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Paul Brady: When I perform live, it's as if every time is my last

Don't worry, though, with a new album on the way and a starring role in the BBC St Patrick's Day concert next week, Tyrone-born music legend Paul Brady isn't hanging up his guitar just yet, says Simon Fallaha.

He has opened for Dire Straits in front of 25,000 people, played in front of a classical orchestra, and performed in venues of all sizes around the world, but no live show appears too big or small for Strabane-born songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paul Brady, who has been delighting audiences for nearly four decades with his brand of trad, pop, folk and rock music.

The son of primary school teachers, 67-year-old Brady has always been passionate about music, but never considered it as a career until his late teens.

"It was tough then, it is even tougher now," he says. "I feel fortunate to have built up such a large following over the years, with always enough people who want to watch me. But I would hate to be starting out in today's artistic climate, where one moment, you're liked, but the next, you're just not thought about any more. People's attention spans have shortened."

That certainly didn't seem the case when Brady - one of the stars of the BBC's St Patrick's Night concert being broadcast next week - made his first foray into performance during his college years in 1960s Dublin, joining The Johnstons when interest in Irish traditional music was booming.

He would later feature in influential folk band Planxty before forming a partnership with Andy Irvine, prior to the launch of his first, critically-acclaimed solo album, Welcome Here Kind Stranger, in 1978.

"It's always nice to work with other musicians," he says. "But the difference between being in a band and being a soloist is that you have more control.

"Instead of cooperating as a business, you're employing who sings and plays with you.

"And I've collaborated long enough to kind of reach the stage where I'm done with working in a band."

Along with going solo came a shift in Brady's musical style, from trad to pop and rock, and a discography of 16 solo albums in addition to a host of collaborations with musicians he may never have encountered.

His key to success is simple: "If I have 10 or 12 songs that I'm happy with, I simply record them as an album. I don't do thematic records. Every song inhabits a different landscape."

His profile has been enhanced over the years - stars including Tina Turner, Cher, Joe Cocker, Art Garfunkel and Mary Black, have sung his songs. His latest album, to be released on April 27, developed from a live recording of 23 gigs on Dublin's Vicar Street 14 years ago. The first volume of these sessions features duets with Mark Knopfler, Van Morrison, Sinead O'Connor, Bonnie Raitt and Ronan Keating.

The versatile Brady has also found that small solo acoustic sets can often be riveting.

"You have a large group in front of you who aren't your fans, and you're relating to them purely on the basis of the sound you're making at that point in time, with no reference to the past, future or present," he says. "For me, singing live is as visceral as it is audio; it's all about the experience. It justifies who I am as a person."

It's an experience that the self-confessed "multi-lingual" musician always hopes to relay to his audience.

"I try to give people a sense of the full and heartfelt enjoyment I have in making my music. When I perform, it's almost as if every performance is my last. That's something I got from my father, I think; he was a very impassioned amateur performer. It's kind of a psychic rush."

The St Patrick's Day Concert will be broadcast on BBC2 on Tuesday, March 17, at 9pm. The Vicar Street Sessions Vol 1 will be released on April 27

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