Jimmy Buckley talks about breaking into a closed shop, performing with US country legends, and after Brexit, to Michael McDonagh.
Country and Irish singer Jimmy Buckley, (an Irish World Award winner in 2007 for his Live in Concert DVD), is now a veteran who been on the road for over 20 years now.
What was it like starting out?
“When I went on the road in the beginning the first few years were very difficult. It was almost a closed shop with eight or twelve bands, maybe fifteen bands on the circuit that were doing really really well on predominantly the dance circuit and it was hard to get a toe in the door.
“At that time there was no social media and very little TV like the opportunities that are available now to artistes who are starting out.
“So it was a slow process to get into venues that you could get into by word of mouth and then they would be the lesser venues and then, because you did not have a lot of work, you might be using musicians that would not be as good as those working in the ‘First Division’. We had all those things to deal with when we began.
“In fairness, the thing started to turn around for me in the year 2000. Then my manager at the time, a man called Henry McMahon, took me over and he wrote me a massive hit record My Wedding Day in 2003 and from then we were flying.
“Then over the years we were able to get some other good songs and as it got better we were able to improve the band. I suppose a rising tide lifts all vessels and things just started to fall into place and I had a couple of wonderful years.”
That was then, what about now?
“There was a resurgence a few years back with the emergence of Nathan Carter, who got a lot of young people interested in going dancing and they started to go and see him.
“Then the ones who were going to the dancing classes, which were popular, decided that they would see who else is out there, so they started to come and see us. Nathan had really started to pull in a lot of those young people and my reading of the thing was that the dance teachers at the dance classes were playing a lot of people like me and so these young people were suddenly aware of a whole new circuit that they probably did not know about and they started to come to our shows.
“In fairness to Nathan, he has to get credit for this, for getting the ball rolling and getting that young crowd in. I have great respect for him and he is a great friend of mine.
“Anyway those young people went to those dance classes and became great dancers and they came on to us as we have always had a reputation of being a great dance band over the years. That is holding true and we have a strong young audience from the Midlands up to Donegal and that aspect has really given us another bite of the cherry.”
How do you schedule it?
“We do dances for about eight months of the year then I do my own concerts and will tour Scotland and England then I team up with the other two Amigos (Robert Mizzell and Patrick Feeney) for our concerts in January, which have been the most successful concerts here for the last couple of years.
“We do the Three Amigos on midweek dates so it does not interfere with our own bands and we are packing out theatres all over Ireland with the show.
“It has grown over the last couple of years and is bigger now and is another feather in our caps, to be doing something different and successful.”
Will audiences here in the UK get to see the Three Amigos shows?
“The idea of it is nice but I don’t think it would work as there is a big production involved and it would be hard to organise just around midweek dates and we all have other things we are doing.
“Like, I have coming up the Craic in the Costa, when we go to Spain and I have lots of special guest coming with me.
“We are not going until October but we have four hundred people booked already for it and that is now a big part of what I do.
“People fly in from Dublin, Cork, England and Scotland and everywhere and, for the week’s holiday, we entertain them. “I also do the cruise once a year and did it one year with Charlie Pride, which was great. I absolutely love it and what happens is that you get to know the artistes on a more personal level, as you are with them all the time and you start up a friendship. That cruise has brought about some great friendships in the music community as you are around the same people for a week having fun and the Craic, so it is like a busman’s holiday. It is a great way of bonding with people with similar interests to yourself and they are great great fun.”
Jimmy has worked with many big names in the industry, what are some of his favourite memories?
“I was in Nashville in 2007 and went back there in 2011 and recorded with the late George Jones and got to tour with him and that was great.
“I toured with Charlie Pride as well, they were all great.
“There have been lots of highlights, really, as it has been a long journey. I also visited Graceland, the home of Elvis, which was very inspiring.”
So how did you get into country music in the first place?
“I went on an RTE talent show with a Randy Travis song and I won that, so that’s when I put the band on the road and that’s how I began.
“I have always loved the old country music and the country tradition with the American artistes like Merle Haggard and George Jones, Charlie Pride, Hank Locklin, Marty Robbins, Hank Williams. That’s my bag and I absolutely love it. I have great respect for the Irish Country artistes too but that modern American Country Music – I would not be in to that at all. I like the early stuff.”
If you don’t like the modern American country songs, how do you pick your material?
“When I am picking songs for my shows I pick songs from that genre of music – the early American stuff – and mix them with other songs that have been written that would have an appeal to my punters.
“It kind of makes it different and I suppose it would be about as country as it gets on the circuit and it is great to do all those country songs.”
How is 2018 panning out?
“Well, the Amigos is over since January until later but between my own thing, and the Amigos thing, from December 29 and 12 February we had just two nights off.
“Then I did the cruise and when I was back from it I was glad to get a bit of a break.
“I’ll be doing all the summer festivals and I am recording a new album to be ready for further into the year and that takes up a lot of my time, as it is my own thing and there is a lot of responsibility in organising it all.”
Is it true that you’re not signed to a major label and run your own show?
“I am independent. At this stage, with the fans and following I have, I’m better off doing it on my own. It is the fans that matter and having websites now has changed it all – it’s massive – so it’s a lot easier to get your product out there and, if you know what you are looking for, you have it all at your fingertips.”
You’re too young to remember the bad days of the Northern Irish Border when bands were constantly searched by armed guards and soldiers but does he think Brexit might have an impact on touring acts like his?
“I don’t think there will be hard border, which is great as Northern Ireland is a wonderful place to play now and the great thing about Country music is that we play to audiences from both sides of the community.
“I think if they had another vote I think a lot of people would think they made a mistake with the referendum.
“Usually in Ireland if it does not work out they keep having more referendums till they get what they want but I suppose it is different in England.
“To be honest that is what they should have done in England. When the penny dropped which way it was going to go they should have had another vote and we would not be facing all this border stuff now.
“The world is a much more dangerous place now even with that man Trump in power in America.”
Jimmy said he was up against a closed shop when he started out but eventually broke through, what is it like for a new act starting out today?
“I am loving what I do but, to be honest, I had tough years at the beginning and it has come good now. It is the old story though – at the end of the day, to make it in this tough business you have to have the talent and anybody who has made it in the last years, it’s their talent that won them through.
“You can have all the social media in the world and all the hype in the world but if they can’t deliver they will never survive.
“To be brutally honest a new person starting out should not attempt it unless they are good enough.
“It is all very well to say ‘Follow Your Dream’ but you can only do that if you have the talent and are good enough. People fill you with crap when you start but you have to be honest and ask ‘Can I do this, am I good enough?’ If they have the talent, and humility and determination and patience and know how to work a crowd, and show a respect for the people, they can make it work – it is all these things that go into it.”
“I have my Irish World Awards up in the cabinet and those awards nights were great craic. I loved doing them.”