He’s a relative newcomer, but country singer Johnny Brady is no novice, says Shelley Marsden
THERE’S something of the cheeky chappy about Johnny Brady, which for someone fairly new to a well-established music scene in Ireland (country) is bound to help things along.
Johnny has been touring the country with his six-piece band for two years now, but this isn’t the 38 year old dipping his toe for the first time in the music business; it’s returning to his roots after years of playing pop, indie, rock – in his own words, “just about every genre imaginable”.
It started in 1991 when, along with two uncles, he formed his first band aged 15. They played country, but Johnny swiftly progressed through a series of bands of all manner of music. Always a fan of country, it was becoming so huge in Ireland that, when a series of favourable circumstances presented themselves to him, he grabbed them and decided to go in that direction.
“I have a lot of history in country music”, he says, explaining that pull that has always been with him. “My grandfather was Big Tom’s uncle and I spent a lot of time in Castleblayney when I was a lad in the 80s. I worked in Big Tom’s pub The Old Log Cabin.
I went to see him and a lot of other bands growing up. Coming back to country was pretty sentimental for me. My grandparents are passed on, so are both my parents, and they were all big country fans. Though I’m a huge fan of all kinds of music… it’s going back to my roots.”
Johnny’s grandfather and Tom’s mum were brother and sister, and he still owned the small house where they were both born when Johnny was a young lad. Every summer for ten years from around 1980, he would spend the summer holidays there with his grandparents, as would Tom.
He recalls: “There was a big field out the side, and he’d always cut the hay for my grandfather – those two were big buddies. At about aged 7 or 8, I’d head down to The Old Log Cabin every Monday with my grandfather; that was the big music night, and Tom’s brother Seamus who ran the bar gave me a wee job collecting glasses.”
Johnny didn’t get any wages as such, but at the end of each ‘shift’, Seamus would slip him a punt, a Coke packet of Tayto cheese and onion crisps. Tom would always be there on a Monday too and without fail, he’d hand the young boy five punts.
“He’s always been a good guy”, says the singer. “I spent many’s a time at Tom’s house; he had a huge, twelve-foot snooker table and I’d be running between my uncle’s legs as the uncles and whatever had a game. I didn’t see Tom for years then, because I was in my teens, doing pop and indie, and I’d moved to Belfast – went in a completely different direction.”
Johnny has released two albums to date – the first was Livin’ All My Dreams and the second I Owe It All To You, titled after the one self-penned song which he dedicated to his grandfather (“that whole part of my life has strong memories for me”).
He’s about to release a new one “in a matter of weeks, I hope” which will include three numbers he has written himself: “You have to be careful on the Irish country scene when you’re establishing yourself – people like to see some recognisable standards, so there’ll be plenty of stuff people know.”
He says the artistic progression over three albums is very clear. In the first, in fact, he played it pretty safe with a dare-we-say twee song about County Antrim, and a lot of simple melody lines. Next album, it was a different producer with a cover of a Leona Lewis pop song, and the traditional country sounded a bit more Lonestar, more American.
Now, he says, he has worked with the two old producers on the new album and added an extra producer in Martin O’Neill to make it all sound different again.
“We’ve put a waltz in there, a cover of a Darius Rucker song, While I’ve Still Got the Time, which is gorgeous. One I wrote, called Dance With Me Tonight is very Keith Urban-esque, with banjo and steel. I wrote another one with Matt Curran called Ireland Has a Place In My Heart – it sounds cheesy but the song’s lovely. We’ve done a big production on it, with Uilleann pipes and some great musicians.”
Though he admits the Irish country fan can be cautious about new artists there is, he argues, room for individuality and cites young stars like Derek Ryan and Nathan Carter as boys, without whom, he might not have stood a chance, as he does have a distinctive style.
He says: “Because I come from a pop background, a more progressive style which you’ll see on the new album I could considered a bit more American country. My voice has an edge to it, and I’m a huge US country fan so I can’t help steering things that way.”
It’s not surprising that he brings something a little fresh to the table. He came into country two years ago straight from a job as frontman in rock tribute band Raised on Rock, perfecting gravelly vocals for covers of Bon Jovi, Guns and Roses and AC/DC.
“I’d get the eyeliner on and dress up for those gigs, it was brilliant craic”, he laughs. “That was my thing most definitely, but you know what? Country – Keith Urban, Vince Gill, one of my favourite artists of all time – that’s my thing, too.”
He’s gutted about the recent Garth Brooks fiasco, when after huge amounts of hype he ended up cancelling five Croke Park shows as part of his big comeback. Johnny had a ticket for one of the cancelled gigs and admits he couldn’t wait to see how the U.S. country star worked the crowd, calling him one of those “true performers for whom there is no standing still”.
Johnny may be singing on smaller stages, but he’s a little like that himself. He throws huge amounts of energy into each concert, jumps around constantly and visibly enjoys every second being up there. There’s no stage-fright for this guy.
“I’m just a big believer in being yourself as an artist”, he concludes. “That way, when you get your fans, they’re genuine ones that stay with you, you know? I’m 38, so I may be starting out a bit late, but believe me, there’s plenty of fuel left in this tank yet!”
For more see www.johnny-brady.co.uk.