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Paul Brady

Biography

Paul Brady – Biography (Courtesy of Artist’s site, 2005)
PLUS: Article - Not Such A Secret Hero


Paul Brady, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is one of Ireland's most highly-regarded and successful artists.

Born and raised in Strabane, Northern Ireland, on the border with the Irish Republic, he was into a wide variety of music from an early age. A Fifties child, his first sounds the Swing, Jazz, Show tunes of his parents generation. Then 50's Rock 'n Roll, 60's pop and Motown, Blues, R'nB and Country and Western. Through all this ran the potent flavour of Irish traditional music and song.

Learning to play the piano pretty much by ear, trial and error, his early heroes were Jerry Lee Lewis, Winifred Atwell and Fats Domino. By the age of eleven he had begun to play guitar, spending hours of his school holidays learning every tune the Shadows and The Ventures recorded, every lick Chuck berry played. Mid- teens saw him take summer jobs playing piano and guitar in Bundoran, a seaside resort in nearby County Donegal. But it was around 1965 in Dublin, at college, that he began to develop as a singer and performer joining a succession of R'n B / Soul bands, covering the songs of Ray Charles, James Brown, Junior Walker and blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Chuck Berry.

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 which produced "Andy Irvine and Paul Brady", an album loved at the time and still sought after in CD form today.

The next few years saw him establish his popularity and reputation as one of Ireland's best interpreters of traditional songs. His versions of great ballads like Arthur McBride and The Lakes Of Pontchartrain were definitive and are still being asked for by audiences today. By the end of the '70's however, he found himself back at the same crossroads once too often. After an acclaimed solo folk album "Welcome Here Kind Stranger" (1978) which won the Melody maker Folk Album of the year, he decided it was time to move on.

Surprising most observers at the time, he released "Hard Station" in 1981. Self-penned, the album lyrically reflected the personal changes he was undergoing and musically was a highly original reworking of his earlier influences. Irish folk music took a back seat for the time being. Those more traditional voices who would have preferred him to stay as he was were soon replaced by the voices of praise for what is now accepted as a classic of Irish rock.

The albums which followed, True For You ( 1983), Back To The Centre (1985), Primitive Dance (!987), Trick Or Treat ( 1991) and Spirits Colliding( 1995) collectively established Paul as the pre-eminent Irish singer-songwriter of his generation. Gradually other artists worldwide began to record his songs Touring extensively both as a solo performer and with his own band he has forged a reputation as a passionate and exciting performer and attracts a dedicated following worldwide.

After many years of writing on his own, in the late 90's, he began to collaborate with other songwriters and in the space of two years wrote nearly fifty songs, several already covered by other artists. In 1998 he began a relationship with Rykodisc which led to the remastering and re-release of six of his previous albums, Hard Station, True For You, Back To The Centre, Primitive Dance, Trick Or Treat and Spirits Colliding. There followed in summer of 1999 a best of collection called 'Nobody Knows', The Best Of Paul Brady (1970's-1990's) which stayed in the Irish album charts for thirty weeks and is still selling.

In May 2000 Paul released his first album of new songs since 1995's Spirits Colliding, an album called 'Oh What A World' . Featuring many of the songs he wrote and co-wrote over the previous three years and including collaborations with Carole King, Will Jennings, Ronan Keating, Conner Reeves and Mark Hudson it has been critically hailed as one his best ever records.

In 2001, Paul formed his own record label, PeeBee Music. The first release was a CD ‘The Missing Liberty Tapes’ featuring a live recording of a Paul Brady concert in Dublin in 1978, the tapes of which were lost for 23 years. This record, hailed as a classic by the Irish traditional music community, also features Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Liam O’Flynn, Matt Molloy, Paddy Glackin and Noel Hill.

Also in 2001, Paul undertook a record-breaking, celebrated run at Dublin’s premier music venue, Vicar Street. Playing 23 sold-out shows over the month of October, he re-visited much of his by now extensive repertoire and collaborated with over the previous thirty years. Recording every show, fans can look forward to an eventual release on cd of these now legendary concerts.

In August 2002 RTE television, Ireland’s national TV station,filmed a six programme series featuring Paul’s music, called ‘The Paul Brady Songbook’. Shown to acclaim in Ireland from October through December of that year, there followed on the PeeBee Music label, a CD of a selection of the recordings and a three hour DVD of the entire series, both also called ‘The Paul Brady Songbook’. A later version of the CD containing an extra new studio recording of a new song ‘The Hawana Way’ is set for release in UK and USA/ Canada in April/ May 2003. Paul’s CDs, videos, DVDs and songbooks are available for sale via mail order on this website

Paul Brady continues to push out the boundaries not only of his own talent but of Irish contemporary music in the new millenium. For details as to how to access his work please continue on your journey through the site.

