An enforced hospital stay helped Paddy O’Brien to realise just what music he really wanted to play
Irish country music singer Paddy O’Brien was yet to hit 30 when he was involved in a devastating road accident., writes Adam Sha.
Carrying out a delivery for the meat factory where he worked, he got caught up in a heavy collision which was to put him in hospital for almost a year. He suffered several breaks, his ankles were severely crushed and his kneecap had to be removed.
This experience, though traumatic, forced Paddy to work hard in his recovery and he has since forged a long and successful career doing what he loves. And he considers himself fortunate. After all, the accident could have been fatal and his injuries have failed to keep him away from the stage.
“It put me off the scene for some time and the factory where I worked also closed, which was common in Ireland at the time,” Paddy says.
“It affected me in the short term in that I was out of the band and out of work, but I spent the time listening to a lot of music.
“I’d spend hours listening to my favourites and thinking about the songs I could perform in the future; things by Slim Whitman and Marty Robbins – I still play their songs today.”
Losing your job and being confined to a hospital bed can be demoralising but Paddy always had his first love to hand to help him through. He also had great support from his fellow factory workers and bandmates. A group of them had got together a few years before to set up ‘Telstar’. They played the local pub scene and would travel around various counties on most weekends, entertaining crowds and trying to make a name for themselves.
“My friends from the band would come to visit me in hospital and they’d tell me that we’d get back on the road quickly.
“At the time, I couldn’t see it, but we did manage to get out for one night. One night became two and then two became three – I guess they were right to be so positive.”
Paddy moved into recording, releasing three cassettes – CDs were “way off in the distant future” – while maintaining his work on the live circuit. His break came when RTÉ DJ Paschal Mooney played one of his tracks on his popular show ‘Keep it Country’.
“The response was really positive, better than I imagined, and so Paschal asked me to come back and do various guest spots for established bands. Then I was nominated to take part in the ‘Irish Gold Star Awards’ and was lucky enough to win that.
“I went on to represent Ireland in Holland in what can only be described as the Eurovision of country music.”
Since then, he hasn’t looked back. His performances in both Ireland and the Netherlands meant he was now a well-known name in the industry. He quickly put together a five-piece band and hit the road, something he had thought about since singing in local competitions in Co. Waterford. A trip to Nashville and a string of country music number ones in Ireland cemented his position further and he branched out across into Britain.
“We found that our music was becoming appealing to all sorts of people and there would be those who were born and bred in England with no Irish connections who would come out to see us.
“And the great thing about country is that all the songs can tell a story. Whether it’s about emigration or a local town, there’s always something people can associate with.
“This worked particularly well outside of Ireland because people could relate to the places they knew or were from originally.”
Paddy has spent over 30 years in the business and while he might not traverse the highways and byways in the same manner he used to, he’s not finished yet. Age and the scars of his injuries are beginning to take their toll but he’s still a familiar face in Ireland and regularly makes trips across to Britain.
“Things have caught up on me, the years as much as the ailments. There are times where I might struggle to stand on stage for two hours but I can still do it, that’s for sure.
“And I can’t complain. I can still do everything I want to and that extends to recordings and performing. I have to thank God for that as well as so many people in the industry who have supported me through the years.”
His body might just about be holding up, but it is also his mind, which plays a part. The emotions he experiences up on the stage are enough to keep him going.
“It’s all about the people who come to see the shows. When they keep coming back and you see them enjoying themselves, that’s all the motivation you need.
“You still get a buzz when you’re up on stage and you see them all dancing on the floor in front of you.
“You also get to meet so many people in so many different places because that’s what these concerts are – they’re meeting places for the Irish community and the wider community in general.”
That painful accident threatened to derail Paddy’s ambitions when his career was in its infancy, and there was a time where even he thought things could be over. But he continued to battle on and, with the support of music and friends and family, he was back out doing what he loved.
This developed in a way he once thought unimaginable and it is this which contributes towards his desire to carry on performing. But there’s also the support of his loyal legion of fans who bring him as much joy as he does to them; something for which he is forever grateful.
Paddy will be performing in Ireland throughout spring and will be in Hayes, Middlesex, in July. For more information, visit paddyobrien.com