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Barman Paddy Godfrey serving up some country classics to his regulars

When he's not pouring drinks at Belfast's American Bar, Paddy Godfrey strikes a chord with the sounds of Williams and Cash

Ivan Little

Barman Paddy Godfrey is pulling in the crowds as well as pulling the pints in the Belfast pub where he works. For Paddy doesn't restrict himself to the normal behind-the-bar activities. And more and more the talented father-of-one is out front too … as a musician playing classic country/blues songs with an old friend to an ever-growing and appreciative audience.

But Paddy has also started writing his own material. And one of them is an emotion-charged song about suicide, which has claimed the lives of scores of young people in Northern Ireland in recent years.

Paddy has posted the song, Alone, on a Facebook page along with a message which reads: "This is dedicated to anyone who has been affected by suicide or depression, whether it's been a personal struggle or a family member or friend. Please share this post if you know anyone that it could help." Paddy says he knows too many people who have lost family members and friends to suicide: "I haven't any direct experience of anyone within my close circle taking their own lives, but I do know people who've been suffering from depression." Paddy doesn't feature the song in his repertoire at The American Bar in the Docks area of Belfast where Pedro Donald, the owner of the recently re-opened pub, reckons his ship came in when he discovered his bartender was a singer.

Pedro was looking for musicians to entertain his customers on a Friday night and Paddy offered to play for free along with his friend James Fox.

The pair call themselves The Cravaltas Revival and their music swiftly started to go down as well as the Guinness and the craft beers in The American.

For Paddy, the working arrangement at The American Bar is a good Friday agreement, the perfect cocktail, as he pours out his soul in song at night after dishing out the drinks during the day.

He says: "I finish my work behind the bar around teatime and get a couple of hours to chill before going out to join up with James."

The two musicians, who met at Lagan College, are both 22 but their songs are a lot older, with legendary American Hank Williams top of their popular renditions.

"We both love Hank's music. My great-great granny was a huge fan," says James, who now lives in Comber after growing up in the Cregagh estate in Belfast. "I never met her but I was always aware of her love of his music. And I think Hank is a fantastic singer and songwriter. My mother, however, hates his music."

And Paddy, who was raised in the Cregagh area after moving from Comber, knows the feeling. "My girlfriend can't stand what she calls Williams' wailings."

Perhaps not surprisingly, the family antipathy to their hero means that Paddy and James tend to do most of their rehearsing in the American Bar.

But they've been surprised at how many younger people in Belfast are fans of the US singer whose best known songs include Your Cheating Heart, Move It On Over and Lost Highway.

"We thought no one would know Hank's tunes but happily we were proved wrong," says Paddy, who knows that Van Morrison and the late West Belfast singer Bap Kennedy were Williams devotees, with the latter even recording a tribute album of his songs called Hillbilly Shakespeare.

The Cravaltas Revival are slowly but surely widening their repertoire, introducing the work of different singers into their routines, like Johnny Cash.

Paddy and James, however, refuse to play over-egged songs like Wagon Wheel or Galway Girl and they also decline requests for Cash standards like Ring of Fire and I Walk the Line. But Paddy jokes that he may adapt A Boy Named Sue into A Prod Named Paddy.

"There weren't many Paddys where I was raised," says the singer, who admits that country isn't the kind of music that he and James sang in their formative years at school.

James, who works in IT, says: "We were big into the Ramones, all very punk and full of teenage angst. It was very simple to play and we formed a band called The Cravaltas."

Paddy, who studied the business side of music at technical college, was a drummer but just before his son Brody was born two years ago, he sold his kit to bolster the family finances in their home in the Sydenham area of east Belfast.

However, he kept a guitar and spent more time learning to play it. And after bass player James quit a band called Frostbite, Paddy got together with him in a two-piece group called The Cravaltas Revival.

Paddy, who worked behind the scenes as a technician and then as a manager in the Black Box in Belfast, first encountered Pedro Donald in his award-winning Sunflower Bar in Union Street in the centre of the city.

Pedro breathed new life into the Sunflower, whose previous names included the Avenue Bar and The Tavern, and he and his staff made it one of the city's most talked-about drinking destinations, with music high on their agenda.

After Pedro expanded his pub operations, taking over The American Bar, Paddy went there to work for him as a barman and later on as a musician.

And after he and James started building up a regular following on Friday nights, they were rewarded for their appearances with something more substantial than free beer.

Says Paddy: "I thought Pedro would have grown tired of us. But he has been very encouraging and supportive."

Pedro moved into The American Bar last October, three years after it shut down after time had been called on one of Belfast's most iconic watering holes, stretching back over 140 years when it was a favourite rendezvous for visiting sailors and resident dockers.

Photographs on the walls re-visit the American's illustrious past and there's also a nod to Sailorstown's most famous son, boxer Rinty Monaghan who lived nearby.

"It's a great bar," says Paddy, who's too young to remember the now closed Rotterdam Bar and Pat's Bar in the Docks district, which were once hotspots for music in the old and not so old days in Belfast.

Some of the Rotterdam regulars and former dockers now gravitate towards the American, which attracts a wide range of people, many of whom are aficionados of American country music and who really know their stuff.

Paddy says: "Every night we get four or five suggestions from the audience about 'new' singers that we should listen to, even though they're not particularly new at all. People like John Prine, Ernest Tubbs, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.

"The most bizarre request we've had to date was from a guy who wanted a Westlife song. And we wondered if he'd been listening to us at all." Looking to the future, Paddy and James are saving their fees from The American Bar with the aim of investing in better equipment and in a website.

"We'd also love to make a CD of our own songs," says Paddy. "But we are not rushing into anything. We are happy enough to play for a few bob and a few pints in a nice pub like The American. Simple men, with simple pleasures - that's us.

"We're loving the craic and we are starting to get offers to play in other places. But we're happy where we are."

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