Cork balladeer Roy Buckley: breaking the American market

Cork singer/songwriter, Roy Buckley, has been described by Phil Coulter as "the last of the great balladeers." The thirty-three year old singer from Ballyvolane, whose recently released single reached No. 2 in the iTunes charts in Ireland, is proud of the accolade.
Cork balladeer Roy Buckley: breaking the American market
Roy Buckley, onstage at Cork Opera House.

Cork singer/songwriter, Roy Buckley, has been described by Phil Coulter as "the last of the great balladeers." The thirty-three year old singer from Ballyvolane, whose recently released single reached No. 2 in the iTunes charts in Ireland, is proud of the accolade. His new single, The Old Man on Patrick Street, was inspired by a homeless man that Buckley used to see around town.

Over fifteen years ago, Buckley was working at a summer job as a labourer when Patrick Street was being renovated. "I was labouring with my brother, Dean, on the site. We'd go to Bishop Lucey Park for our lunch break. There was this old man who used to come into the park, wearing raggedy clothes with holes in his shoes. He used to drink from the fountain in the park. That's wrong. You see homeless guys like him in doorways. I didn't want to write my song about any one person. So I made it universal."

Between writing that song ten years ago and now, Buckley says that a lot happened. His sound engineer friend, Laurence White, who was producing Buckley's recording of the ballad as well as other songs, died from a heart attack in 2016 at just forty-six years of age. "All the musicians in Cork loved him. He was great at what he did." The studio they were working in closed down.

However, Buckley was subsequently invited to complete the recordings at Kitten Lane studios in Barrack Street. "We finished the songs and things started going well. Laurence always used to say to me that the songs needed to be mastered in Gateway Studios in Portland, Maine. It's one of the best mastering facilities in the world. I wanted to honour Laurence and contacted the studio. I was delighted that Grammy award-winner Adam Ayan took on my songs there. He has mastered tracks for loads of great people like Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones."

Buckley has been in the music business all his working life. He started to play in trad sessions at the age of fourteen. "I've been working professionally since I was eighteen, playing in New York and Las Vegas and European countries."

Forged ahead with his debut long-player in honour of late producer Laurence White.
Forged ahead with his debut long-player in honour of late producer Laurence White.

It is, he says a tough business, particularly at this time of pandemic. "It's always going to be tough. But I just love the songs I perform, trad ones and folk ones."

Asked how he broke into the American market, Buckley says he has friends and contacts in the US who vouch for him. "I started in America when Dave Browne from The Black Donnellys (from Dublin) brought me over there. Derek Warfield (from The Young Wolfetones) booked gigs around America and started giving me places to play such as in Florida and Las Vegas. I was lucky to have music friends who were able to give me work."

Stateside, Buckley performs Irish classics "written by friends of mine like Pete St John, Phil Coulter and Liam Reilly. I also get to do some of my own stuff. It's a great feeling when your own songs are being accepted."

Since childhood, Buckley, from a musical family, has collected Irish music and songs. in 2012, he established the Song Collector Sessions concert series and has fifty concerts under his belt since then that have included guests such as Christy Dignam from Aslan, Liam Reilly from Bagatelle, Mike Hanrahan from Stocktons Wing and Phil Coulter. The concerts, which are held in venues such as the INEC in Killarney and the Oliver Plunkett bar in Cork, led to a podcast which feature interviews with leading lights in Irish music. PJ Coogan from 96fm is the MC.

Since coming back to Cork from the US just before the lockdown was announced, Buckley felt that Patrick's Day couldn't pass without a few ballads. He held a virtual Irish pub gig "which went crazy. I do it every Wednesday and Saturday now on my facebook page. That has kept me sane. I'm having great fun with it and my heroes are dropping in such as Pete St John and Phil Coulter, who leave a few comments."

Buckley, who plans to release an album in early 2012, hopes The Old Man on Patrick Street will shed some light on homelessness. When he was gigging in Norway with temperatures at minus 25 degrees, he enquired about homeless people there. "I was told that they can't have homeless people because they wouldn't survive outdoors. I thought 'Jesus, if every country had that mindset, we'd solve the homeless problem.'"

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