Brendan Shine is an institution in Irish music with a formidable career as an entertainer that goes back to the ‘70s and the days when he had a huge hit with his song Do You Want Your Old Lobby Washed Down, writes Michael McDonagh
Now 71 and still performing he has two other pre-occupations in his life – his farm and his children and grandchildren.
I was reminded by a colleague that there could not have been a child of an Irish family living in London who did not return to Ireland for family visits without a cassette of Brendan Shine in their car playing on repeat for the long journey home.
Brendan started off as a barman and for nearly twenty years owned Shine’s Bar in Baylough in Athlone, which was run by his wife Kathleen, while he was away on the road.
In 2010 Shine was awarded The Freedom of Roscommon in recognition of over 43 years of musical achievement.
Hi Brendan, It is a long time since we spoke last and I’ve just discovered you are younger than me!
“My God, I didn’t know that. I’m 71 and I thought you were a much younger man but, yes, it is a long while since we last met. I think it was on that shoot we did at that lovely house down in Wicklow for my album The Very Best Of and which had Shoe The Donkey on it and you got the old donkey cart, and a guy in a sports car who was supposed to be driving too fast down the lane, and there was a big cherry picker there for the camera.
“It was great fun. It was way back in 1998 and, My God, there have been some changes in the music business since then. I remember the picture with you sitting on the donkey cart in a break doing your business on the mobile phone, when mobiles were new to Ireland.
“It was so funny it was like a contradiction.”
You celebrated 50 years in the business that’s a great achievement.
“I did yes, that was about three or four years ago. I’ve been at it since I was 16 and I never stopped. I went professional when I was 16 and I was playing in the Galtymore in Cricklewood back in 1964, so was about 16 or 17 years of age.
“I was singing with a celli band all those years ago.”
Do you miss those ballrooms?
“Well when they were there towards the end they didn’t think anything of them and it was open about three nights a week and there were not enough people going into them.
“I think they were paying seven grand a week for the rates alone and then, when they said they were going to close it down, they all said it should not be closed but they had stopped going into it.
“The people who ran it did not do it right though. They should have developed that site into a major entertainment centre with a swimming pool, volleyball and coffee bars and have one function room so they could still have the dances but I think all they were interested in was filling fellas with drink and getting them drunk in the bars and that was the wrong attitude.
“It was a valuable complex and they could have done more with it.
“They could not have stuck with the old format, as you have to adapt it for the times and modernise and give it a spray of paint every now and again.”
Was it not the problem that the generations of Irish that loved going there as a home from home had moved on so the demand was not there for the ballroom dances?
“The same thing happened in New York and Boston and those places. I was doing a television thing recently and there was a young lad from New York who does a bit of promotion and I said I was going to Alaska next year and that I might have a stop off in New York and so he asked me if I would consider doing a gig for him in New York and I said ‘No’ and he asked ‘Why?’ and I told him that I did not know anymore where you could do the gig and doubted there would be any people left in New York that would be in to what I am doing.”
I was in Queens a few years ago and that has changed and the Irish seemed to have moved on?
“Well I used to hang around Queens thirty years ago and then the Colombians had taken over lots of it alongside the Irish but now I suppose it is like Kilburn or Cricklewood it is all Russian or Czechoslovak people and others who would just run you down or walk on top of you. It has all changed so much.”
But you are still working and have a new single out.
“I’m semi-retired myself now so I can pick and choose and do just the things that I want to do. I work with my daughter Emily and I have my original drummer and I link up with a band called The Conquerors from Ireland as my backing band and so anything I want to do, I do with them.
“I also do a lot of solo work and also play on those cruises for Irish music fans. Then I do all those holiday breaks in Spain and Portugal and Croatia and all those places.”
The Internet has changed the whole media thing, how do you adjust to that?
“It is all done on the phone now, so it is not the same. We have a single CD out now called I’m Not The Only Cowboy In The West and we now send the promos of it to the stations by email as an MP3. They just load into their computers but I think 50 per cent of the DJs still like to have a physical CD in their hands to touch and hold.”
I guess you, like many of us, miss people like Terry Wogan as a friend and champion of Irish music, so radio has changed too?
“We do and also there was a great music publishing family there down in London like Acuff Rose and Opryland. They brought you in for a chat and coffee or maybe you would go for a beer with them and everybody knew what was happening and you would go into Radio 2 or other stations and everybody knew what was happening and there was a great camaraderie, a lot of it was just going to the pub and having a drink but it still was a link and everybody knew everybody and you could network with people.
“That’s done electronically now but you miss the human touch being face to face with people and shaking hands and saying hello.
