Paul Brady recently released Dancer In The Fire to mark 45 years in the music business. The anthology features his own selection of 22 songs on two CDs; songs that may not always be the most obvious choices, but that he’s particularly fond of. A milestone such as this deserves special attention, so we were lucky enough to get Paul to talk to Folk Radio UK about the album and his own musical highlights and influences.
In 2002, Paul released Nobody Knows, a Greatest Hits album that still sells consistently and serves as a useful introduction to his work. Dancer In the Fire differs in that it’s a more personal anthology, we wondered of this distinction made the album more difficult to compile…
PB: Yes. The ‘best of’ selection choice was more obvious as it largely included my most popular songs from the 70s through 90s. The anthology was more geared towards collecting together songs that meant a lot to me personally whether or not they were well known and there were an awful lot to choose from and three or four drafts before the final decision.
The sleeve note’s Paul has written to accompany the anthology are detailed and offer a wealth of information about his career. A comment that suggested the opening track from early in his solo career, Hard Station, could have been delivered with more force stood out. We wondered if Paul thought the fledgling song writers of today enjoy more freedom of expression?
PB: Not necessarily. The comment was to indicate how much more vocal & radical society in general (including me) has become nowadays with all the means of communication in our power. I was maybe a little too respectful in those days!
Paul enjoys an enviable reputation as a collaborator, both in performance and song writing. The Hawana Way was inspired by a trip to Cuba with Bonnie Raitt, we wondered if there were any other overseas collaborations that Paul’s particularly fond of?
PB: I particularly enjoyed the four times I went to Miles Copeland’s place in France for a songwriters’ get together in the mid 90s. It was there I began to co-write for the first time and where I met dozens of other writers, Carole King, Mark Hudson, Greg Wells, Conner Reeves, Jill Sobule to name but a few.
Forays into the world of music are well represented on the album. The Awakening features Maire Ní Bhraonáin’s haunting vocals, Sail Sail On was written with Sharon Vaughn, The Long Goodbye with Ronan Keating, Believe In Me with Carole King; and the version of Crazy Dreams included features film score maestro Mark Isham on flugelhorn. Of the many fruitful collaborations, were any particularly surprising or yield unexpected results?
PB: I’m always surprised at what comes out of me when I write with Ralph Murphy, one of my fave lyricists. I seem to access parts of my musical self I rarely visit and end up wondering why… since I love the result so much
A vast array of influences have been brought to bear on Paul’s music over the past 45 years. Trouble Round the Bend illustrates his love of slide guitar (with Phil Palmer doing the honours), The Road To The Promised Land has a distinct Caribbean flavour and songs such as Blue World highlight the effect the situation in Ireland has had. But what of current musical preferences and influences?
PB: I admire the music of Declan o’Rourke. he has the same kind of broad palette of influences and fluency in disparate musical styles that I have, and equally, is not afraid to show them.
I’m unashamedly an Adele fan. In her I see the return to the art of classic songwriting and singing and it’s always exciting to see such talent.
I do like Ane Brun, Cee Lo Green, Neil Hannon, Lila Downs, Sarah Siskind, still love D’gary, Bonnie Raitt. there’s a lot of great music out there..
Paul Brady’s songs have been covered by a huge variety of performers, The Island seems to enjoy the most attention and, along with a few others, has even been translated into Norwegian. We asked if Paul had a favourite cover version of one of his own songs?
PB: I’m not a ‘favourites’ kinda guy. Every cover has merit. But I’ve always loved what soul and class Bonnie Raitt brings to my melodies. Most lately ‘Marriage Made in Hollywood’ from her new record…a song I wrote to the lyrics of Michael o’Keefe and recorded myself on my record ‘Spirits Colliding’. She nailed it.
Other than the traditional songs there’s only one cover version on Dancer In The Fire, Hank Williams’ You Win Again. Covers seem comparatively rare in Paul’s repertoire. Has this been a conscious choice or simply the result of prolific song writing?
PB: I’ve always had a thing about new music…songs that weren’t here before. I guess that’s what first attracted me to songwriting. A voyage of discovery. What’s inside me that I didn’t know about? But I don’t have a problem with covers. In fact from time to time I muse about making a covers record. Anything from Nat King Cole or Ray Charles to….Jim Reeves or Roy Orbison!! Now that would be fun…
Despite the wide variety of music Paul’s produced throughout his career, he still seems happy to embrace the traditional aspects. These are well represented on the album, with Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore, Duncan And Brady and I Am A Youth That’s Inclined To Ramble. Has tradition-based music seen a surge in development over the last ten years?
PB: I think it goes in waves. Yes, there is a current revival of interest in acoustic music and traditional forms. I think the ‘perceived’ simplicity of it is an attraction in this era where music is more immediate. There will always be a need for traditional songs just as there will always be those who want to make new music. What I’d like to see is more openness in both camps. There’s room for it all and both can benefit from a bit of the other!
Finally, and perhaps significantly for visitors to Folk Radio UK, we asked if Paul feels he’s still best known as a performer of traditional music?
PB: Best known by whom? Journalists? Radio? I have fans who come to my shows who know nothing about my traditional music period. ..who are hearing ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’ and ‘The Jolly Soldier’ for the first time.. I honestly don’t spend time thinking about that. That’s for the marketing dept to worry about !!
Whichever direction the fans are coming from, Dancer In The Fire should please everyone. With remixes, lost demo’s and new vocal recordings added to the package, it’s an ideal way for Paul Brady to mark 45 years at the top of his game.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Dancer in the Fire is released on Proper Records (23 April 2012)