Paul Brady has teamed up with American funkster Theo Katzman for his latest tour, writes Ed Power.
Paul Brady is crossing fingers there aren’t too many hardcore Liverpool or Tottenham supporters in his audience. At least not in Cork this weekend. The troubadour travels south with his latest project, a collaboration with Los Angeles songwriter Theo Katzman, on Saturday night. There is only potential sticking point.
“We’re performing the same time as the Champions League final,” he laughs. “I hope people can tear themselves away.”
For Brady devotees, it really won’t be that much of a dilemma. Having spent the past 40 years as a solo artist the Co Tyrone songwriter now embraces once again the collaborative ethos that was a hallmark of his early career. This will be a looser, more playful Brady. Those who have followed him through his journey in music will relish an opportunity see him outside his safety zone.
Back in the 1970s, Brady shared the stage with a who’s who of Irish trad greats — among them, Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny and Christy Moore. Katzman couldn’t be further removed from those figures.
With one foot in vintage rock and the other in progressive jazz and funk the New York-born, Los Angeles-based polymath comes from a very different musical background. Perhaps that is why Brady is so excited about their joint tour.
Brady says has been a Katzman fan from afar and was smitten when attending a gig by the American at Whelan’s in Dublin. At an aftershow party thrown by a mutual acquaintance, they started to jam. The
chemistry was there from the beginning.
“The things that inform his music are the same things that inform mine,” says Brady (71). “I’ve always loved blues, jazz, country, pop — all that stuff. He is in his early 30s. And he’s writing about the sort of things I was writing about at that age — with tremendous wit and perception. He’s a very good writer and a fantastic singer.
Brady was somewhat taken aback to discover the appreciation was mutual. Unprompted Katzman bashed several favourite Brady songs.
These weren’t simply the obvious tracks either — fan staples such as ‘Nobody Knows’ or ‘Paradise Is Here’ (famously covered by Tina Turner in 1986 and later by Cher). He was going for the deep cuts.
“He’s been listening to me for years,” says Brady. “That was a pleasant surprise.”
Brady last released an album in 2017 and maintains a busy touring schedule. He alway looks forward to playing live. But going into 2019 he was determined to shake it up.
“I been thinking about doing something new,” he says. “I’ve done many collaborations and always enjoyed them. I wanted to take a total chance in 2019 — to see where it takes me and get me out of my comfort zone. I really get a kick out of my gigs. But when you’re doing them for a long time you tend to know what’s coming next.”
He’s curious to see how Katzman will go down with his audience —and vice versa. “Mine will be going, ‘who’s Theo Katzman?’ And his
following in Ireland, which is not insubstantial, will be going…’What’s he doing with that old guy?’
Katzman is bringing with him a world-class support ensemble, reveals Brady. His bassist, Joe Dart, is revered among musicians. And drummer / multi-instrumentalist Louis Cato is best known for playing in the house band on American chat show The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
There’s also the intriguing age difference. “It’s going to be very interesting dynamic — a gig you’ve never seen before and will never see again. We’ll both be on stage all night.
Brady has meanwhile been working on a memoir. He hasn’t set himself a deadline but already has put down some 90,000 words. This brings him up to 1988, when he was signed to Polydor in London and regarded as potentially one of the next big singer-songwriters.
The experience of setting down his recollections has been cathartic — but with a dark side too. Despite the support of cheerleaders such as Eric Clapton, in the 1980s he was almost devoured whole by a music industry that expected him to compete with the pop kids of the day.
“I take a lot for granted in my life and career. It’s only when I sit down and take it apart and remember what I’ve done that I surprise myself with how varied it has been. It’s a strange experience — especially going back to periods where it wasn’t working out for you. You have the same feelings you did back then — it’s weird, but necessary. It’s an exorcism.”
He never really felt at home within the major label system. The pressure to prove himself commercially was not an experience he looks back on fondly.
“I had a very successful career in the ’70s in the folk world. Then I did a couple of solo years on my own until ’79/’80. After that I started to write songs and got signed to major labels and tried to compete with what was going on in the UK in the 80s — with a lot of the haircut bands. Culture Club, Bananarama, … all that music that was big in the UK.
“It was difficult — the music I was making was out of its time. It was the music I was making before I got into trad. So the timing was wrong in terms of what was happening in the UK. My time in the mid ’80s was stressful and, writing it down, you relive it. Thankfully it’s all behind me now.”
Back then, earnest young songsmiths with guitars were horribly naff. Without wishing to go so far as draw a casual line between Paul Brady and Ed Sheeran — does he feel vindicated by the present day popularity of heart-on-sleeve troubadours?
“There is an attraction there to a single individual who can put together an entire package with him or her self on a stage. For at least 50 per cent of my career that’s who I’ve been. Of course, I’ve never been in fashion. So I never went out of fashion.”
Paul Brady and Theo Katzman play Opera House Cork June 1; Vicar Street, Dublin, June 2; University Concert Hall, Limerick, June 4