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Still doing something right

Foster and Allen told David Hennessy about their new album, how they started in Kilburn and collaborating with young stars like Shayne Ward.

After 47 years playing music together as a duo, Foster and Allen are coming back to the UK to tour with their new album.

Established in 1975, the duo started playing cabaret venues in Ireland and the UK before their big break came in 1978 with A Bunch of Thyme. The song had a long stay in the Irish charts and although it was not until years later, it was also their breakthrough song in the UK. They produced another hit in Old Flames before they released Maggie, the song that brought them international recognition.

This new tour has been a long time coming as they were due to come just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Tony Allen told The Irish World: “It’s great to be back on tour and we’re looking forward now to getting back to the UK.”

How have the last two years been for them? Tony says: “I suppose we were lucky because at our age, we weren’t that pushed.

“I’m lucky because Triona, my wife, works with Daniel O’Donnell.

“So she was off the road as well. So we had each other so we were alright.

“The other thing was while we were off the road, we got into the studio so we got a good bit of recording done.”

Mick adds: “Before Covid came, we kind of had ourselves cut down anyway.

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“We decided we weren’t doing the far away tours anymore so far as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa.

“The older you get, these long runs are fierce hard on you.

“The actual playing is nothing. The concert is nothing. You do them in your sleep, but the long haul flights and then the flying in the country and the time changing they start to get you as you get older.”

The new album’s title comes from the famous song sung by Vera Lynn, but it also refers to their message to their fans throughout the uncertain period.

Tony says: “During the lockdown we were talking to people on the phone, ‘What’s happening? When are you coming back?’

“And we were saying, ‘Oh, we will meet again, don’t worry. We’ll definitely be back out and we’ll meet everybody somewhere along the line’.

“So the words ‘We’ll meet again’ kept coming up, so we said we better find that song and record it.”

Mick adds: “From our point of view, it was probably a sign of hope: This is it, the worst is behind us and we’re away again.

“We knew it was a great song because even as kids we would have heard it, you know? And a good song is always a good song.

“The fact that we were off the road for over two years like our audience and we want to see them again.

“So it’s a great title I think and a fitting title for going back on tour.”

It was also a chance to pay tribute to the late Vera Lynn.

“It was great to do a Vera song, absolutely brilliant.

“Would have loved to have met her, would have been a very, very interesting person to talk to.”

Mick adds: “She was great.

“Like a good song, a good artist will last forever.

“They may be gone, but they’re not forgotten.”

The album is a mix of old and new with classics like We’ll Meet Again and Grace sitting side by side with Derek Ryan’s Hold Onto Your Hat.

Tony says of that number, “It’s a really great song.

“Derek is a very, very talented man and he’s been writing all these wonderful new songs that sound like they’re old songs which is a very, very hard thing to do.”

Another new song to feature is the track Mullingar Fleadh which was originally recorded two years ago when the Fleah was originally meant to come to Mullingar although it only made it there more recently.

“We had it recorded and then we did the video for it two years ago.

“And then of course, because of the pandemic, the Fleadh was postponed for two years.

“And of course the Fleadh came and was a huge success this year, massive success altogether.

“I remember one of the nights from one bridge in Mullingar to the other, it must have been a mile long, was absolutely thronged with people, it was a sight to see.

“And none of the places in Mullingar, the restaurants or the bars, put their prices up a penny.

“It turned out to be an amazing festival.”

Foster and Allen have had international success and toured far away territories such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada but it all began for them here in London.

Mick says: “We actually started in London, would you believe? Foster and Allen started in the Prince of Wales pub in Kilburn Park right beside Kilburn Park tube station. We did a week for a friend of ours, just Tony and myself.

“We had been over with a band and we had very little work on when we came home and this friend of ours, a fella called Pat Callaghan, had a couple of pubs in London but he was after opening this one and he asked would Tony and myself stay behind and sing a few songs for the week, and we did so Foster and Allen were born in London.

“It was great craic. It was absolutely mighty. It was like being at home. Cricklewood and Kilburn was kind of 33rd county of Ireland.

Emerald Isla Scottish singer songwriter
Foster and Allen

“Back then the pubs in London and the pubs in Ireland were absolutely flying. We used to play the seven nights of the week in July and August. When you would go to England, you would be playing every night and Sunday morning as well. There was eight gigs which was great then because we were young but we wouldn’t be able to handle eight gigs a week now.

“We actually started Foster and Allen in London in 1975 so that’s 47 year ago.”

Is that hard to believe, Mick? “It is because you would be wondering where they went.

“As Tony was saying one day, it’s a long time to be in the one job.

“There was absolutely great times.

“In the early days we were kind of a cross between a ballad group and a ceili band, just the two of us.

“But then when Bunch of Thyme got into the British charts, that changed the whole job because we went from doing Irish pubs and Irish centres in England to suddenly be doing concerts, you know.”

Tony goes on: “When Bunch of Thyme hit the charts in 1982 thanks to Terry Wogan, Sir Terry, and Gloria Hunniford and people like that who kept playing it on radio BBC Radio two, it hit the charts and then of course we got Top of the Pops ourselves and that took us from the clubs and the pubs into the theatres and we’ve been there ever since which is great.”

