Singer, songwriter, instrumentalist
Paul Brady comes from a small town in Northern Ireland near the border with the Republic of Ireland. Like many Catholics in Northern Ireland, Brady learned to play and sing Irish traditional music at an early age; his earliest recordings, in fact, were made up of strictly traditional songs. He quickly established himself as one of the great guitarists in the genre and made recordings with some of the best Irish musicians of the day. Brady also performed vocals on a few songs from some of these early, mostly instrumental folk music recordings, showing himself to be one of the finest exponents of traditional Irish song.
Brady performed with several Irish folk groups throughout the late 1960s and 1970s. He founded the Johnstons and remained with them until 1972. After a brief stay in the United States from 1972 to 1973, the musician returned to Ireland to join the prominent Irish folk group Planxty. Brady had a tough act to follow, for he replaced the popular singer/songwriter/guitarist Christy Moore, who had left to pursue a quieter lifestyle. Though he never recorded with Planxty, listeners—including Melody Maker’s Colin Irwin—felt that when he joined the band they were at their peak. Planxty considered making a farewell album, but decided against commercializing the band’s demise. After Planxty disbanded, Brady did record some of the group’s material with Planxty’s former members, such as Andy Irvine, a fellow instrumentalist and singer.
By the early 1980s Brady felt that he had done all he could do with traditional music. His Welcome Here Kind Strangerwon Melody Maker’s award for best folk album of 1978, and Brady made it clear that this was his last album in that genre. By this time Brady had already begun writing his own songs and wanted to try to break into the pop market. Based on songs recorded in early 1980, Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Corp. offered him a deal to record singles that resulted in “Crazy Dreams”/“Busted Loose,” which went to Number One in Ireland in late 1980.
Brady told a Melody Maker correspondent in 1981, “Making the break with traditional music to rock music involved a complete change in the way I thought about various things. Rock music is so open compared to traditional music. In rock music, there are no rules except the ones you make yourself.” Brady commented in the same interview, “I felt I’d exhausted all the possibilities of interpreting traditional music. The bottom of the well had been reached, there was nowhere else to go. There’s only so much you can do with traditional music, after you’ve reached a certain point you begin to realize you’re just screwing around with it.”
For the Record…
Singer, songwriter, producer, and instrumentalist. Irish folk musician; member of the Johnstons, late 1960s-1972; joined Planxty, 1974; recorded with numerous Irish traditional musicians, including fiddlers Kevin Burke and Tommy Peoples and flutist Matt Molloy. Shifted to rock music, opening for Dire Straits and Eric Clapton, recording original songs, and writing for various recording artists, including Bonnie Raitt.
Selected awards: Welcome Here Kind Stranger voted best folk album of the year by Melody Maker, 1978; single “Crazy Dreams”/“Busted Loose” reached Number One in Ireland in 1980.
Addresses: Agent —Monterey Peninsula Artists, P.O. Box 7308, Carmel, CA 93921. Record company—Mercury/Polygram, 901 18th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212.
Because of his switch to rock, some of Brady’s folk fans thought that the musician was “selling out,” or falling prey to commercialism. Brady himself acknowledged the problems that accompanied his move from folk to rock. “It was ludicrous, really,” he admitted in Rolling Stone. “A lot of people thought I was crazy, that I could go on forever as a folk act making a good living. I went form the top of one ladder to the bottom of another, and I didn’t know anybody in rock. It was a very scary time.”
Brady’s new style was not considered folk-rock fusion, but bore the signs of many of the musician’s influences—including jazz, folk, and rhythm and blues—which other Irish rock musicians like Van Morrison, also from Northern Ireland, have drawn on in various ways. Brady has pointed to Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles as his favorite singers when he was growing up.
Unlike the work of some other Irish musicians, Brady’s music is not usually recognizably Irish and not usually political, despite his border hometown in Northern Ireland, an area often embroiled in religious and civil strife. “I don’t feel the need or the desire to clothe my music in the obvious signals of Irishness,” he explained to Rolling Stone in 1991. And when he does make use of Irish sounds—for example, a tin whistle on his Trick or Treat album—he tends to use them in nontraditional ways.
