
“‘The Island’ refers to a state of mind, in a very similar way to ‘Over the Border’ in my new record. They are mythical places of mind where we are free from the bullshit and the political ins and outs that come from this. It’s very much a utopian approach. People might say it’s not realistic but I don’t mind. I’m a songwriter, I write about what I feel.”
And Brady’s latest album, Hooba Doopa, is brimming with feelings. Released this Friday, the album, named in honour of an exclamation of pleasure Brady often uses on stage, is one the Tyrone man is very comfortable with.
“I really do like going deep down into my mind and seeing what is there and getting it all out. On this record I got a lot of stuff out in terms of what I was thinking. I really enjoyed the album, and it is great to be able to go at your own pace and look after your needs because the demands are not being put on you like they might have been at one time,” says Brady of working on his own label.
The album has been very well received. Radio 1 picked it as Album of the Week last week. Looks like Brady is making another forward step as one of Ireland’s most enduringly popular singer-songwriters.
From playing with Planxty – the band that famously launched the solo careers of Brady, Andy Irvine, Liam O’Flynn, Donal Lunny and Christy Moore – through to Brady’s own solo work in the ’70s and ’80s - the 62-year-old has accumulated a legion of followers.
Two artists who became fans were, and remain, two of the most iconic guitarists in history. “Both Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler were fans of my records, that’s why they asked me to tour with them. I would never compare myself to them as a guitarist – my style is more personal, a groovy feel and not histrionic. We did get on very well as artists and musicians.”
The Island, Nobody Knows and The Long Goodbye remain Brady’s biggest hits. The Long Goodbye, performed by by Brooks and Dunn, made it to Number 1 in the US Billboard Charts. It’s been some journey for the son of a man from the west.
His father, Seán, was born not far from Charlestown over the Sligo border and his first teaching post was in Blacksod. Before that, he was a student of St Nathy’s in Ballaghaderreen. “Is that in Mayo or Roscommon?” Brady asks. “There seems to be some confusion there,” he notes of the nuances of our own particular border situation. The answer is, nobody knows Paul.

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