He played his classics for us, on keyboards and on his lovely Lowden. He graced us with the gentle and flayed us with the biting: a lovely “The Island,” which he dedicated quietly “to Mr. Belafonte,” and a scorching “Steel Claw.” The latter, he recalled, was written about the grip of the law in the late 1970s and early 1980s on young musicians trying to make it in Dublin: when you played The Meeting Place on Dorset Street, if you had a car and had driven it there, your car would be gone by the end of your gig. Call the cops? Don’t be silly. “A long hot battle with the cold law / Is what you get for messing with the / Steel Claw.” London was no better — for an Irish musician, far worse. “Nothing But the Same Old Story” is from the eyes of a 19-year old seeking his fortune in England, and though the horrible days of the Birmingham 6, the Brighton Hotel and Manchester bombings are now in history, the pain of a young man hated for nothing he’s done still rings out hard and clear. I’ve never heard Brady perform the song with more vitality and feeling. Brady’s introductions provide a context now mercifully historical, but the lyrics say it all: “Living under suspicion / Putting up with the hatred and fear in their eyes / You can see that you’re nothing but a murderer / In their eyes, we’re nothing but a bunch of murderers.” With a grin, he had a local number, too, introducing “Crazy Dreams” as “a New York story.”
Brady also sang beautiful new songs, including “Harvest Time” and “Oceans of Time.” No one can turn a phrase like he can, and his rising, raspy voice makes sure you hear every word as clearly as the tunes: they matter.
And, in the end, Brady regaled us with the traditional classic he has made his own, “Arthur McBride and the Sergeant.” He clearly relishes the skipping reels of rhyme, and the triumph of the nameless “me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride.” He spat out the “spalpeen or brat” happily, and to emphasize the “made a football of his rowdy-dow-dow” he kicked at a phantom demolished drum.
At the show’s conclusion, after a beautiful encore of “Mother And Son,” there was a long queue for the ladies’ room (clearly, we dig PB, and had not wanted to miss a single song). A tall man in a hat and raincoat strolled by us. “Excuse me, I’m looking for Paul. I’m a friend of his – Loudon Wainwright.” A City Winery employee pointed him to the private room at the foot of the stairs, set up for a supper. Another tall man, in an Irish flat cap, then emerged in the downstairs hallway. He looked at the line of women and smiled. “Paul Brady’s not in there, you know,” he joked, mock-confidential. “Well, we’re hoping,” I replied, and he chuckled and patted me on the arm – a benediction – as he went by. “My God,” said someone in front of me, “that’s Harry Belafonte.” Yes, it was. He greeted Brady with a bear hug moments later. Good music, good company, good food and drink — a craic, for sure, on a chilly Tuesday in the city.
Photographs by me and via Paul Brady Music