Hall of Fame - Paul Brady

Geoff Harden follows the career of the Tyrone singer

Born in Strabane, in the far west of Co Tyrone, Paul Brady could easily have drifted into the world of showbands which was heavily populated by others from the area. His early listening certainly pointed that way – a rich mix of jazz, fifties rock and roll, blues, r & b, pop and country – with a little Irish music thrown in.

While still at school Brady started tinkling with a piano and at eleven he tried his luck with a guitar, glued to the gramophone while he tried to copy Hank Marvin or Chuck Berry, he soon started doing summer gigs in nearby seaside bars.

But it took a move to Dublin, where he was at university, to spur him into performing on a more regular basis – joining the thriving musical melting pot in the capital in the mid sixties in a succession of soul and r & b bands.

The rise of interest in folk music at the time – a heady mix of Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners with American singer songwriters like Dylan and Joni Mitchell – led to Brady teaming up with Mick Moloney (a fellow student at University College Dublin) and the sisters Lucy and Adrienne Johnston in The Johnstons.

Initially a fairly tame band playing mainly traditional material, they had already had a number one Irish hit with ‘The Travelling People’.  Brady’s influence raised their game. His superb guitar work and more intricate musical arrangements emerged along with an increasing amount of contemporary material, leading to an American hit with Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’.

The Johnstons took Brady to stints living in England and the USA but as their star waned he jumped ship and went back to Dublin in 1974 for a spell replacing Christy Moore in the hugely influential Planxty.

Although he did not record with the band, the association led to a successful stint working as a duo with Planxty founder member Andy Irvine. Their eponymous 1976 album remains a classic to this day with Paul’s version of ‘Arthur McBride’ becoming almost a millstone round his neck as his most requested song.

An acclaimed solo album of traditional songs, Welcome Here Kind Stranger followed two years later but as Paul found himself sucked more into the folk world he became restless and keen to develop his song writing. As he said at the time, 'I’m not bored with traditional music, I’m just bored with what I do with it'.

He surprised his growing following in 1981 by releasing Hard Station – an album of his own songs with rock backings. Although it included the hit single ‘Crazy Dreams’, another staple of his repertoire, the album was not a huge success and many regarded it as a serious mistake.

Brady stuck to his guns though and in retrospect Hard Station has come to be regarded as another classic.  The failure of Hard Station set his career back for a while but salvation came in the form of Tina Turner who recorded ‘Steel Claw’ and opened the door to many other covers of his songs. This in turn led to Brady, rapidly maturing as a performer in the tougher world of rock, producing a series of great albums.

After five years of turning his back on it, Paul Brady became sufficiently confident to allow the traditional influences to return, recording a version of ‘The Homes of Donegal’ on Back To The Centre. These days he is a relaxed performer who no longer grimaces when asked for ‘Arthur McBride’ and has an ever growing following.