What was it like to play on Top of the Pops? “I loved Top of the Pops. I mean going to school when I was 14, 15 years of age, I’d be rushing home of a Thursday evening to get home in time to see Top of the Pops.

“It was magic to appear on it after watching it all your life.

“But it was great to get a spot on Top of the Pops.

“We appeared on Top of the Pops in April ‘82 and by the end of ‘82 we were doing a concert tour of the UK, I don’t think you could do that today.”

If it was a magic for Tony to appear on Top of the Pops because he was a fan, it was different for Mick.

“The funny thing about it was I had never seen Top of the Pops until I was on it.

“I would have had and have no interest in pop music whatsoever.

“I just about knew what Top of the Pops was, but we met Bob Gandolf and the Boomtown Rats and Dexys Midnight Runners and Adam and the Ants.

“You were meeting different types of people. But as I say, it meant a lot more to Tony than it did to me.

“It was great to have on your CV, lads like us shouldn’t be on Top of the Pops.

“It was a great boost for the CV and people still talk about it as they do about the leprechaun suits as they call them.

“We wore them from ‘75 until the end of ‘82.

“But a lot of the media hooked on to the thing that we had dressed up specially for Top of the Pops which couldn’t be further from the truth, but it was pointless trying to explain to them so we said, ‘Look lads, believe whatever you want to believe. It doesn’t cost us anything.

“Doing Top of the Pops and all that, that never was in the plan because we didn’t figure that an outfit like ours would make the charts let alone, make the top 20 and get on Top of the Pops.

“But everything after that was totally different, then Maggie went to number one in Australia, New Zealand in 1983.

“And that started off that, the touring out there and in South Africa as well.”

Including best ofs and other compilations, the duo have now released somewhere around 50 albums and sold over 20 million worldwide.

“I suppose it’s not too bad for half a ceili band,” Mick jokes.

“The plan from day one was to be able to make enough money playing music that we didn’t have to work in the day job as well.

“We started in ‘75 and we went professional and ‘77

“We’re still on the go so we must be doing something right.”

The duo have collaborated with a host of young stars such as Shayne Ward and Nathan Carter while they have also worked with Daniel O’Donnell, Gloria Hunniford and the London Irish Pensioners Choir.

“That was great,” Tony says of joining forces with the Irish Pensioners Choir.

“We came over and we met up with them all and we had a great day doing those videos in London.

“It’s great to work with people like that.

“That was a choir that got together because a lot of people who were living on their own and weren’t going anywhere and then they became part of the choir, the choir really became part of their lives.

“That was amazing.”

It was in 2013 that Manchester- Irish X Factor winner Shayne Ward joined Foster and Allen for Galway Girl.

Tony says Shayne had been a long term fan and Louis Walsh brought them together.

“Shayne’s a gentleman, lovely chap.

“We got to know Shayne through Louis Walsh.

“We would go back a long way with Louis

“It was funny when he turned around and said he was on The X Factor and the guy who won it was listening to Foster and Allen.

Foster and Allen receiving their Irish World Award in 2017, presented to them by Billy Faughner.

“Every time I met Louis, he would say, ‘I was out with Shayne today and he still has his Foster and Allen CD’.

“I think his parents loved our music. He would be playing Foster and Allen CDs in the car when he would be travelling around with Louis.

“I said, ‘Would you be interested in doing a song?’

“’Oh’, he said, ‘I’d love to do a song with you’.

“Then he came over and spent a couple of days in Moate actually because he has some relations around Moate.

“He wanted to go over and see the area and all that.

“He spent a couple of days with us and he’s been back a few times since.

“And then of course he came back and did the Late Late Show.

“He stayed in Dublin, he just wanted to walk down the street and I am not joking. From the moment he left the hotel, for half an hour, maybe the guts of an hour walk around the city, every person we met stopped him, I couldn’t believe anybody could be so well known.”

Foster and Allen, along with Nathan Carter, were at the Irish World Awards back in 2017 although they have come to our earlier celebrations at the Galtymore in Cricklewood.

“And of course we lost poor old Paddy Cowan,” Tony says.

“He was from Longford not too far from where I’m from.

“That was very sad.

“Paddy was good to everybody with the paper, very good to Nathan.

“Nathan spoke very highly of him.”

Mick adds: “He was great.

“He kept the game going over there for the likes of us over here if you know what I mean, he made sure that people knew who we were and didn’t forget us and all that kind of carry on, you know?”

Tony continues: “The Galty was good craic, I remember that well.”

“Colm Murray used to do a spot.

“Colm and I grew up together here.

“Colm was from Moate.

“I remember even as a kid going to school Colm was very well spoken and Canon McGivney used to bring Colm out to our church as a young lad to read.

“We all thought Colm would be a priest you know,” Tony laughs.

“But he didn’t, he became originally a schoolteacher and then a radio presenter and then he did an awful lot of sports commentary, horse racing and all that.

“Of course, he loved the horse racing.

“Colm was a lovely man as well.

“We lost a lot of good people.”

We’ll Meet Again is out now.

Foster and Allen tour the UK from 27 October.

For more information, click here.

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