PAUL Brady launched his long-anticipated autobiography in City Library on Wednesday night, in collaboration with Waterstones Cork and Merrion Press.
Having admired the man since my teenage years, I got there early and had a short time with him before his bigger conversation with Cork’s PJ Coogan.
He was warm, welcoming me with a smile, keen to make a connection.
“I once had a publicist called Jennifer,” he offered.
I began by asking him about the title of the book, piled high in the library behind us: Crazy Dreams.
“I chose the title because it was a song that got me a lot of recognition, but also because my life has always been a bit of a crazy dream.
“So many times, I don’t know how it happened, but I got myself out, got elevated by various things, whether it was starting with the Johnstons or Planxty or having my songs covered by big stars.”
Throughout our conversation and in his discussion later with PJ Coogan, he shared this feeling: that his life was a game of chance – a game he just happened to keep on winning.
“Everything that has happened to me, it kind of feels like it happened by accident. Like the time I ended up getting up on stage with Tina Turner in front of 30,000 people in Dublin. None of that was planned.”
When I acknowledge his modesty, considering his glittering career, he replied: “Trust me, I’m no shrinking violet. I know I’m talented. I’ve been given a gift. I know that. But I also know and have met many people who have huge talent and haven’t been recognised for it or discovered. So, I’m lucky. I’m very lucky.”
That said, this naturally entertaining and personable musician is at pains to emphasise the hard work that has gone into his success.
“The thing that’s important really is that you keep going. Keep writing – keep ploughing through the dross. Keep believing that what you are doing is good, that you are good; you just need to keep on going. And something good will come.”
He’s generous throughout our chat, speaking to me directly.
“I’ve no doubt that you must know the tyranny of the blank page too,” he tells me. “It’s so important that you believe in what you’re doing.”
As a writer, I’m keen to know about his process. I ask if the words or music come first, thinking of incredible songs like The Island and The Long Goodbye.
“It’s a mix for me. Sometimes I’ll write down a lyrical hook or a chorus and put it in a drawer and it might stay there. And then I might be playing away on the guitar and a song will emerge and I’ll pull the piece of paper out from the drawer and then I have a song. It’s all a bit haphazard really.”
Coming from a musician, multi-instrumentalist, and critically acclaimed songwriter, who has garnered the praise of artists like Bob Dylan and Paul Muldoon (who writes the preface to the book) this sounds refreshingly human. Relatable.
Just before I leave him, I ask why he wrote the book chronologically.
“Well, I wrote it that way because that’s how I learned. That’s how I developed throughout my life. I learned as I went along. I know it might not be the coolest way to do it, but it made the most sense to me.”
Later, he shares with his bigger audience that, until he was in his thirties, he just let himself float through life, reacting, rather than carving out his own path. He speaks of his confusion, being good at various things, having different options open to him. And yet throughout the retelling, he seems to view his life as being one of luck and perseverance – nothing grander than that.
Addressing a crowd that watches him adoringly, he jokes that he’s the kind of guy that just hangs around the bus stop, knowing that eventually, a bus will arrive. Then, almost in the same breath, he tells stories of touring with his pal ‘Eric’ Clapton, writing songs with Carol King, and duetting with Tina Turner at the height of her fame. The way he recounts it, you feel as if it could just as easily have been you, like you could have experienced the rollercoaster yourself.
Encouraged by 96 FM’s PJ, towards the very end of the evening, to single out a favourite memory, he mentions giving Bob Dylan a guitar tutorial backstage at Wembley stadium.
As you do, as we like to say in Cork.
Crazy Dreams promises readers a lot. It tells the story of Brady’s life from smalltown Tyrone to the world stage – form family to fame. It chronicles his decades at the forefront of the Irish folk scene, from The Johnstons and Planxty through to his seminal work with Andy Irvine and onwards to his own impressive solo and song writing career.
Along the way are the many encounters and collaborations with such musical luminaries as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Carole King, Tina Turner, Mark Knopfler and Bonnie Raitt, to name but a staggering few.
Spanning just over 300 pages, he invites us in, to share in his doubts and his concerns, his joys, his humour, and his disappointments. An extraordinary life told in an honest, ordinary way.
His musical career taken in isolation is fascinating enough, long and eclectic, but with such wry humour and honesty, it promises to be a great read.
Ireland has, for a long time, recognised the brilliance of Brady. He has received numerous Lifetime Achievements Awards from the Irish Recorded Music Association and been inducted into the Academies of the British composers and songwriters and Ireland’s IMRO.
But last Wednesday, myself and a small audience in Cork got to hear his side of the story and I’m certainly keen to hear more.
Of course, I managed to be last in the queue to get my book signed, such was my excitement. I left the library to embrace the October cold. Cracking open the book, I read his message in gold against black on the inside cover. He’d remembered my name. The name of his former publicist.
“To Jennifer – Dream on.”
Well, Mr Paul Brady, you’ve inspired me to do just that.