Paddy Casey told David Hennessy about his new album, the dangers of busking on the streets of Dublin as a young teenager and why he hates the TV talent show even if he is blown away by the talent he sees on them.
“It never rains but it pours,” Dublin singer-songwriter Paddy Casey tells The Irish World.
Known for hits like Saints and Singers, Casey first came to people’s attention back in 1999.
Now, after a year of not gigging, he is releasing his latest album Turn This Ship Around.
“I had nothing to do for a year and a half and now I can’t sit down for five minutes. Still no gigs though.”
How has the last year been for someone so used to playing shows? “If you’re not leaving the house, it’s a lot cheaper,” he laughs.
“I went a bit mental at first. To be honest with you, I found it a little bit tough. A little bit scary, I suppose.
“The first bit was a little bit panicky: ‘What’s going to happen? Can I pay the mortgage?’
“The same worries that everyone has. Not everyone. Some people don’t even have a house, I suppose.
“I think the brain just gets fed up with being scared. Not scared, but freaked out about whatever, kind of wondering what’s going to happen, anxious.
“Then it was a case of saying, ‘Actually, I can make the best of this or waste a year of my life’.
“I got into writing a musical and tried to learn some piano: Things I never really had the time to sit down and do because I’m gigging all the time.
“After that initial anxiety, I just started writing.
“I was writing like the clappers for a while.
“I kind of had to stop myself writing because I was writing so much I wouldn’t be able to release it in two lifetimes.”
Paddy got an early start in the music business. He was only twelve when he took to the streets of Dublin busking.
Living out of home due to difficulties with his father, Paddy would feed and support himself at that young age with the money he made from playing on the streets.
“I wasn’t that big so I didn’t eat that much,” he quips. “All I needed was some chips and some coleslaw.
“I was vegetarian as well so I didn’t even need a burger.
“I was feeding myself most of the time.
“I met some nice people.
“At first, I stayed with my brother for a while and then I stayed other places.
“Then I travelled on my own a bit and I travelled with friends.
“I just made my way around for the next few years.
“And then eventually I found my way to Grafton Street.”
Were the streets not a dangerous place for someone who was not even a teenager?
“There was danger but I was having so much fun that I didn’t really give a sh*t and I didn’t give it all my attention.
“There was a lot of junkies and whatever, you know?
“I don’t mean to say that in a derogatory term.
“There would be people trying to rob you and stuff, I had a knife pulled on me.
“I remember I had to kick a guy over one time because he pulled a knife.
“But you’re a kid. Out of sight, out of mind.
“For me, it was like, ‘Whatever, this kind of stuff happens’.
“You forget about it when it’s done.
“You know it happens, it’s not a big shock to you.
“I mean, I’ve been mugged as well like, anyone can get mugged. It doesn’t require great skill or busking.
“It wasn’t particularly traumatic. Same thing: Two young fells pulled a knife on me and searched me.
“It didn’t colour my experience if you know what I mean.
“My experience was hanging out with great people and singing my heart out and learning to do what I do.
“I met great people, most people are.
“The weirdest bit for me actually was I used to look very female.
“I used to look very feminine, I don’t know whether it’s because I had long hair.
“But I just used to look very effeminate.
“Men, like old fellas, used to hit on me all the time.
“I would have to turn around and go, ‘You do realize I’m not a girl..?’
“I was 15 year old bloke but I probably looked like a 19 year old girl.
“I probably made some money because they thought I was a girl.
“That was the only annoying thing.
“Some would get angry because I suppose they couldn’t understand how they had been looking at a bloke.
“Their lives were never the same again.”
Paddy’s daughter Saoirse is now showing musical promise herself.
As blasé as he is about him being on the streets himself at a young age, he would be horrified to think of her being out there.
“I’ve said this a couple of times but I’ve looked at Saoirse at my age when I started busking.
“I was just looking at her- I think she was like 12 or 13 and I went, ‘Oh my God, she’s a baby’.
“Was I a baby when I started?
“Because you are. Especially me because I’m not a tall guy.
“I literally must have looked like a little baby just walking around the street with a guitar on his back.
“There was dodgy people. Dublin wasn’t the worst city in the world, I don’t think, at the time.
“Maybe we were blessed. There was danger around but luckily enough, I escaped.
“I’ve slept out a bunch of times and to be honest, it was like a holiday except on the cold days.
“Sleeping out in the winter is not fun but in the summer, it’s great.
“I’ve slept in bushes to stay warm.”
Would he like to see his daughter go into music herself or even have a portion of his success? “I’d love to see her being able to make a living from music because she’s so great at it.
“It’s not the top of her priorities.
“Luckily enough, I’ve always been able to make a living.
“There’s been some tough days.
“I’ve had some lean years or whatever but I’ve always been gigging.
“It’s been great. It’s a brilliant way to make a living.
“It might be tough sometimes but it’s not really tough, it’s not proper tough.”
Having started literally at the very bottom and working his way up, it would be almost like a fairytale when Paddy would be discovered.
After meeting with several big labels, he would sign with Sony at the age of 24.
“I met with Sony, Warner, all the big guys and the one that appealed to me the most was actually a small label on Sony because the two guys that were running it both loved music.
“That’s what drew me to them.
“I mean, they didn’t even offer the most money or whatever.
“And it just so happened that that was the label that the guy who tried to sign me first, Hugh Murray, was working for.
