'I worked my grief out with that guitar' - Brendan Grace's son Bradley on restoring and playing father's beloved guitar at Olympia show
THE loss of Irish comic legend Brendan Grace is being deeply felt by his son Bradley, but he reveals that his father’s old guitar is helping him cope with his grief.
Since Brendan died from cancer in July, 37-year-old Bradley has restored the guitar and last week he played it at a star-studded concert in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre to honour his dad.
In an exclusive interview, Bradley, who lives in America, says: “Dad gave me that guitar. He had stopped playing guitars 15 years ago because he had diabetes and he was pricking his fingers a lot, and then when he had a stroke his motor functions weren’t as good.
“So he gave me a few guitars that he had. I cherished them, even when he was alive. That particular guitar was in pretty bad shape. It had been living in an attic for 15 years.
“I had put it away in my house in Florida with the intention of doing it up one day. When he died the first thing I did when I got back to Florida was, I dug the guitar out and I immediately started working on it.
“I’m not a terribly spiritual person, but I felt the need to do this. I don’t know what was driving it, maybe it was grief. So I got the guitar and I fixed it up. It’s a beautiful guitar, it’s a Martin D-28, the standard for folk music. Bob Dylan down to Neil Young, they all use that exact model.”
Bradley, who is a member of American band Poison The Well, in addition to running his own restaurant business, began strumming the John Denver song, This Old Guitar, on the instrument.
He says: “I had never played that song, This Old Guitar, before, but it was my favourite song that Dad had recorded and I knew the chords in my head.
“It became obsessive, I learned the lyrics and I sung it over and over. Before I knew it I was playing it at home eight times a day and feeling better, it was helping me get through the grief.
“I found the guitar became almost like a portal between me and my dad, because it was his. And that song – this is going to sound so cheesy – this is honestly how it felt…it’s like as if the guitar was saying to me, ‘it feels so good to feel that again’, because I was playing all Dad’s songs, and I was reaquainting his guitar with all of the songs. I know all my dad’s songs.
“I would just play them to myself in my bathroom in Florida, because the acoustics are nice in there. My wife thought I was crazy. I mean, there were probably times when I spent three hours in the bathroom, and that’s how I worked my grief out with that guitar. It has become more than a guitar as I’m playing the song and working through my grief.”
Bradley says the song, This Old Guitar, also has a significance for his father’s life.
He says: “The song very much reflects his journey. As a young kid he was on his way to join the merchant marines. He had been accepted, and I think he was on his way to report for duty when he was hit by an ambulance that knocked him off his bike and broke his leg.
“He ended up in hospital for six weeks. An aunt, I believe, bought him an old guitar and he learned how to play it, and it changed the course of his life. And that’s what that song is about, it’s about a guitar changing the course of your life.”
Bradley brought the guitar home from America for this week’s Olympia show, where his performance was one of the highlights of the night. “When I started playing the guitar that night, it just kind of took over, it was very strange,” he says.
“And I didn’t realise that there was a picture over my shoulder on the stage of Dad playing that exact same guitar.
“It is an incredibly important musical instrument, it is priceless to me. It has been an invaluable source of comfort to me.”
Bradley says that he became obsessed with music after finding a box set of Beatles hits in his home when he was nine.
“That really was my introduction to music and I learned to play Blackbird on the guitar,” he says.
“Years later, Dad confided that he had an issue with the Beatles, as he associated their music with trauma in his life.
“He said to me one day, ‘When I was a young fella I used to go to the dance halls and everyone woud be dancing to the Beatles. But I was a fat kid and no one would dance with me, so I came to associate the Beatles music with rejection.”
Hearing his father Brendan’s voice on recordings today is heartbreaking for Bradley. “To be in the Olympia this week celebrating a sad occasion without him was incredibly tough, but the hardest part of the night was hearing his voice,” he says.
“I can’t believe that I’m never going to hear that voice again (in reality). Some members of my family are watching a lot of his videos. I can’t do that yet. I’m not there yet. But I will get there.”
Bradley paid tribute to his mother for the way she has supported her family since her husband Brendan’s death.
“Next to the absence of Dad, the hardest thing for me to deal with is my mam’s heartbreak, because they were 47 years together. That’s nearly half a century!
“She’s heartbroken, but her strength reveals itself in her willingness to move forward. She’s not lying down, she understands that life has to go on. She’ll move forward with her grief, she’ll surround herself with love and she’ll be fine.
“She is literally the strongest woman I’ve ever known. I’ve always said that about my mam, even before that ever happened, she’s amazing.
“She’s a total Irish mammy, I say that to all my American friends. All my friends love her, they just can’t get over how gregarious she is all the time.
“My wife lost her mother eight years ago, and my mam has literally stepped into that role for her. My wife considers my mother her mother, it’s a beautiful thing.”
via Sunday World