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The American


aul Brady is an Irish folk musician ...Rewind, that doesn’t really work. Paul Brady is a musician, singer and songwriter who doesn’t fit genre-boxing or boundaries, geographical or artistic. Born in Strabane, County Tyrone, in Northern Ireland but right on the border with County Donegal, Republic of Ireland. Studied at University College in Dublin and now lives in the Irish capital, but he’s resided in London and New York. Perhaps we should say he’s Transatlantic (he’s also a star of the Transatlantic Sessions TV programs and albums, with traditional musicians from the US, Canada, Ireland and Scotland). What does he feel he is? I feel Northern Irish. I identify strongly with where I come from, but I don’t make a fetish about it. I really like it, and the people there. It has great potential for the future. Does your music come from a family tradition? My father was a primary school teacher, very interested in music. He was also a good amateur actor and put on productions. In another generation he might have been a professional but in those days you kept the steady job. It was relatively recently that people in my part of the world had access to third-level education without paying for it so they realised what a boon it was, and made sure their kids didn’t turn their noses up at it. So I went to UCD and studied French, Gaelic and Archaeology, but I never felt that the academic life – or even a nine to five life – was right for me. That created some tension!

32 June 2015

Music was in my genes. And as I grew up it was a reliable friend – more reliable than some of my actual friends! I found that the structures and architecture and emotions within were something I could control. I loved it from day one. The first music I heard was from my parents’ generation, from the ‘40s and ‘50s, American swing and music from the movies, and we heard the British media and Radio Luxembourg. It was later I went into traditional Irish music - although it was all around me as a child, I took it for granted. In my late teens, in Dublin in the ‘60s, I was swept up in the upsurge of interest in folk music. Irish musicians are prone to say that there wasn’t a folk revival in Ireland because it never died out, but it was never on the airwaves either. It took Americans like Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Joni Mitchell to get the media in Ireland to look at our own music. You’ve won awards for folk music, made folk records, played in folk bands, but you’re not really a ‘folkie’? My years in folk music from ‘68 to ‘80 were, in retrospect, a kind of aberration – a hugely enjoyable one, and informative and educational, and I met most of my long-term friends at that time, but it was only ever going to be one chapter in my life because there was so much other music I wanted to get involved in. At the end of the ‘70s one of my contemporaries from the folk scene Gerry Rafferty came out with ‘Baker Street’ and it was a ‘Eureka’ moment. I thought, I’ve spent a long time singing about people 200 years ago, now I want to write my own songs.

Were the songs bubbling up, waiting for you to release them? They certainly weren’t bubbling up, I had to go down the mines and dig ‘em out! It was a long process and it coincided with having two very small children, so there were all kinds of very enjoyable impediments in the way of writing songs which I had to get over. The early ‘80s was when I tried to become a songwriter, and since then that’s what I’ve been. You collaborate with other people a lot. What do you get out of that? Well, you get bored with yourself! There’s an upside to being solo, particularity on stage. You don’t have to hold anybody’s hand, and if you make a change you don’t have to announce it to the band. But you’re creating all this stuff so there’s no surprises after the initial creation. Working with other musicians, you get all their stuff coming at you and it’s all new, and it stimulates other parts of you. It’s a process of opening yourself up and letting other people’s fertilising come into you [laughs]. A lot of those people have recorded your songs, including other great songwriters like John Prine, Carole King, David Crosby... have you ever talked to them about what it is in your songs that attracts them? From time to time. I think they like their individuality. I’ve never worked to a formula. Each song I write seems to be in its own place. I’m a big fan of strong melody and my songs are almost like little short stories. I don’t write for other people – well, I’ve done that once. Mark Hudson and I wrote ‘Try Me One More Time’ for Aerosmith. It was the only song I’ve

The American June 2015 Issue 744  

The leading cross-media publication for Americans in the UK - and anyone interested in American culture

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