This much I know Brendan Graham
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