PLUS:

Not Such A Secret Hero

Some people pinch themselves when something previously only dreamt about really happens. Paul Brady takes a giggling fit. Like the time in the Hit Factory studio in New York when Brady was recording his Trick or Treat album.

While Bonnie Raitt was singing back up vocals on the title song, over to one side Elliott Randall was preparing to take a guitar solo and overseeing everything was producer Gary Katz. Suddenly an image from the early 1970s flashed through Brady's mind of pulling Steely Dan's first album out of its poly bag and putting it on the turntable for the first time in the friend's flat where he was staying in New York.

He'd giggled at that point too because that's also what he does when he hears something brilliant. Now, twenty years on, in the same city, he had the guitarist whose playing on tracks like Reelin' in the Years knocked him out and the bloke who produced the Dan album working on his own record. Did someone say Can't Buy A Thrill?

Brady has become used to, but obviously not blase towards moving in such circles. As well as having a veritable platoon of big name cover versions of his songs (Raitt, Tina Turner, Cher), he has co-written songs with none other than Carole King and lyricist Will Jennings, whose customers include B.B. King, Steve Winwood and Celine Dion.

It's a far cry from his days of sleeping on friends' floors while he sorted out his next musical, not to mention domestic, move or touring Europe in a Volkswagen Beetle, groaning under the strain of bodies, instruments and personal effects, with Irish folk group The Johnstons.

Those were the days, though, when the seeds that have turned Strabane-born Brady into one of his generation's leading songwriting talents were planted. The experiences of endless one-nighters and of simply being Irish in early 1970s London, when things in Northern Ireland were, to use Brady's own phrase, falling apart, informed not just great songs such as Nothing But the Same Old Story but also the general quality of steely tautness that would emerge in Brady's writing when he moved on from his 1970s role as traditional song interpreter with the mighty Planxty.

When the first of Brady's rock phase albums, Hard Station, appeared in 1981, it was viewed as a desertion by some on the folk scene. But as Brady says, it was really a return to his roots.

"I grew up listening to Radio Luxembourg, to Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly," he says. "And when I went to university in Dublin, in 1964, I'd been playing in a band singing Ray Charles songs, so I wasn't really interested in traditional music at all until the 1960s revival."

Once bitten by the traditional music bug, however, he invested songs such as Arthur McBride and The Lakes of Pontchartrain with a soulfulness and commitment perfectly in keeping with his R&B heroes. Years later, these two songs remain huge favourites with Brady's following, the starrier end of which includes Bob Dylan, who recorded his own interpretation of Arthur McBride on his Good As I Been to You album after hearing Brady's version.

Tidying up, honing and reworking traditional songs, adding a verse here, bending the chorus to suit there, was in many ways a continuation of the songwriting apprenticeship which Brady had begun with The Johnstons in the late 1960s. It helped bring a concision and directness to his own songs.

So much so that when Hard Station appeared, comprising all original songs, Brady was acclaimed, by fellow performers and record producers if not immediately by the general rock audience, as a complete songwriter: an acutely observant lyricist and a master tunesmith.

The cover versions started almost as soon as the album appeared, Dave Edmunds recording Crazy Dreams, Santana covering Night Hunting Time. Eric Clapton and Dire Straits then invited Brady to tour with them and Mark Knopfler and Brady collaborated on the soundtrack to Cal. Adulation by Dylan, Phil Collins and Art Garfunkel, even a theme song to a television sitcom, Faith in the Future, swiftly followed.

Despite all the starry attention and connections, however, Brady's feet remain firmly on the ground. While proud of past achievements, he refuses to dwell on them and gets impatient to see where his songwriting will take him next.

Songwriting, he says, is a continuing process, not an event. "I can't write to order. A lyric idea will come and I'll store it away and wait for the tune that compliments it to come. Or it could be the other way round. Sometimes that can take months."

As his fans will tell you, the wait is invariably worthwhile, even if other singers tend to attract bigger-scale attention with the results than the writ er. But now into his fifties, Brady long ago accepted that his major successes have been as a talent behind the scenes, a secret hero, as Bob Dylan dubbed him.

"Of course it would be nice to be better known as a performer but I don't wake up in the morning and lament the fact that I'm not a household name," he says. "I'm still able to write songs and make records. I'm comfortably off, with a family that's very content - and you can't ask for much more than that."

© 2001 Rob Adams

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