“So that was crazy. It all turned out really well.
“Because Hugh has become my great friend since.
“I signed to some nice guys.”
From here, the only way was up.
Paddy would release his debut album Amen in 2000. Hot Press readers would vote it the best debut and him the most promising new act.
Casey returned in 2003 with the multi-platinum album, Living which spawned hits Saints and Sinners and The Lucky One.
The following year he won the first of two consecutive Meteor Irish Music Awards for Best Irish Male.
In 2005, he supported U2 on their Vertigo tour, performing in Ireland, Scotland and Norway.
What was this experience like? “To be honest it was amazing.
“Their crowds make you feel really welcome and Bono and the lads treat you really well, make sure you’re comfortable or whatever.
“I’d played stadium gigs before that but look, it’s amazing.
“I mean, it’s not my stage but you try and make it your own for however long you’re let, until the lads want it back, you know?”
However, it was in 2008 that Paddy decided to walk away from his major label.
He had just released Addicted To Company (Part One) and performed on the Late Show with David Letterman.
“I think I walked away from the label because I think the whole industry was taking a big downturn at the time.
“I think a lot of a lot of people were getting fired or taking redundancies, and the people I knew were just disappearing.
“In the end, I had only just released an album. It was doing well. We were doing the Letterman Show.
“And a matter of weeks later, there was an accountant telling me that the budget was spent for the album and: Would I go and make another record?
“And I was like, ‘You’ve got to be fecking joking. I’m after working my hole off for this for the last six months’.
“So I went, ‘I might go and do my own thing. Thanks’.
“The album was only starting as far as I was concerned.
“The album had only been out a little while, there was one single and we were getting a lot of shows.
“Things were looking up definitely and I was very surprised that it happened.
“For years I had barely stayed in my own house.
“You need a bit of space in your life, don’t you? You can’t sell your whole life.”
And Paddy has been doing his own thing since with only a pandemic interrupting him.
“I’ve done three albums and it’s taken me ten years to do three albums.
“It’s slow, but when I’m writing songs, I think I’m proud of all of them.
“Albums are disappearing or so I’m told so by rights, I shouldn’t even be releasing one album let alone a double album.”
Turn This Ship Around has been described as its best yet in The Irish Independent but Paddy is modest about it himself when this is repeated back to him.
“Where did you hear that one? Did I say it?” He jokes
“I do think it’s a good album but the album was ready when the Covid started.
“It should have been out last year but there was just no way of doing it.
“I’d like to think that I’m getting better as I go on.
“There’s songs like It’s Over Now which is on my first album.
“I know it’s ridiculous to say but I still get goosebumps every time I play that.
“I don’t know if I have an It’s Over Now on this album but I definitely think I’m on the road somewhere.
“I’d like to think I’m getting better.”
The album features the voice of Kim Hayden who some may remember from her appearance on The Voice of Ireland.
In fact, Paddy has been known to employ people who visit him at home on a track or two.
“That’s true but it has nothing to do with the lockdown.
“I didn’t get all the neighbours in or anything.
“It’s just if someone’s around and I’m in the middle of recording and I need a voice, I don’t really care if they’re professional or not.
“They’re friends or people don’t sing for a living.
“I don’t care if they’ve ever sang in their life.
“I don’t really think that somebody who’s practicing all day every day necessarily gets more meaning out of a song than somebody who sings it at a family get together.
“I just love when somebody’s heart is in it, I suppose.
“I’d rather hear a bad singer who loves the song and means every word.
“To me, everyone’s voice counts.
“There’s plenty of singers I love who are barely in tune.
“I’ll just ask people if they’re there, ‘Do you want to try this?’”
How did working with Kim Hayden come about? “I saw her on The Voice, thought she sounded good.
“She sent me a message and said, ‘Would you be interested in working on a song or trying to write a song together?’
“I’ve never really done it before in my life and I said, ‘Why not?’
“You can’t just say no for the sake of it, I suppose.
“So we got together a few times in the house and wrote a song I thought was a cracker.”
But make no mistake. Just because Paddy is happy to work with Kim does not mean he is a fan of such reality TV shows.
Would he entertain going on show like the Voice or the recently discontinued X Factor if he was starting out now? “No, to be honest I wouldn’t get on one of those shows.
“That’s not being modest, I really wouldn’t have.
“I hate the shows but I think all the kids and all the people on it are amazing singers.
“I hate the shows and I hate what they stand for.
“They’re manipulating kids and they’re manipulating their dreams.
“But some of those kids blow me away.
“I hate the shows and I love the singers because they’re all great.”
Paddy feels that such shows and the work people put in to sound like someone else is taking away some singers’ individuality.
“Most people I grew up listening to had a voice that didn’t really sound like anyone else and you knew their voice.
“Because they had no training. Most of them would then end up being the singer in the band by accident, you know?
“But nowadays, they really do practice and it’s not always my cup of tea.
“I think sometimes they can sound a bit samey.
“But they can all hit amazing notes and there’s a lot of soul in there.
“I hated my voice when I started singing.
“I had no idea whether I could sing or not, I just knew I wanted to do it.
“I think I had a terrible voice when I started.
“I think the busking exercised it and made it stronger and brought it into tune.
“I’ve never heard myself as a kid but I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t in tune.
“I’m not saying that to be modest, that’s what it was.”
Turn This Ship Around is out on 6 August.