Born and raised in Strabane, Northern Ireland, on the border with the Irish Republic, Paul Brady was into a wide variety of music from an early age. A Fifties child, his first sounds were the Swing, Jazz, Show tunes of his parents generation. Then 50’s Rock ‘n Roll, 60’s pop and Motown, Blues, R’nB and Country and Western. Through all this ran the potent flavour of Irish traditional music and song.
Learning to play the piano pretty much by ear, trial and error, his early heroes were Jerry Lee Lewis, Winifred Atwell and Fats Domino. By the age of eleven he had begun to play guitar, spending hours of his school holidays learning every tune the Shadows and The Ventures recorded, every lick Chuck Berry played. Mid-teens saw him take summer jobs playing piano and guitar in Bundoran, a seaside resort in nearby County Donegal. But it was around 1965 in Dublin, at college, that he began to develop as a singer and performer joining a succession of R’n B/Soul bands including The Inmates, The Kult and Rootzgroop, covering the songs of Ray Charles, James Brown, Junior Walker and blues legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry.
The 60’s in Dublin saw the renewal of interest in Irish traditional music and gave birth to the first wave of Irish ballad groups like The Clancy Brothers, The Dubliners, Sweeney’s Men and The Johnstons. Soon Paul was swept up in this current and joined the The Johnstons with whom he recorded seven albums.
Moving with The Johnstons in Jan ‘69 to live in London and later in ‘72 to New York City, he returned to Dublin in 1974 to join Planxty, the premier Irish folk band of the early ‘70’s. This was the band that was to launch the solo careers of Andy Irvine, Liam O‘ Flynn, Donal Lunny and Christy Moore. From ’76 to ’78 he played as a duo with Andy Irvine, a relationship which produced “Andy Irvine and Paul Brady”, an album loved at the time and still sought after today.
The next few years saw him establish his popularity and reputation as one of Ireland’s best interpreters of traditional songs. His versions of great ballads like Arthur McBride and The Lakes Of Pontchartrain were definitive and are still being asked for by audiences today. By the end of the ‘70’s however, he found himself back at the same crossroads once too often. After an acclaimed solo folk album Welcome Here Kind Stranger (1978) which won the Melody Maker Folk Album of the year, he decided it was time to move on.
Surprising most observers at the time, he released Hard Station in 1981. Self-penned, the album lyrically reflected the personal changes he was undergoing and musically was a highly original reworking of his earlier influences. Irish folk music took a back seat for the time being. Those more traditional voices who would have preferred him to stay as he was were soon replaced by the voices of praise for what is now accepted as a classic of Irish rock.
The albums which followed, True For You (1983), Back To The Centre (1985), Primitive Dance (1987), Trick Or Treat (1991) and Spirits Colliding (1995) collectively established Paul as the pre-eminent Irish singer-songwriter of his generation. Gradually other artists worldwide began to record his songs. Touring extensively both as a solo performer and with his own band he has forged a reputation as a passionate and exciting performer and attracts a dedicated following worldwide.
After many years of writing on his own, in the late ‘90s, he began to collaborate with other songwriters and in the space of two years wrote nearly fifty songs, several already covered by other artists. In 1998 he began a relationship with Rykodisc which led to the remastering and re-release of six of his previous albums, Hard Station, True For You, Back To The Centre, Primitive Dance, Trick Or Trea” and Spirits Colliding. There followed in summer of 1999 a best-of collection called Nobody Knows, The Best Of Paul Brady (1970’s-1990’s). It stayed in the Irish album charts for thirty weeks. In the new millennium Paul Brady continued to develop new projects, tour and release critically acclaimed albums, such as ‘Say What You feel’ and ‘Hooba Dooba’.
In 2009 Brady received an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Ulster in recognition of his services to traditional Irish music and songwriting.
“Everything I have tried to express in this time, whether in traditional music or in contemporary rock/ pop has been strongly coloured by my Irish environment and primarily aimed at Irish people no matter what creed or political persuasion. I am not a ‘Political’ songwriter… if that means someone whose main aim is to push a particular political line and uses the medium of music to do it. Nonetheless all good music is in a sense political with a small ‘p’ in that it highlights the beauty and pain of all existence and strives to communicate across all borders, be they political or in the mind. My song ‘The Island’ has been called a political song. In fact it is a love song sung by one person to another in a context where neither has any power to change the way things are or trust in those people whose policies of conflict claim to lead us out of the darkness. In time it became a kind of anthem for many people in Ireland who, like me, couldn’t see how hatred, violence, death and destruction would lead to anything but… more of the same.”
“It began when he was 11, and his father asked him whether he’d prefer a guitar or a harmonica for Christmas. He chose the guitar. Thus did Paul Brady step on to the path that would lead to him becoming one of Ireland’s most celebrated singer- songwriters. He has created more than his fair share of iconic songs – Hard Station, Get Back to the Centre, The Island, Nobody Knows, Crazy Dreams, Busted Loose and Steel Claw . Many have been covered by such stellar artists as Tina Turner, Cher, Carlos Santana, Art Garfunkel and Phil Collins. And he’s not done yet.”
Arminta Wallace, Irish Times, March 20th 2010
Welcome Here Kind Stranger (1978)
Hard Station (1981)
True for You (1983)
Back to the Centre (1985)
Full Moon (1986)
Primitive Dance (1987)
Trick or Treat (1991)
Songs & Crazy Dreams (Compilation) (1992)
Spirits Colliding (1995)
Nobody Knows: The Best of Paul Brady (Compilation) (1999)
Oh What a World (2000)
The Paul Brady Songbook (album and DVD) Live recordings for RTÉ TV series (2002)
The (Missing) Liberty Tapes (2003) [Recorded Live at Liberty Hall, Dublin, 21 July 1978]
Say What You Feel (2005)
Hooba Dooba (2010)
Dancer in the Fire: A Paul Brady Anthology (Compilation) (2012)
With Andy Irvine; Andy Irvine and Paul Brady (1976)
With Tommy Peoples; The High Part of the Road (1975)
With Matt Molloy and Tommy Peoples; Molloy, Brady, Peoples (1977)
With Andy McGann and Paddy Reynolds; Fiddle Duet (1976)
With Andy McGann; It’s A Hard Road to Travel (1977)
With John Kavanagh; The Green Crow Caws (1980)
Feed The Folk (1985), Temple Records FTP01, (“The Green Fields Of Canada”)
The Rough Guide to Irish Music (1996)