“Wogan, of course, was great as he supported Irish music a lot and he championed certain records like the Fureys or Foster and Allen and of course he was great for me with Do You Want Your Old Lobby Washed Down which was a big hit for me. You don’t get the chance for Radio play like that anymore.”
With such a long career do you have any special memories to cherish?
“I have had a great career with loads of success and with all my records and TV series. I have had a wonderful life really and through this I have been able to rear my family, who have now grown up. It really pleases me that my daughter Emily now plays with me.
“She is actually a psychologist who was trained at Trinity College Dublin but she plays with me when we go on the cruises and all the main dates. She is my main keyboard player and musical director playing the piano and when we are with other musicians she would sit in. It is absolutely a great joy to have her with me.”
One highlight must have been when Do You Want Your Old Lobby Washed Down was played for the Pope, did he understand the lyrics?
“Actually, people hold on to it I that I played for the Pope but I was actually sitting in the Bayswater Road at the time looking over Hyde Park and it was the brass band that played the Do You Want Your Lobby for the Pope. He had very good English but it was lucky he was not that fluent in the Irish brogue but there was no lyric involved at all as it was just the band playing the tune as the Pope walked out to the plane in Shannon Airport. Then I got all these phone calls and from people saying that they had heard the Lobby song was played for the Pope.”
England was very big for you so do you still work here?
“Recently I’ve been working in England as I do a lot with a young star called Michael English, I’ve been doing some guest spots with Michael as I kind of got tired of the big tours I used to do on my own, bringing a band over to England, and booking all these hotels and organising it.
“Sure, I was at all that for fifty years. I just get into my car now and travel over and Michael brings all the gear and has it all organised and he has a very good band. I don’t do all his shows, though, just some in Ireland and some over there and he would be on the cruises too.
“Eventually I will probably put a package together and do some shows again so I am not saying I have stopped doing that, just that I am having a break from it now.
“I started last night in Killarney. I do the whole summer in the Gleneagles Hotel in Killarney and I have been doing that for years and I’ll be doing a cabaret show in Claremorris and also lots of the festivals in the summer and some of the shows at racecourses.
“I was down at the racecourse at Roscommon. I was never at the races when I would follow the horses but now I am at the races playing music.”
Tell us about the new single:
“I just thought it was colourful. I have a new album coming, maybe it will be my 47th album, or something like that, and a man wrote a song for me.
“He is a songwriter whom I have known for many years. He was over in Ireland in Westport and happened to be over there with his wife and caught my show and he said ‘I was over here and this fella comes out on the stage as lively as ever and I had known him all these years from way back working in the country clubs and I thought of the idea for the song Shine Shine Let it Shine so that will be the title of my album – Shine, Shine, Shine. If you missed it the first time, you have it the second, and third, time.
“We are surrounded now by all these cowboys here in Ireland and in it is probably the same for you in England and you will find most of the cowboys in County Council offices or they are TDs or in Dáil Éireann.
“I always reckon that the worst kind of cowboys are the ones who do not dress up. The song has lyrics about leaving the farm and going off to New Orleans and, of course, I am farming myself here. I have come back to the farm after 10 years and I have made a lovely video on the farm with the cattle.”
Have you ever thought of doing a cowboy themed video?
“No. I breed Angus cattle at the moment, so have these beautiful black cows. I just liked the idea of the song lyric the last cowboy in the west and I come from the place that God Blessed’.
“I’m not a country singer, I never was a country singer so did not want to do a video on a cowboy horse but I just liked this song and made the video on my own farm with my cows.”
Are you still presenting TV shows?
“Well not really, not at the moment. Now there is all this regional stuff. I still do the spots for RTE on The Late Late Show, and things like that, but the policy for the TV people is now comedy and news and then they buy in lots of stuff and rehash old films and there are no light entertainment shows anymore.
“So there are not the opportunities for music like there were once but it will all go around again.
“This 24-hour satellite thing that is going on here now has everybody that had a hat on him on TV and most of it is horrible and they are recycling all kinds of old rubbish but it has shown that there is an appetite for some people to watch, as they are starved for entertainment and they are getting it there.
“It should be a wake-up call for those in RTE, or the others, to do something properly and decent for this audience.
“Somebody will have to see that they are losing a lot of viewers to this kind of thing and some of the big heads around the table should make a decent alternative.
“It just proves that they can’t get enough money in Ireland to keep the station going because people are listening to the local stations and they could not give a s**t about RTE, as they only play overseas music and don’t play any Irish music.”
Are you still working as hard as you once did or do you take it a bit easier?
“I am in tremendous form, I feel absolutely wonderful and as long as the legs hold me up I’ll keep going. I’ll never retire. As long as you have something to offer keep your hand in there. Never retire as I see people who retire and then they are dead within two years.”