The Fureys: 'We can't imagine doing anything else'

For brothers Eddie and George, family is everything, and audiences in Belfast and Derry are invited to be part of theirs this Christmas as the two toast 40 years in Irish folk music

(L-R) Eddie and George Furey

Having just returned from touring Holland, one could forgive Eddie and George Furey for being a little tired and grumpy as they sit down to chat with me near the window of a bar in Belfast's Waterfront Hall. 

Not a bit of it. As it was with the time we last met, three and a half years ago, their spirits are high and their senses of humour are truly intact.

Currently in the north to promote their upcoming concerts, two of which will take place here at the Waterfront (January 12) and at Derry~Londonderry's Millennium Forum (December 27), the Dublin-born brothers are as full of seasonal goodwill as one can be. Even George's jumper bears a pattern of penguins which would make anybody grin.

'I'm expecting bad weather', he laughs. 'You know how the world is changing at the moment. It won’t be long before the penguins join us down here!'

It's a nice way of 'breaking the ice'; making people happy, something the Fureys have more than mastered in what amounts to four decades of performing. In a time period where musical trends change with great frequency their legendary singing and storytelling has endured and resonated with their loyal followers and lovers of folk music worldwide. So what keeps them going?

George believes it's the adrenaline. 'Imagine going to interview someone who you're really excited about meeting, and then watching them be happy in your company while you carry out your work. They're clearly feeling good, so you do too. That's the most important thing we get from it all. It's why we love what we do. And we can't imagine doing anything else.'

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Busking in Belfast city centre

Eddie agrees. 'We get so much of a buzz from performing so frequently that we get used to it. Which means that even when we're supposed to be enjoying downtime, we can't help but feel downbeat to a certain extent. But that keeps us going. Besides, we know there's someone up there looking after us.'

And there are likely to be many looking at and cheering with George, Eddie and their band as they bring their accordions, mandolins, whistles, guitars and more to the Waterfront and the Forum. Belfast and Derry have a very homely feel for the brothers – not only do they have friends in both cities, but to them, the Waterfront is like a 'big folk club' where everyone seems to know their songs.

'I don't like playing big arenas where you can't see the people', says George. 'Where you'd need a pair of binoculars, and that's not a concert. What you get in the Waterfront is different. They're all around you, and there's an intimate feel to it.'

As there is with the Forum, which Eddie views as a great place to play with a friendly crowd. 'We’re able to play there as well as we are in the Dublin folk clubs. It doesn't matter if we perform in front of 60 people, or six thousand – we are always inspired to do our best.'

Of course, the musical journey of the Furey brothers has never been just about George and Eddie – Finbar Furey left the band more than 20 years ago to pursue a solo career, and Paul Furey died of cancer in 2002.

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Eddie (centre) on stage with Paul Furey (right) - image from www.thefureys.com

'When Finbar went off to do his own thing, we wished him the best of luck', Eddie reminisces. 'We took the reigns, looked back to the way we started the band and added to that in leaps and bounds. Paul... has never really gone. We miss him every day and night. He was a great accordion player, storyteller and joker.'

It seems only fitting that the positive spirit of the late, lamented Furey lives on in the series of concerts that audiences enjoy today from this close-knit family band. Concerts, I am told, that are akin to what you'll see on TV or read in a newspaper, bringing everything the Fureys hear from 'left, right and centre' over the world into the stories they tell and the songs they sing, performed by singers and instrumentalists who are as human and approachable on-stage musicians as they are off.

'We never set out to disappoint anyone', says George. 'If a fan requests a song in advance that is very dear to their heart, we won’t say no to performing it, even if it means taking another song out of the set list.'

Having that kind of family unity with audiences as well as themselves is quite the gift, and with Brexit getting ever nearer and Stormont still empty, people have never seemed more in need of unity. The sentiments of 'The Green Fields Of France' are bound to ring especially strong and true in Belfast and Derry.

'Music has done more to bring people together than any politics', the brothers tell me. 'It's united so many different cultures. But whatever happens, happens... we'll still be here. Doing what we do best. Making people happy. It's written in the stars.'

To reference a Bob Dylan song the band recently covered, the times may indeed be 'a changing', but it looks like the consistency and quality of The Fureys never will. For that, we can be grateful. Especially around Christmas time.

The Fureys will perform at Derry's Millennium Forum on December 27. Book tickets here. On January 12 2019 they'll then visit Belfast's Waterfront Hall – click here to book. You can also catch The Fureys at the Market Place Theatre, Armagh on January 19, the Whistledown Hotel, Warrenpoint on February 22, the Ardowen Theatre, Enniskillen on February 23 and the Braid Arts Centre, Ballymena on March 23. Stay up to date with future announcements and tour dates by going to www.thefureys.com.