Interview by Barry Egan
It all started with Father Ted. “He was the real Father Ted,” laughs George Furey of his late papa, Ted Furey. George’s older brother, Eddie, recalls the pivotal moment for him and his brothers growing up.
“I remember the old man saying to us one morning: ‘Lads, when you grow up, I can’t afford to send yez to college or university. It’s either the music or the pick and shovel. You have your choice.’ So we chose the music.”
I met Dylan first back in 1969 with Liam Clancy in New York. I was playing Carnegie Hall with them
“We always had musical instruments in the house growing up. We had a radio. We had no TV,” says George. “We couldn’t afford one. The radio was only turned on for ceili music. So we picked up the music as we went along. We’d always have great people in the house. Sometimes we’d have Seamus Ennis, the great piper. And Eamon de Buitlear; he was a great old pal as well. That’s where it came out really. It rubbed off on us.”
“The Fureys as a group are 37-years-old, but we’ve been playing since we were kids,” says Eddie. “We used to play Croke Park as kids, would you believe?” They both laugh.
“In those days, the Cusack Stand had no seats in the bottom end of it and we’d walk around and do a bit of business. We’d also busk on Grafton Street. There was no buskers in them days — only us.”
“When I was born,” adds boy George, only 63, “my mammy said I came out of her singing. I wasn’t crying. And I have been singing ever since.”
Eddie, who is now 70 but has the lightning-quick wit of a teenager, played with his brother Finbar and his dad in O’Donoghue’s Bar on Merrion Row in Dublin in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. “I remember being brought down there by Ciaran Bourke,” he says of the late great man of The Dubliners. “Ciaran was learning to play whistle at the time and Finbar taught him to play it. We had a great time with Ciaran. And Ciaran would start coming up to the house too. So, he brought us down to O’Donoghue’s pub on New Year’s Eve. 1960 or ’61. There were three of us playing the music — myself, the brother and my father. Ronnie Drew came in...”
It is an honour to meet them — and have them record a mind-bogglingly brilliant session for The Windmill Lane Sessions for Independent.ie — these musicians who are an integral part of Ireland’s rich musical history. The tales that tumble out of them all afternoon in Windmill Lane border on the surreal. Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Bob Dylan. “I met Dylan first back in 1969 with Liam Clancy in New York,” says Eddie.
“I was playing Carnegie Hall with them. There was an awful lot of celebrities in the audience that night,” he says, naming Burl Ives, The Kingston Trio and Pete Seeger. “They were all my heroes in the audience. I was a bit scared going out onto the stage. Paddy Clancy said to me: ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said: ‘Paddy, I’m only used to playing in folk clubs.’ He said: ‘You see that kip out there? Just think of that as a bigger folk club’.”
“I met Dylan in Dublin Airport in the mid-70s,” says George. “We were coming back from doing a gig with Paul McCartney in Vienna. We talked about the Clancys.”
“We got offered to do Slane with the Rolling Stones by Jim Aiken, but we said no,” laughs George, possibly joking about knocking back Mick Jagger.
With his banjo resting on his knee, George relates the story of meeting Don McLean at Siamsa Cois Laoi in Cork in 1979. The singer most famous for American Pie met The Fureys, who had just come off stage, and was about to go on himself. Looking out into the crowd, he turned to George and asked him straight:
“How do I get a woman around here?”
“You marry her,” came George’s reply.
The Fureys’ new CD, ‘The Times They Are A Changing’ is out now.
Windmill Lane Sessions: The creative wisdom of the Young Folk