Paul Brady grew up in the town of Strabane in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. Strabane sits near the border, straddling Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Brady’s work straddles not only folk music and Irish traditional music but also Irish showbands, ballad groups and fronting for rock bands. How Brady persisted through the ups and downs of this dream-crushing industry as well as becoming an enormously successful solo singer/songwriter is told in Crazy Dreams, his autobiography released in 2022 by Merrion Press.
The beginning of his story addresses Brady growing up in Strabane which also puts a face on life in Northern Ireland in the sixties. The backdrop to his early schooldays were the streets of Strabane and the violence witnessed there between Protestants and Catholics. But this story is not about the troubles; it is about the son of two schoolteachers growing up, a boy who does not fit in with his peers but immerses himself in Radio Luxembourg spending hours trying to figure out the chords to songs he has heard on the radio. His parents gave him a secure background grounded in education and music. Also, Brady spent memorable summers in Bundoran with a large extended family on his father’s side. It is in Bundoran, where, at 15, he lands his first gig as a member of the band at the Holyrood Hotel for the summer of ’62. At four pounds per week with full board, he was thrilled with himself.
Brady leaves Strabane to attend the University of Dublin (UCD), but he spends more time listening to the blues in a variety of dives scattered around Dublin than going to lectures. But here again, the backdrop to this part of his story is how a college student lived in Dublin in the 60’s, and it was interesting as an American to read about this college experience which is so different from that of the American college experience.
As Brady depicts the lows and highs of his early career in music, he again puts a face on the experience which we have all heard about of how musicians, or any artist really, starts out. With nothing. Nothing at all. While in New York with the folk group The Johnstons, who were getting nowhere fast, he wrote letters to the woman he would eventually marry, on note paper that was 21 cents postage for four pages, 42 cents postage for five. Brady kept it to four. Unable to cover a hotel bill, he and his bandmates put their clothes in plastic bags, pretending to be going to the laundry when they were really running out on the bill. They had no money and no place to go. Then a letter arrives from Ireland asking Brady if he wants to join Planxty, a successful traditional Irish music band.
So in 1974 Brady returns to Ireland, joins Planxty, and things start happening. Through his adept telling of this story, the reader comes to understand the fragility of a band which is founded with usually four or five musicians, knowing full well that each musician at any time could turn their music in a new direction and up and leave. Brady’s story couples that with the need for a manager who could also get a better management offer at any time, or get fed up with moody musicians, and finally a producer who balances between what the band wants to play and what will sell. In some ways a band is similar to a helicopter : a thousand parts flying in loose formation. From Brady’s telling of his story, the reader might induce each step of his success was pure chance. But a careful reading says clearly – not so. Brady is the consummate professional, gifted as a musician, a loyal friend, resolved to succeed.
Brady’s eyes are set on the music from the git go, and his determination coupled with his talent take him far and away and back again. In 1983 Brady toured with Eric Clapton; the last gig is followed by a party at Eric’s place. Brady takes the reader there with all the glamour and glitz, till he finds the din and talk too much and looks for a serene spot. He wanders around and finds a dark, quiet room with a piano, and he starts to play. Brady explains that he starts to really get into the song he is playing, when an acoustic guitar joins in. Brady doesn’t look up but just keeps playing, so as not to break the spell – the music was going that good. At the end of the song, he turns around, and Clapton is standing there holding the acoustic guitar. In my opinion, this story captures the essence of Paul Brady.
It is a long road from the Holyrood Hotel in Bundoran to Eric Clapton’s house in the English countryside. In Crazy Dreams, Paul Brady, who is not only as skilled at song writing as he is a musician but who can also write, takes the reader down that road step by step. My only advice is that when you read the book, keep your phone handy, so when Brady is talking about one of his songs, you can actually listen to it. Crazy Dreams is quite a ride. Enjoy.Follow Us