This much I know Bren­dan Gra­ham

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Upfront - In con­ver­sa­tion with Hi­lary Fen­nell

My ear­li­est mem­ory of mu­sic is hear­ing Elvis on the ra­dio do­ing ‘That’s Al­right Mama’ and how it made me think it was great to be alive.

I re­mem­ber the vi­brancy and the ex­cite­ment of it. I got my own gui­tar as a young fella and started play­ing in earnest at 15.

I wanted to be a pro­fes­sional bas­ket­ball player. I played for Ire­land in­ter­na­tion­ally but my fa­ther wanted me to go into the bank, like him. In the end, I left New­bridge Col­lege in 1962 and went into the priest­hood, like so many others. I only lasted six months but my name is still on the mas­sive tree trunk in All Hal­low’s.

I soon took the mail boat to Lon­don where I worked in a fash­ion­able shoe salon in Knights­bridge sell­ing shoes to mod­els and movie stars. I even sold a pair of knee-high suede boots to Les­lie Caron. When she turned around and blew me a kiss, I wished the boys back home in the ten­nis club could see me then.

I’m to­tally undis­ci­plined. I love be­ing dis­tracted from what­ever I’m sup­posed to be do­ing. I could start count­ing match­sticks or tak­ing a walk, any­thing but the task in hand — but when I get stuck in, I could also work through the night un­til 5am.

I’m not sure I be­lieve in fate, but then how do you ac­count for all the things we can’t ex­plain? I met my wife Mary by chance in The Sham­rock dance­hall in Lon­don. It was pretty in­stant. I only knew her for six weeks be­fore she headed off to Aus­tralia — she’d al­ready got her ticket when we met — but I waited a year and fol­lowed her out there. We came back to Ire­land in 1972.

I went to the Col­lege of Com­merce in Rath­mines and be­came a work study en­gi­neer. We make other peo­ple work harder!

My big­gest fault is that I get down into the de­tail quickly — into the mi­cro — my boss used to say to me ‘don’t fol­low low-pri­or­ity paths’. But some­times those paths pay off.

My big­gest chal­lenge was be­com­ing redundant in 1993 at 48 years of age with five kids to sup­port and a big mort­gage. First, I pan­icked. Then, I used to sit down on Paddy Ka­vanagh’s bench there on the Grand Canal in Dublin, I spent many a morn­ing there, try­ing to fig­ure out a plan. I learned that a lot in life has to do with your sense of per­cep­tion. Once I saw that there was a whole lot of op­por­tu­nity out there, I be­gan to bounce back.

I’d been writ­ing some songs at night and week­ends and I pestered Red Hur­ley un­til he lis­tened to me. I just rolled up at his door, I didn’t know he was in­un­dated by peo­ple, naivety can be a great thing.

In the end, we had a lit­tle bit of suc­cess at the 1976 Eu­ro­vi­sion with ‘When’ but the big ones were ‘Rock and Roll Kids’ in 1994 and then ‘The Voice’ for Eimear Quinn in 1996. We won it twice with those. ‘You Raise Me Up’ was an in­ter­na­tional hit in 2002 and has been cov­ered by many artists.

It seemed like I had stum­bled into what I should be do­ing. Af­ter the song­writ­ing, I be­gan writ­ing nov­els.

Th­ese days, home is on the side of a moun­tain in Mayo. It’s bliss.

My idea of mis­ery is hav­ing to drive into Dublin ev­ery day in traf­fic. I re­mem­ber what that was like.

I’m not sure if I be­lieve in heaven but I have this no­tion that there is some kind of af­ter life. I be­lieve we all go back into some­thing. I’m cer­tainly not de­vout but I don’t think my time in All Hal­lows did me any harm.

If I could be re­born as some­one else I’d be an as­tro­physi­cist. I get to­tally caught up in con­tem­plat­ing the end­less­ness of the uni­verse and how or­der came out of chaos.

The trait I most ad­mire in others is com­pas­sion.

So far life has taught me that the most im­por­tant thing is to fol­low your gut in­stinct, some­thing that tends to be knocked out of us by our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem. And also to be grate­ful.

Join Bren­dan Gra­ham and friends for a cel­e­bra­tory evening of songs and sto­ries at the Na­tional Con­cert Hall, on Oc­to­ber 12

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