Irish World Award winners Foster and Allen have fans all over the globe…and not just Irish ones, they tell us in a new interview.
Across an eight-acre patch of land just outside of his Midlands hometown of Mullingar, Mick Foster, one-half of the beloved duo Foster and Allen, has three horse stables.
This tranquil hobby is the form of escapism he chooses to use from a music scene he has been bone-deep in for decades. His love of horses as much as music is clear.
“There’s nothing I don’t like about horses. I was born on a stud farm,” he says wryly. “I’ve been around horses all my life.
“It’s a labour of love being out in the fresh and away from the music and all that carry-on.”
He finds that the interactions he has with friends, neighbours and family are no longer simply inquiries into his musical endeavours. A world outside of the studio and touring give him a sense, if possible, of normality.
“People around me are only interested in when a horse is running; when a mare is going to foal; or what kind of a foal did she have. Rather than wondering if I had a record in the charts,” he says.
Tony Allen, on the other hand, prefers to day trips to Belfast – he now resides in Lurgan, Co. Armagh – and he frequents local GAA games as a means of filling the time between shows and recordings.
In their 40-year career, Foster and Allen have released over 30 albums, and have amassed quite a large following in turn.
‘A Bunch of Thyme’, their first No.1 Irish single, entered the Irish chart in 1979. It was ‘Maggie’ which brought them to a new stratosphere of popularity, however, seeing them land a momentous Top of the Pops slot.
Foster and Allen had known each other for years prior to their formation – one which took place in a bar in Kilburn in North London 43 years ago.
Both Foster and Allen had played on and off with various bands and toured extensively around Irish clubs in the UK and Ireland, with Liverpool, Manchester, Coventry and Birmingham playing host on various occasions.
In 1975, according to Allen, the band were on tour in the UK with a band called the Nightrunners. A friend of the band – Pat Callaghan, from Derry – had just opened a pub near the tube station in Kilburn Park.
“He invited us and asked me and Tony to stay behind with the keyboard and the accordion to sing a few songs and to play tunes during the week in the pub,” Foster says. “That’s where the whole job started. 43 years later, you’re still stuck with us.”
Allen recalls that week of freely playing and drawing crowds fondly, saying: “All good things start in pubs, especially Irish pubs.”
No matter where a particular tour ends up, the duo say, the crowds are not dominated by Irish people, something they pride themselves on.
“Everybody was listening to us then, not just the Irish,” Foster says. “It’s the same in Australia and New Zealand. Maggie was No. 1 in both places, as well as South Africa. 80 per cent of the fans is natives wherever we go.”
The duo, as of 2018, has achieved album and video sales in excess of 22 million worldwide. Their unwaning popularity, then, is something they both cherish.
“From 1983 up until this year, we’ve had an album in the British charts every year with the exception of 2000 – a year where we didn’t release an album,” Allen says proudly.
For their latest album, Putting on the Style, the duo is releasing a fifty-track double album and simultaneously releasing a DVD of old live performances to go in tandem with the disc.
Most of the tracks are gathered from some of their favourite live performances where the ‘80s when they were commonly featured on Irish TV shows. Their hope, Foster says, is to give their fans a unique audio-visual experience. “People can listen to us in the car and look at us when they go home,” he says.
Both men found trawling through old footage to be enjoyable but joked about how the ageing process was more pronounced than ever while reminiscing. “It’s amazing to look back at two young lads with dark hair and dark beards and small waistlines,” Allen says.
Their latest UK tour begins on the 27th, October and finishes in mid-November. The duo then takes a break until after Christmas to recuperate before an Irish tour.
As has become tradition, they play Scotland in March, take a break, then tour Australia in May. “We hibernate then for summer again,” Foster says.
Year-round travelling is physically taxing so the band prefer to keep shows limited to certain months. But, that does not take anything away from the art of performance, something they feel is crucial to musicianship.
“I think everybody in our game loves the live shows. It’s what you grow up doing and grow up wanting to play an instrument and singing,” Allen says. “There’s nothing like getting up in front of a live audience that wants to listen to you.”