Thyme of our lives

Foster and Allen told David Hennessy about how they got started right here in Kilburn, collaborating with young stars such as Nathan Carter and Shayne Ward and why they still enjoy it after 45 years.

After 45 years playing music together as a duo, Foster and Allen are coming back to the UK for an extended tour. 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.

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

Mick Foster told The Irish World: “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.

“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’re 45 years as Foster and Allen but we’re 53 years playing together. Nobody is more surprised than us the thing lasted as long as it did. There’s very few groups or bands that last 45 years.”

Tony Allen says anyone going to see them can expect to hear all the old favourites such as Maggie and Bunch of Thyme: “We do them all. The whole lot, we leave out nothing.”

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

Tony says: “It’s nice to get a few different collaborations. When you do something with Brandon McPhee, you can do a song that’s going to be a little bit different from what you normally do. Brandon is a brilliant accordion player from Scotland. He’s only a young chap, 23. It’s great to work with someone like that. Nathan is the same because he’s young and we did a slow song with him, Burning Bridges, and we wouldn’t usually do a song like that on our own but when you’re collaborating with somebody else, you can change the whole operation.”

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.

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

After playing for so many years, do they still enjoy it? “The actual playing is as enjoyable now as ever,” Mick says. “The only thing that can get you a bit now as we’re getting older is the travelling. The travelling can be a pain in the backside but the actual music is still the very same as ever. To play to a live audience who are there for no other reason only to see you and they know everything you do, they know the songs you’re doing and they’re with you from the word go. It’s very hard to beat that.”

Tony, whose brother is well known singer TR Dallas, loves the whole thing: “I love the tours. I probably enjoy it more now because you’re playing to 6-700 people in a beautiful theatre whereas in the old days you could be playing to 2,000 people in a big barn of a place. I prefer the intimate crowds, you have more craic with them and you meet them afterwards.

“We would do a gig now and meet 30 people that we would know very, very well. They come and see us every year. It’s like a family thing now. It’s brilliant. You’re meeting people with their grandkids now.

“I like the organisation of the tours. When you’re on tour, you’re organised every day. You know what time you leave at, you know what time the show’s at. Whereas when I get home, I get out of the car, go into the house, put the case away and then be completely unorganised. I don’t like to be too organised when I’m off.”

Mick has always said a band is only as good as their last show. Mick remembers one time the duo played a concert in London that fell below their usual standards and it was reflected in their transport afterwards: “They picked us up in a Rolls Royce, and brought us back in a Datsun. We’ve always claimed that, you’re as good as the last show or the last record.

“The audience have decided since day one if you were good or bad. The lad who was booking, except for the fact that he was paying ya, wasn’t as important as the lads coming in the door because they decided whether you were good or bad. It didn’t matter whether you thought you were good or not. If they didn’t think you were good, you could stay at home.”

Foster and Allen tour the UK from 19 March to 5 April. Fosterandallen.ie.

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