A London-born Irish tribute singer with a difference, writes Fiona O’Brien
Joe Hayes, a seasoned performer on the London pub and club scene, is a singer with a difference. He’s supported the likes of Brendan Shine and Martin Ruddy and covers a wide range of material with an emphasis, on Irish music, with his roots coming from Galway and Clare.
Joe’s late father emigrated from Kilkee before the war and, although not a musician, he inspired a love of music in his youngest son, who was born and raised in north west London.
“I remember listening with dad to ceili music on Radio Eireann, and we enjoyed watching ‘Top of the Pops’ together,” says Joe. “When I was about nine he went home to his mother’s funeral in Ireland and brought me back a guitar and he loved it when I would sing rebel songs.
“He paid for clarinet lessons which I struggled with, so I stuck to the guitar. I trained as a teacher and worked semi-pro in bands at weekends. I also did a lot of acting.’’
Joe has a drama award from Exeter University for a performance of a Yeats play, and took part in several productions at the Sugawn Theatre in Islington’s Balls Pond Road.
He did a few recording sessions for Decca Records and played in various Irish and country bands on the pub and club circuit before a trip to the States where he sang in Nashville and won a talent show in Los Angeles. Back in England Joe also worked as a stage manager for a time among a hatful of other jobs, including hospital porter and labourer.
‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers’ written by Dominic Behan is a song that resonates with him. ‘‘I worked a lot on building sites in the 70s and 80s and that was an education in itself,” he jokes.
“In fact, I was inspired to teach when I realised that some of the lads, who were larger than life in many ways, struggled with basic literacy.
“I remember in the canteen having to read a court summons for one guy (who moments earlier had terrorised me by splicing the bench on which we were sitting with an axe) and I realised there was a need for teachers even though I didn’t come from a professional background and had had a somewhat chequered school career myself.”
A successful career in teaching followed (he taught Irish musician Joe Giltrap’s son David) and culminated when he became head of a primary school. Although Joe maintained his musical interests, and encouraged the talents of others, the live gigs got progressively fewer until he retired early from education in order to go back full time into singing.
And Joe, born Bernard Adrian Hayes, explains why he changed his stage name to spare him from explaining his Irish heritage when performing.
“When I first went out as an act I was known as Adrian Hayes, as had mainly been called by my middle name. I reinvented myself and took my dad’s name as a tribute to him and to reconnect with both his and my Irishness.”
“I suffer jibes from some punters who suspect I’m second generation and it’s hard to tell the whole story in a soundbite. Like why I have a solid Irish identity but, obviously, a perspective coloured by my up – bringing in this country.
“On the other hand my brother Vincent was born in Galway and has an MBE for services to British theatre, so nothing is completely black and white!
“I do a lot of different styles of music including rock, soul, country and reggae and play all sorts of venues. I recently did Gloucester Conservative’s annual dinner and dance, but my heart is in the Irish songs that I’ve known and loved all my life.
“My dad had a tough life. His younger brother and his father died within a few days of each other one Christmas and he ran away to England after falling out with his new stepfather.
“He worked hard all his life with bad health and wanted to realise his dreams through his sons. My eldest brother Michael made a fortune in the construction industry so hopefully we didn’t disappoint him too much. But now I’m proud to call myself Joe.”