A political song or two does find its way into Brady’s work, however. “The Island” on 1986’s Back to the Centre, for example, is about the problems between the Catholic minority and Protestant majority on his home island of Ireland. “Nobody who lives in Northern Ireland can escape what’s happening there,” Brady stated in Rolling Stone in 1986. My audience is both Protestant and Catholic, and frankly I’m pleased neither has tried to claim me. I’m not one to preach, I just try to give them another view, something they can face the future with.”
By the mid-1980s Brady’s songwriting skills were widely recognized, and his songs were being covered by a number of other artists, including Santana, Dave Edmunds, and Tina Turner. He wrote “Paradise Is Here” especially for Turner’s Break Every Rule album of 1986 and was a favorite songwriter among such pop superstars as Bob Dylan and Grammy-winner Bonnie Raitt, who sings a duet with Brady on his 1991 LP, Trick or Treat. Brady, in turn, wrote a couple of songs for Raitt’s album Luck of the Draw, including the title track.
Brady’s Trick or Treat was not his first solo album, but it was his first for a major label—Fontana/Mercury—that received a lot of promotion. As a result, most critics considered it his debut. A Rolling Stone reporter asked Brady if he thought Trick or Treat would bring him the same sort of belated fame that his friend and fan Bonnie Raitt experienced. Brady replied, “In a way I relate to Bonnie, but in another way I don’t. Whereas she’s been here all this time and she’s been part of the furniture, I haven’t even been in the house yet. But my feeling is that as long as I’m producing work that is good and impassioned, it can happen any time.” Critics noted that Trick or Treat benefits from the expertise of great studio musicians as well as producer Gary Katz, who worked with the rock group Steely Dan.
Rolling Stone, after praising Brady’s earlier but little-known solo efforts, called Trick or Treat Brady’s “most compelling collection.” And the general critical acclaim for this album helps put into perspective such praise by Bonnie Raitt, and perhaps more remarkably, Bob Dylan, who calls Brady “a secret hero.” With the release of Trick or Treat by a major label, Paul Brady, from the small town of Strabane, Northern Ireland, seems on the verge of becoming a public hero.
(Contributor) Oisin, Tara, 1976.
(Contributor) Tommy Peoples, The High Part of the Road, Shanachie, 1976.
(Contributor) Matt Molloy, Paul Brady, Tommy Peoples, Green Linnet, 1977.
It’s a Hard Road to Travel: Traditional Music of Ireland, Shanachie, 1977.
Welcome Here Kind Stranger, Green Linnet, 1978.
(Contributor) Kevin Burke, If the Cap Fits …, Green Linnet, 1978.
(Contributor) Andy Irvine, Rainy Sundays … Windy Dreams, Tara, 1980.
The Green Crow Caws, EMI, 1980.
Hard Station, Polydor, 1981.
Andy Irvine & Paul Brady, Green Linnet, 1981.
(Contributor) Kevin Burke and Jackie Daly, Eavesdropper, Green Linnet, 1981.
True for You, Atlantic, 1983.
Full Moon, Demon Fiend, 1984.
(With Mark Knopfler) Cal (soundtrack), Mercury, 1984.
Back to the Centre, Mercury, 1986.
Trick or Treat, Fontana/Mercury, 1991.
Andy McGann & Paul Brady.
First Month of Spring, Shanachie.
The Gathering, Shanachie.
Paul Brady and John Vesey, Shanachie.
Primitive Dance, Mercury.
With the Johnstons
The Johnstons Anthology, Transatlantic, 1978.
The Johnstons, Transatlantic.
Give a Damn, Transatlantic.
The Barleycorn, Transatlantic.
Bitter Green, Transatlantic.
Colours of the Dawn, Transatlantic.
If I Sang My Song, Transatlantic.
Streets of London (compilation), Sonas.
Ye Jacobites by Name (compilation), Contour.
Schaeffer, Deborah, Irish Folk Music, Greenwood Press, 1989.
Melody Maker, February 1, 1975; July 22, 1978; December 30, 1978; March 1, 1980; July 18, 1980.
Rolling Stone, December 4, 1986; July 11, 1991.