Sunday 19 January 2020

Joe and Paul Harrington: Brothers in harmony

Joe and Paul Harrington work in different areas of the music business, but they support each other in everything

Paul and Joe Harrington both work in the music industry. Photo: David Conachy
Paul and Joe Harrington both work in the music industry. Photo: David Conachy

Andrea Smith

'I've seen Paul play for 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden, in the RDS with Michael Flatley's Celtic Tiger show, and win Eurovision in front of millions. I've also seen him play for 20 people, and he puts just as much effort in as for the big gigs. If anything, he underestimates how good he is, and I'm a great admirer of his craft."

Joe Harrington, general manager of Sunshine Radio, is discussing his younger brother Paul, who has just released his new album, Lights of Home. By their own admission, they are understated types of guys who don't blow their own trumpets and are not given to gushing, but it's clear that there is a strong mutual admiration between them.

The brothers grew up in Killester in Dublin, with Joe coming fourth and Paul being the baby of the late Eileen and Joe's six children. There's eight years and one sister between them, and that gap is a lot when you're a child, so their relationship only really properly developed in adulthood.

It was a musical household, and as a youngster, Joe was impressed that his little brother was able to play the family piano without having lessons. Paul remembers that Joe was, and still is, very tall, and he had a huge love for radio. He also remembers him playing football and hurling and being very good at it - he wasn't that interested in sports himself.

Joe went to college in Manchester to do graphic reproduction and then worked in London in the area of colour retouching. His true passion lay with radio though, so he returned to Ireland and started working as a mobile DJ on the side. Taking the risk to make radio his full-time job, he went on to have a stellar career in radio with stations like Century and East Coast FM, and is now head of Sunshine Radio. He has won a PPI (Phonographic Performance Ireland) award for his work.

"I admire Joe's achievements, and although he's a quiet sort of character, it's great to hear what people who work with him say about him," says Paul. "Joe's a stalwart, and has always been solidly supportive of me, particularly in terms of music, and even helped finance an early album."

After seven years as a civil servant in the Department of Labour and playing in piano bars in the evening, Paul left job security behind to pursue music full-time. The civil service's loss was the nation's gain, given that he and Charlie McGettigan won Eurovision for us in 1994 with Rock 'n' Roll Kids. It was a great family occasion for the Harringtons, who were all present at the Point Depot, apart from their mum Eileen who was just out of hospital and watched from home. "It was a fantastic night," says Joe, proudly.

Joe says he's struck by the diversity of material on Paul's fabulous new album, which was recorded live at the Sugar Club. "The musicianship is of such a high standard, it's hard to believe it's live," he says. The album features nine original compositions and two live recordings of his classic hits, What I'd Say and Rock 'n' Roll Kids. The first single, More than Me, has received a great reception, and the album is a collection of songs from some of the most talented songwriters in the business, including Eleanor McEvoy and Rory Gallagher. It also pays tribute to family.

Paul and Joe were very sad to lose their brothers Robert and Derek, and sister Siobhan, all to cancer. From a family of six siblings, just the two of them and their eldest brother Richard remain. "I would say it's heartbreaking," says Joe. "Losing them really knocked us back. The grief was really devastating and it took us a long time to get joy out of life again."

The late Derek actually co-wrote two of the album's tracks, The Storm and Love Never Fades. A talented musician too, he was a Juno Award winner in Canada in 1993. The very poignant and deeply touching Song for Siobhan is Paul's personal tribute to their only sister, who died aged 49 and came between the two brothers in the family order. Shortly after her untimely passing, Paul collaborated with Charlie McGettigan to write the beautiful song.

Joe was present at the album's live recording and was very impressed. "Paul has a unique voice and is a great interpreter of music who can make a song his own," he says.

The brothers have achieved a lot in their respective fields, and having an older brother who is so experienced in the music industry has been a great help to Paul. Joe gives great advice when it comes to choosing songs to release from an album, because he lives and breathes music and knows what will appeal to audiences.

On the personal front, Paul is married to teacher Karol Sadleir, whom he met in 2007, and says she's a "fantastic woman". He is also very close to his 28-year-old son Daniel from a previous marriage, who is a qualified lawyer. Joe, who had a short marriage back in his UK days, is single, and he and Paul enjoy meeting up for family gatherings, particularly as there are 15 nieces and nephews in the family.

One bonus for Joe is that Paul is a great cook. "It wouldn't be unusual for Paul's wife Karol to say, 'We're cooking dinner, would you like to join us and have a glass of wine?'" says Joe. "The three of us also went to Morocco for Christmas together, and to Valencia another time, and we had a great time."

Paul Harrington's new album, 'Lights of Home', is out now.

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