'We went to Scotland in 1967 for 12 days and didn’t come back for two years' - Irish folk legend Finbar Furey on coming back to Britain

'We went to Scotland in 1967 for 12 days and didn’t come back for two years' - Irish folk legend Finbar Furey on coming back to Britain

IN EARLY January of this year, a host of names from the music and film worlds descended on the National Concert Hall in Dublin to celebrate the 60th birthday of the one and only Shane MacGowan.

Rubbing shoulders in the corridors with the likes of Johnny Depp, Bono, and Nick Cave was a well-known Ballyfermot man whose place in Irish music stretches back a lifetime before the aforementioned names were recognisable names at all.

Finbar Furey has left his mark on the Irish folk scene, ever since becoming the only uilleann pipe player to win the All-Ireland, the Oireachtas medal and the four province titles in the same year as a teenager.

Since then, he has reached international success with his brothers Eddie, George and Paul in The Fureys, toured with The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners and even appeared in a couple of Hollywood blockbusters, most notably Martin Scorcese's Gangs of New York.

In 1995 Finbar embarked on a solo career to pursue a new life as a singer, musician, songwriter and producer.

Twenty-three years later, to coincide with the forthcoming 2018 UK and Irish gigs, Finbar’s album Paddy Dear, which topped the Irish Charts in 2017, will be re-released.

Renamed Don't Stop This Now, it will feature some additional new songs and a bonus Live DVD of Finbar performing at Vicar Street Dublin, where he performs classic hits such as When You Were Sweet Sixteen, The Lonesome Boatman and The Green Fields of France.

We spoke with Finbar on the eve of Storm Emma, tipped to be the most treacherous storm to reach Ireland in years.

The Irish Government had earlier in the day issued a caution to people countrywide to remain indoors until the extreme conditions subsided.

The Dub, however, had his own idea for waiting out the storm.

IP: Are you battening down the hatches in preparation for Storm Emma?

FF: Well, I’m going down to the pub and they can batten down the hatches. After about a week we’ll look out and say “has it stopped yet?" I hope they're well stocked on Guinness.

IP: One of the standout songs on the album for me is Annabelle. You originally wrote that in the 1990s but have only recorded it for this album. Could you tell me the story behind the song?

FF: Annabelle is about an old woman that my mother knew when I was growing up. She lived rough on the streets of Dublin and there were rumours and scraps of stories I heard.

She was a bit off her head as my mother would say. She used to talk to herself and walk around pushing an empty pram. She used to sleep anywhere. My mother always had great time for her.

I always remember my mother would buy a bar of chocolate and sit down with this old woman and talk with her. I think she was an old Traveller woman. As a kid, your imagination runs away. It has always stayed in my head.

As you said, I actually wrote it way back but I never got around to recording it. I sang it here in Dublin a few months ago in a concert we held for the homeless. It brings back memories and nothing changes today it's actually worse today with the homeless than it was back then. Nowadays people step over you. It’s a strange world.

Finbar Furey playing the uilleann pipes on stage in 2012. (Picture: WikiCommons - Candy Schwartz)

IP: When you consider the current weather conditions it’s considerably more dangerous for anyone to be out on the streets.

FF: That’s right. People in the big cities like Dublin and Cork seemed to be blown away by how many people are homeless. A lot of people only really realised when the snowstorm hit. It's just so sad. It’s a small country and we don’t have that much but I think we have enough to help them through this winter.

The Government over here seems to have their head up their arse a bit as far as the homeless crisis is concerned. It's something that should have been sorted 20 years ago. When we joined the EU first people should have been taken care of but they’re still not.

There are great people out there doing everything they can to help. Musicians are a great help. There's been a lot of charity gigs. Everybody is really pulling together to try to help and Ireland is great for that. It’s a wonderful little charity nation that we have.

IP: As you mentioned, musicians in this country have taken an active role in tackling the homeless crisis. Why do you think this is?

FF: People are really concerned. I talk to a lot of musicians about it. We were at Shane MacGowan’s 60th birthday party a few weeks back and the topic of that night was a lot of talk about the homeless crisis. It’s very difficult to sort but when the Government need to build a motorway they knock your house down and give you the money that your house is worth. I think they should buy these houses and do them up and put these people in them. Especially in the middle of winter, you know.

Furthermore, music has a voice. When Christy Dignam and I did The Late Late Show last year, Christy left me and went straight to Apollo House. I was so proud of the lads for standing up and trying to hold on to this building.

I know what its like to be down and out. I left home at 15 and slept rough on the streets of Dublin. At that age, you don’t feel it that much you know. But when you’re in your 50s and 60s you’ve got no place to go and nobody really wants you, it's a different story.

IP: How long has this new album been in the making?

FF: It took about two years to put it together. I didn’t plan it, it just kind of came together. Sarah Waits I’ve written again. A lot of songs I’d written back in the early 2000s and they’d just been sitting there since. With this album, the songs belong to each other.

You do an album sometimes and it doesn’t sit but this one really does. Each track on it means something different. My hardest part is actually trying to choose the set list for a concert with these songs because it doesn’t matter where you start it the album just goes in a circle. It's one of the best things I’ve done and I’m very proud of it. I had great musicians working on it with me too.

IP: Two of the songs on the album include vocals from your daughter Aine. You’ve played with your son Martin before too. What is it like to collaborate with your children?

