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For nearly a decade he was one of the leading lights of Irish folk. And then Paul Brady turned away from the trad scene and reinvented himself as a contemporary singer-songwriter, penning songs for stars such as Tina Turner along the way. Now, with a new album under his belt, he reflects on his long journey from the pub session to the rock stage, the price of fame and talks about his burgeoning friendship with artists such as Glen Hansard, Fionn Regan and Ronan Keating.
Colm O Hare, 23 Mar 2010
“Part of the whole folk ethic was that you didn’t get above your station or you didn’t go around trying to be cool wearing shades and the like. It was almost an anti-star ethos. I had that with me when I came into the rock scene in Dublin. I felt that I was out of place in the scene such as it was. The Pink Elephant and all that stuff. It was a mad time. How did I survive at all? (laughs). But I was never managed from Dublin. I was managed by the people who managed Dire Straits for about a decade. A lot of my records after Hard Station were made in England.”
At this time he also began to be taken seriously by other artists as a songwriter. Major international artists of the calibre of Tina Turner, Santana, Dave Edmunds and Bonnie Raitt recorded his songs, providing a steady flow of royalties.
“That was very good for me,” he says. “It gave me a cushion from which I could afford to take a few more chances and not be so dependent on being a record seller. I had found resistance to the music I was making on UK radio. It wasn’t cool enough. It was the 1980s. The haircut and shoulder pads era. Singer-songwriters were not the flavour at the time. It was all electronics and Kajagoogoo. People didn’t know what kind of a hat to hang on me. I never had a clearly defined image.”
Since those days Brady has blended both his folk and rock roots on albums such as 95’s Spirits Colliding, and 2000’s Oh What A World, which featured collaborations with Carole King, Will Jennings and Ronan Keating. His last album, Say What You Feel, recorded in Nashville and released in 2005 saw a return to a rootsier sound.
His latest album, Hooba Dooba (his 14th solo record), draws on all of his strengths as a melodicist and lyricist with a blend of up-tempo numbers and ballads. One song, ‘The Price of Fame’ was written with Ronan Keating with whom he also collaborated on ‘The Long Goodbye’ – a huge hit in the US for country duo Brooks & Dunne.
“We’ve written three or four together and I liked this one”, he explains. “It’s not about rock musicians whinging about being famous. I’m fascinated by the whole notion of fame. In the music business, fame and success are inextricably linked. It’s hard to have one without the other. I’ve been ambivalent about fame. I don’t particularly like the notion at all. I’m interested in what happens when two people who are close together and one gets fame and the other doesn’t. The standard notion is that the person who gets the fame doesn’t want to know his past any longer. It’s my experience that it’s almost the opposite. The person who is – quote – ‘left behind’ is often the one who withdraws and blames the other. It’s not just confined to the artistic world. It could be about a job. You get promoted and I don’t. You’re in the management now, you’ve moved on so how do I feel about it?.”