You might not have heard of him but Michael Fox has been playing the Country and Irish circuit for fifty years
We always hear a great deal about the best-known names on the country and Irish circuit but there’s also a very dedicated cohort of slightly lesser-known musicians working those same circuits, and even smaller venues, in their shadow.
No less dedicated, and often with their own loyal followings, but often for more modest rewards.
This year Mayo based Michael Fox celebrates a remarkable 50 years in Irish Music. He has been entertaining audiences for 35 years throughout the UK and then in later years in Ireland when he returned to his roots, settling in his late father’s parish of Killasser near Swinford in 2003.
Originally born and raised in Birmingham to Irish parents Michael got involved in the Irish Music scene in 1968 when he spent seven years playing dance and concert venues, building up a following in the UK but going back to Ireland in the summer months to perform in the Singing Lounges that were popular at the time.
“I grew up in Birmingham in a tight Irish community with music all around me and in my primary school every kid in the class was of Irish descent with the Irish coming over after the war to rebuild the cities”
His early musical influences were the popular Irish artistes of the time, and the Dubliners as well as Johnny McEvoy, Ray Lynam, Margo and Big Tom who were filling the big dance halls.
“When I started in 1968 there was a good pub scene and a good folk club scene and a guy took me on and managed me and got me bookings and took me to venues for about seven years in the pubs and Catholic clubs, which were pseudo Irish clubs really.”
By the mid ‘70s a huge Irish Diaspora had built up with recent immigrants and also second generation Irish who frequented the many Irish Clubs and parish halls all over the country representing people from all the counties of Ireland.
This created great opportunities for musicians like Michael to perform and as the dancing scene was very popular he formed a three-piece dance band The Black Velvet Band. They were very successful and played for 2O years at dances and functions nationwide.
Presenting Radio Shows
In 2003 Michael returned to Mayo and got involved in presenting radio shows, first for CRC FM in Casltebar, then Midwest Irish Radio. For the last seven years he has produced and presented programmes on the online Country n’ Irish music station Irish Country Music Radio, as well as presenting shows for CCR FM in Claremorris.
I asked Michael what changes he had seen over the years and if he felt with new people coming along there was a resurgence of interest in Irish Music.
“Well back when I formed the Black Velvet Band the showband scene in the ballrooms was fading and the Country and Irish Music was taking over with people like Big Tom but then around the ‘90s the whole thing began to decline a bit.
“But it is huge now with young people like and Derek Ryan who have come through and brought back a new audience. All of a sudden the kids are leaving the night clubs now and are going to the Dances again and that in turn is bringing a lot more younger performers on to the scene.
“Now it has been totally refreshed and it is exciting again. My philosophy on my radio programmes is to give a good hearing to the new artistes and to promote them but I am still playing and one complements the other.
“I have also had about a hundred stories published which I have put up on my web site for anyone to read as having moved back I got very interested in rural Ireland.
“Having spent 50 years in the business I am absolutely excited about the renaissance in Country Music with all the new young people as performers and dance scholars now coming through, giving it a new lease of life again and I’m looking to the next 50 years.”
Michael is this week celebrating his 50th anniversary in the Country and Irish family with a special dance at the Gateway Hotel in Swinford (Thursday 25 January) at which he will be joined by friends and fellow musicians.
It will be screened some time next month on The Irish at Home & Abroad on the Sky EPG Channel 212.