FF: Martin was with The High Kings for a while and he left a few months ago. He wanted to go back to writing his own songs and felt he wasn’t getting anywhere with the band. Ireland is full of great songwriters and joining a band is like being in a syndicate. You get a group of people who just come together and a band is formed and that’s what happened with The High Kings. He was just a part of a monthly wage.

He didn’t have much freedom to write his own stuff and when he did write it he didn’t have the freedom to record it. He stuck in for nearly 10 years and he said to me last year “Pop, I’ve had enough. I’m getting out.” He just got a deal in America for two albums so I’m absolutely delighted for him.

Young Finbar my youngest son is in Toronto at the moment gigging and Aine my daughter just started doing gigs in Dublin again and she's writing some nice stuff too. Its great and I’m very proud of them.

IP: Do the experiences you've had with The Clancy Brothers early on in your career and with your own brothers afterwards, still inform the music you're making yourself today?

FF: Oh yeah definitely. Eddie and I joined up with The Clancy Brothers in 1968 when I was only 22 years old and to have full control of Carnegie Hall at that age was amazing for Eddie and myself. It was good craic with The Clancy Brothers and we gave them a new dimension as well.

At the end of the day when I think about it, it was never going to go anywhere it was always going to be The Clancy Brothers and I tell me Ma when I go home. We worked for a wage at the time and I was married with one kid. It was tough. We decided after two and a half years to come home.

I was living in Scotland at the time. I took a year off. I did nothing for a year. I actually got a brief job tarring a roof believe it or not just to make ends meet. The Incredible String Band’s Robin Williamson was getting married so he asked me to play the pipes at his wedding. I got back playing with Eddie again and we bumped into Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty who had just finished the last Humble Bums album.

Gerry had written the song Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway and gave it to Eddie because he wanted me to record pipes on it. Eddie and I recorded with Barry Murray around 1971 and little did we know that this song was going to be such a massive song in our lives.

It got Song of the Year by John Peel at the BBC and we actually took The Beatles out of it for single of the year that year. We’d never met John Peel at the time but we eventually got the meet him and appeared on the radio show just before the end of the year when he was going to decide what the single of the year was.

So, we were down in the car park loading up the car when he announced Finbar and Eddie Furey have the Single of the Year. We went straight to the pub! What else were we going to do as two kids from Ballyfermot? It was like somebody had said come on lads go somewhere with your music. It was really amazing.

It was the first direction we took away from traditional music. After that, we went on to do The Dawning of the Day, which was a great album. We were the young kids on the block.

Finbar & Eddie Furey, Musikhalle Hamburg, Oktober 1974. (Picture: Heinrich Klaffs)

IP: You're playing Islington Assembly Hall on April 9 as part of the album tour, and then The Feis music festival on Liverpool's Waterfront on July 7 alongside the likes of Van Morrison, The Chieftains, Imelda May and many more. Do you get many opportunities to spend time with other Irish musicians these days?

FF: The last few years I’ve played with many great Irish musicians like Damien Dempsey and Christy Dignam. I could go on and on. I left The Fureys in 1994. I had two more years to fulfil the contract and when I did, I got out. Again, I wanted to get out on my own. It took a while to get used to touring on my own and I was back with the brothers now and again but once I got the pedals going I was flying it.

Up until a certain point I had never recorded with other musicians outside of The Clancy Brothers. It's lovely to bump into great people now and again. It’s important for me to look back and remember my brothers as friends, not as business partners. If Eddie needs a bit of direction or I need a bit of direction we’ll sit down and have a chat. We’re still there for each other.

I’m looking forward to Liverpool now. Meeting up with all of those great people from Imelda May to Sharon Shannon. A great many more. Christy Dignam will be there too.

I'm on about 4 o 'clock in the evening which is perfect because when I'm done I’ll grab a nice little bottle of Paddy and go off into the corner somewhere with a few pals and listen to Van the Man when he comes on.

IP: You mentioned Shane McGowan’s 60th birthday. What was that night like?

FF: Shane was in great form. He was very funny and I had a great night with him. He has a dry sense of humour. It was lovely to see people like U2 there paying tribute to him as well as all of the young songwriters. It was like an escalator of everyone that was anyone in music and film. Johnny Depp flew over for it. He’s a nice man and we got to say hello to each other.

We got the news that Dolores O'Riordan had died just that night. It was in everybody’s heart. Everybody who went on stage mentioned how lovely she was and how much she was going to be missed. I performed The Galway Shawl with Imelda May and we had a right few drinks on us at that stage. It was one of those nights that will never be repeated.

IP: It sounds like Britain has been great to you over the years. Are you looking forward to getting back over here on this tour?

FF: We first went over to Scotland in 1967 to do a tour which was planned for 12 days and we didn’t come back for two years. We loved it. We only had the two of us to keep myself and Eddie and in those days we didn’t have a hotel or anything. People put you up in their house and looked after you. You never missed what you never had.

I’m really enjoying myself at the moment. I’ve never been happier with the music and I have great ammunition with the songs and everything. The question is what am I going to do when I get on stage because I have about 50 or 60 songs. I’m really loving it and I have a great band with me. I just hope whoever comes enjoys it as much as I do!

Don't Stop This Now will be released on March 30 and will include a live DVD of Finbar's Vicar Street concert filmed in May 2017.