It was the early days of the nascent Irish Arts Center (IAC) in New York City over 50 years ago when I was a young buck just out of college and exploring my own Irish roots after three visits back to Éire by that time.

Irish traditional music took a hold on me, and I regularly attended a weekly music session hosted by the fledgling IAC in an upstairs room at a pub called Monk’s Park in Manhattan.

A bespectacled guest musician with long curly hair would turn up occasionally and bring the room to a silence with the first notes of two classic songs that would be declared definitive versions in the Irish folk song canon for evermore owing to his own unique voice and stylish and pioneering guitar work.  

That was my first cognizance of singer Paul Brady who made a triumphant return for three nights at the Irish Arts Center last week in a masterful display of his music and reminiscences over his long career as one of Ireland’s most prolific and successful singer/songwriters in both the traditional and contemporary genres. And those two songs “Arthur McBride” and “The Lakes of Ponchartrain” followed him everywhere as most often requested. 

Brady, from Strabane in Co Tyrone, found himself in New York at the tail end of his first major foray into a group on the rise called the Johnstons with sisters Lucy and Adrienne Johnston and his college mate and friend Mick Moloney. The Johnstons’ timing was such that both the American folk revival and Irish ballad tradition were in an ascendancy and their female and male harmonies were very much in vogue and led to chart-topping success in Ireland, Britain, and Europe.

Group dynamics can often go awry as we know in the music business and you go from top to bottom very quickly. After Moloney left for academic pastures, the Johnstons were sputtering and unable to land enough work to continue after relocating to the US.

Brady needed to redefine himself as a very talented musician whose growing musicality was not trapped in the trad world, though it would still be his career path for the rest of the 1970s when he accepted a welcome invite in 1974 to join Planxty when Christy Moore wanted out. Planxty too was waning as the music business and group dynamics once again presented challenges, but Brady had a close affinity musically and personally with Andy Irvine going back some years around the fertile Dublin music scene.  

Their self-titled duet album on Mulligan Records produced by Donal Lunny with Kevin Burke on fiddle became an instant classic and multiple concerts including a wonderful gig in Town Hall in March of 1977 followed. In 1979, Brady produced an album of trad songs called "Welcome Here Kind Stranger" to popular acclaim within the tradition, but he was ready to move on to pop music where his songwriting could develop and flourish in a more commercial scene.

And so it did for many years as Brady became an iconic artist not only for his own performances and compositions but as an artist whose work appealed to many more established commercial performers. Phil Collins, David Crosby, Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Carole King, and Santana all turned to Brady for inspiration through songs and arrangements which helped him navigate the ups and downs of the music business where massive talent is no guarantee of continued success. 

His recording catalog contains 12 solo studio albums including "Maybe So" as recently as last year, three solo live albums, and three solo compilation albums which broadly demonstrate his creative skills and determination and popularity around Ireland and beyond where he is held in high esteem by artists like Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler and John Prine.  

His collaboration album, "Andy Irvine/Paul Brady," released in 1976 not only has remained a seminal classic but was remastered last year by Compass Records which owns the Mulligan Catalog these days. It was re-released in both CD and vinyl formats with an expanded history of the collaboration that was so extensive and detailed that it garnered a Grammy nomination for liner note production. 

When the world came to a halt during the pandemic and kept us all in place, Brady was one of those artists who used his time wisely and embarked on an autobiography named after one of his early and most popular compositions, "Crazy Dreams." Not only is it a fabulous insight about the influences that marked his musical and personal career, but it is also a vivid and honest perspective on the music business itself and how it shaped much of what was being produced over the past 50 years or so from Brady’s perspective. 

What was most impressive at the Brady residency last Thursday to Saturday was to see an artist who has traveled a long and at times a rough road and persevered.

Brady was featured at the IAC back in 2008 as the opening duo with Nashville singer-songwriter Sarah Siskind in the Masters in Collaboration series developed by Dr. Mick Moloney and IAC Executive Director Aidan Connolly. And again, at Symphony Space in 2016 at the Ireland Rising show produced by Bill Whelan and Paul Muldoon. 

What was unwavering was the intense connection with his audience at all times whether they were long-time admirers or first-timers. The show’s almost two-hour run featured 18 numbers including many of his most recognized hits and compositions, all delivered with his brilliant guitar and piano playing that has set him atop the Irish music scene for decades and will continue to do so.

On display was a consummate performer in command of his craft and material as he moved smoothly around the spacious stage that still evoked an intimate connection with the audience who rewarded him with an enthusiastic and spontaneous standing ovation at the end of Saturday’s show. 

You can catch up with the extensive Brady catalog at

*This column first appeared in the May 24 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.