What is it that makes a gig truly great? There are many theories surrounding this question. It is a subject without a set formula. Some people believe in high musical virtuosity, others in the artists ability to “work a crowd”. There are those who believe strongly in having emotions involuntarily awoken from within them.
Paul Brady has certainly spent enough time in front of audiences, big and small to know exactly what makes them tick. He possesses a musical talent that can only have come from completely giving himself to the music he loves his entire life. He is an ace instrumentalist, a highly intelligent songwriter and possesses an unmistakable voice. Add over 50 years of experience to this melting pot and you will realise that Brady is a true master of his craft.
I myself have been aware of Brady since my teens having listened to old recordings. However, it wasn’t until a summers evening in May 2012 that I truly joined his army of dedicated fans. On a suggestion from a friend (a Brady fanatic), I decided to attend one of his concerts in Dolans pub in Limerick, a place renowned for its colourful variety of concerts as well as its nightly traditional Irish music sessions. Even before Brady stepped on stage I had a feeling that this was going to be an impressive gig but I had no idea how much of a treat I was in for. On the stage were 3 guitars, a bouzouki, a mandolin and a keyboard, all in a neat line waiting for their owner to play them, an impressive setup. I heard a group of men involved in a conversation about songs they hoped to hear. I remember “the lakes of Pontchartrain” was mentioned, as was “follow on”. This conversation, along with all other discussions immediately ceased the second that the lights went down and Brady stepped on stage to be replaced by a chorus of clapping and cheering.
Without a word he picked up one of his guitars and took off into the intro of “nothing but the same old story” a song from his debut album, “hard station” about the discrimination that Irish people in England faced decades ago. He sang this song with savagery of a half-staved Lion unleashed. He was able to do this while playing with flawless precision, with a few cheeky little riffs thrown in for good measure. The most amazing thing of all is that over 30 years after he wrote this song, he was able to deliver it as if he did so yesterday, with a voice that has improved with age like expensive wine and displaying the acoustic guitar skills of 5 players combined, an excellent start.
From this point on, I was mesmerised by the music I was seeing. He didn’t let up, even for a second. I watched him continue to completely reinvent his songs on the spot while letting his feelings wash over them. He went through instruments like wildfire, playing each one with as much expertise as the last. His banter in between songs was an added bonus, as was his witty responses to hecklers.
Another personal favourite of mine that he performed perfectly was “Arthur McBride”, an old folk song about two carefree young men who converse with a group of soldiers who try to recruit them. As the song goes on the exchange gradually leads to an argument between the two groups and eventually, a fight. Brady took on both roles like a professional actor, starting off nice and sweet and gradually changing his voice with the direction of the conversation until he was growling “I’LL CUT OFF YOUR HEADS”, all the while maintaining his unmistakable singing and unrivalled guitar playing.
Even though the gig ended with a double encore, I was still wasn’t ready to go home, nor was everyone else judging by their pleas for “MOOOORE”. I have never been to a gig before since where an artist has made such an everlasting impression on me. The word “flawless” is used a lot these days. I myself am guilty of using it about many things but not when it comes to music. That said, the gig was truly flawless. I have since been to see him twice and each time was entirely different to the last. He brings a breath of fresh air to his chosen songs each time he plays them and as far as I am concerned, he is a true master of music.