Friends gather to celebrate Brendan

Clonbur Community Centre is the venue this Saturday night for a special show when singer Cathy Jordan of Dervish and pianist Feargal Murray will celebrate local resident Brendan Graham, whose songs have been recorded by top artists at home and abroad and earned Ireland Eurovision success in the 1990s. Cathy tells JUDY MURPHY about how she and Feargal have finally released an album of her great friend’s work, having recorded most of his demo tracks since the 1990s.

Singer Cathy Jordan and pianist Feargal Murray will join forces this Saturday night, March 2, in Clonbur Community Centre to celebrate the songs and writings of their friend, the legendary Brendan Graham as they launch a new album of his songs.

The Tipperary-born singer who lives locally in Joyce Country, has had his compositions recorded by the likes of Josh Groban, the Gypsy Kings and Aretha Franklin, as well as by Irish artists including Westlife, Moya Brennan, Daniel O’Donnell and Seán Keane. He also penned  two of Ireland’s Eurovision-winning songs, Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids and The Voice.

Cathy and Brendan’s deep friendship has developed over three decades as the renowned Sligo singer became the first person to breathe life into many of his songs.

“I’ve known Brendan for nearly three decades,” says Cathy, the vocalist with acclaimed traditional group Dervish, adding that he was the Chair of the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) when Dervish were in their infancy and were trying to set up their own record company.

“He had written songs to accompany his novel, The Whitest Flower, and he asked me to perform them,” she says explaining that while he’s one of the country’s leading songwriters, Brendan doesn’t perform his own material in public.

“He can hold a note but he’s not a professional singer,” she says of the writer who lives in Finney, on the Galway-Mayo border, which is his wife Mary’s home place.

After that initial collaboration, Cathy became his ‘go-to’ person when he wanted to record demos of his new songs.

Early on in their working relationship, she introduced pianist Feargal into the recording mix.

The Derry-born composer and musical arranger, who is known for his work with other singers including Moya Brennan and Camille O’ Sullivan, “was the obvious candidate – maybe victim as well,” Cathy says with a laugh, praising his musical sensibility.

Together they have “made hundreds of demos of Brendan’s songs”, and these are “his calling cards”.

Brendan then sends demos to various artists whose voices, he feels, would suit particular songs.

“He’s often commented that he preferred some of the demos to the finished work,” says Cathy with a laugh. Understandably, she doesn’t give examples, but she adds it’s the “essence and simplicity of the vocal and the piano” on the demos that he loves.

“That lets the lyrics and vocals shine through.”

Cathy can’t remember who instigated the idea that Feargal and she would record a full-blown album of his work but the result is Storybook: The Songs of Brendan Graham. The 10-track album was released in January and features some of Brendan’s more intimate songs rather than the ‘greatest hits’.

Tracks include Sleepsong, a lullaby he wrote for his daughter when she was 21, on the eve of her departure for Australia; the heart-breaking Crucán na bPáiste, about a burial ground for unbaptised children close to his home; the mini-balletic Waltzing Alone, a love song set in Norway, and  the emigration song The Fairhaired Boy. One of his greatest hits did make the cut as well. That’s Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears about 15-year-old Annie Moore, who in 1892,  having travelled from Cobh with her younger brothers, became the first person to pass through the US immigration centre at Ellis Island. Cathy first demoed the song in the mid-1990s.

Pictured: Cathy with Brendan Graham and Feargal Murray. Brendan was chair of the Irish Rights Music Association when her group Dervish were in their early days and trying to set up their own record label.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune:

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