Music has been a driving force for Brendan Shine down through the decades and a means to lift the spirits of his fans, writes Margaret Jennings.
IRISH country music singer and accordion player, Brendan Shine, seems to have been performing forever, but in fact he will only be 68 next month, a mere young lad compared to some of the golden oldies still strutting their stuff worldwide.
He was an early starter in every way though, meeting his wife Kathleen at age 15 and giving up school for music a year later, when he started out professionally with a band.
Kathleen knew what she was letting herself in for — but initially his parents were kept in the dark about the full extent of his passion, despite a strong musical background: “It was 1963 and there was no dancing in Ireland because it was Lent and the Catholic Church wouldn’t allow it for the seven weeks, so the band went to England and one of my first assignments was to go with them on a six-week tour.
“I was afraid to tell my parents, and when I was going out the door my mother asked me what time I would be home at. I made sure I was a good distance from the door and I said ‘in six weeks’ time’. It was a shock to my parents, I tell you!”
That was the end of school for him: “I had kind of given up — the music had taken over my life and I had to make it work.”
Celebrating the 50th anniversary of his band with a nationwide tour next month and with over 50 albums and 45 hit singles released, it’s clear that the teenage Shine’s ambition has been achieved.
Having travelled from his South Roscommon home to venues the world over, he has become more choosy now about where he plays, opting for more selective audiences and locations. “There were hardships — it took a toll being away from home and from your family,” says the father of two daughters, Philippa, a GP and mother of four boys, and Emily, a psychologist and mother of two girls.
While he was on the road, Kathleen, who happens to be a pioneer, ran the pub they bought in Athlone in 1978, for almost 20 years, which is now sold. They also both farmed and continue to breed Angus cattle right up to this day, in South Roscommon.
Now married 43 years, he’s slow to get all gushy about being with his childhood sweetheart for so long, although he does admit: “It’s wonderful. I’m the typical country Irish man — there is a bit of romance in me but find it hard to show it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there!”
Both healthy and obviously hardworking, they farm together at Kathleen’s home place, where they have been living with her mother Kathleen Kildea, now 102, since 1995, following her husband’s death.
In 1997, Brendan’s brother Owen, who was his bandleader and keyboard player, tragically died age 44 when he fell down the stairs and fractured his skull.
“He lost his son a year before that, when he drowned in the Shannon. We were immersed in great tragedy for a long time,” he says. How did he get over it? “I suppose we kept our heads down with the music — he gave his whole life to music, so that is how he would have wanted us to be, so we were carrying on that.
"But there is never a night I don’t think of him... my daughter Emily plays the piano as Owen did, and she helped out and still does at times. It’s great to have one member of the family on the stage to replace another.”
Just as the music has eased tragedy in his own life, he likes to hear from fans how he has helped them when they’re feeling down. “That makes you feel it is all worthwhile, if it helps people in some way.
“My sole purpose in music is to bring joy to people and to entertain and to bring happiness not sorrow or sadness — and that’s the way it should be.
Last January Brendan sang at the funeral of one of his fans, Roscommon man Michael Lambert who at 107 was the oldest man in Ireland and had taken the title three months earlier from another Roscommon man, Luke Dolan who died aged 108.
He himself doesn’t give too much thought to death, apart from it being inevitable, but jokes that he takes some comfort from those two men’s longevity on his doorstep —“whether it’s the water here in Roscommon or the dirty carrots”.
In the meantime, he says: “You just do as well as you can while you’re in it and every day you try and do it better.”
* Brendan Shine will be in Cork Opera House on Thursday, June 25, as part of his nationwide tour which begins on June 14.
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