Michael McDonagh catches up with his friend of 48 years Paul Brady
In 1969 a musically talented young man from Strabane came to live in London to seek his fortune in a folk group. He was Paul Brady.
At the same time, me, a far less talented young man from Manchester was also starting his own career in the music world.
Our first encounter was an awkward moment. As we spoke to discuss his new album Unfinished Business I hoped he had now forgiven me for upsetting him. I was working for Transatlantic Records, directing a photo session for a new album from the Johnstons and I bluntly suggested that it would be more ‘cool’ and trendy if Paul ditched his geeky schoolboy ‘National Health’ style spectacles.
Not a good start, he was not impressed.
Paul laughed. “Oh no problem I never thought of myself as a ‘pin-up’ and so I never thought if I looked groovy or not made any difference to whether they liked me but for sure I was not used to being told what to do”.
The Johnstons were very popular at that time both here and then in America, where they went to live in 1972. I encountered Paul next in 1974 when we had both moved on and I was asked to promote the first UK National Concert Tour with Planxty, the seminal super group of folk talent that included Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine, Johnny Moynihan and now Paul Brady.
To this day our sold out Concert at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane in 1975 was the most perfect and superb concert I have ever been involved with, pure musical magic from these virtuoso musicians, setting a gold standard for others to emulate.
“Well that is nice of you to say that. I remember and it was a huge thrill for me to have been dragged from relative obscurity in America to be playing in front of sold out audiences in London.”
I asked Paul about his memories of Planxty. “That was a whole strange affair for me as I was brand new to the band and I had just come back from a couple of years in America and I was out of touch with what had been happening in the folk scene here. I did not know what to expect with Planxty but certainly it all happened very quickly. It was great for me taking over from Christy Moore and playing great music in England in those classic concert halls”.
Although the tour was a success, getting huge critical acclaim and establishing Planxty on the concert circuit, I was so disappointed when the band split up later that year.
“The fact of the matter was that for years prior to that the band’s finances in Ireland were in disarray and the tax man came home to roost and I ended up paying back debt that was not mine and so basically it was bad business not music that did for a really unique band”.
I mentioned to Paul that I still have the accounts for that Planxty tour if he wanted them!
“Ah I don’t think I need that thank you very much,” he laughed.
I said it was a pity that Paul never recorded an album with Planxty for posterity to reflect his immense contribution to that special group and and he sighed: “No I didn’t but I think that the album I did after that with Andy Irvine would have been the Planxty album we should have done had they stayed together. Frankly I am very happy that Andy and I made that record with Donal Lunny and Kevin Burke. Andy and I have just completed a 40th anniversary tour which was really successful”.
Paul formed a duet with Andy then went solo in 1978. At that time in his career Paul was respected and recognised as one of the finest interpreters of traditional material.
“After I went solo I made my own album Welcome Here Kind Stranger, which was voted Melody Maker Folk Album of the Year”.
Of course like so many of his generation the first musical influences on Paul were the American rock and roll artistes and whilst at university in Dublin his first musical steps had been with a number of rock bands so it was no surprise that by 1981 he had moved on to a more rock and pop genre with his first completely self written album Hard Station.
This album was a defining moment in Paul’s impressive career and a major turning point as Paul moved away from the folk idiom.