Brendan Shine, the man who turned Do You Want Your Old Lobby Washed Down? into a massive hit in 1979, is a very popular singer and farmer. However, the role that the genial 67-year-old really relishes these days is being the grandfather to six children, all aged between four and 10. Which is why he released an album called Grandad, which contains the song, The First Time I Heard Him Say Grandad.
Brendan has a great relationship with his adored daughters, Emily and Philippa, and is accompanied at this interview by elder daughter Emily, who is as warm and engaging as her dad. Emily studied psychology at Trinity followed by a master's degree, and now teaches at Our Lady's Bower in Athlone. She also performs part-time with Brendan's band when she can. She is married to John Halpin, and they live in Roscommon with their two daughters, Amelia, 9, and Esmae, 6.
Her younger sister, Philippa, has four boys, William, Senan, John Brendan, and Xavier, and is also married to a John. She is a GP and is living in Galway, and has also performed with her dad. "Emily's girls are really quiet and as meek as mice, but as soon as the boys appear, they just take off," says Brendan. "I'm very lucky to have my two girls working in science, as one looks after my head and the other one looks after my body. Mind you, they still haven't found a cure for me yet!"
Brendan was born in 1947, as the second-youngest of Paddy and Mary Shine's six children, and grew up on the family farm in Kielty, Athlone. The youngest, his brother Owen, was also a musician, but sadly he died in 1997 when he collapsed and fell down stairs while the brothers were on tour in England. Owen was only 44, and Brendan says that this was one of the most difficult things he has had to deal with in his life, compounded by the death of Owen's son, Owen Junior, who drowned in the River Shannon the previous year. "It was very traumatic," says Brendan, adding that Emily helped him through this time. "We buried Owen on a Tuesday and I had to be back for a show in London on the Wednesday."
Music was a big part of his family life, growing up, as Brendan played keyboard and sang in the church choir, and sang and played the accordion at sessions. He describes himself as "a pure divil of a child," and worked on the farm from an early age and loved it. His career took off and he has been a professional musician for 50 years, but he still farms today and runs an Angus herd. Actually, he had planned to be a chef, but didn't pursue it as he was offered a job singing at local ceilis, and also developed his own carrot business. "Thanks be to God for people's stomachs that I didn't become a chef," he laughs.
Brendan met his wife Kathleen at school when they were both 14. She was quiet and attractive, and he used to cycle over to her place after school on his racing bike. They were married in 1972, and Emily and Philippa came along, two and a half years apart. Life was busy, because while Brendan was on the road performing several nights per week, he and Kathleen also owned and ran Shine's Bar in Athlone for almost 20 years.
"Becoming a dad was absolutely wonderful, and it changed my life completely," says Brendan. "It was a big challenge being away from the kids in the early years when I was travelling. They came with me during school holidays, and went on TV with me for the first time when they were seven and five. I never missed any major milestones, but I missed little things like school plays. Emily was always a great kid. She was studious and wasn't a wild teenager. When she and Philippa became teens, they had to work in the pub for their pocket money, which put a stop to any gallivanting."
Emily says that growing up in that environment was wonderful, as she learned fantastic life lessons, was exposed to many different people and travelled to amazing places. She and Philippa realised early on that their dad was different and didn't go to work with a briefcase like other dads. He would write letters home to the family when he was performing abroad, and phoned every day at 6pm. "We had a wonderful relationship with Dad," she says. "He is very measured and easy-going and doesn't get into a flap about anything, which is important in this business. Our mother Kathleen is such a bedrock in the family, as she kept everything together and kept us working hard in school. She was fantastic. As a child, I was quiet and studious, and always had my head stuck in a book. Philippa and I are very close and we spent a lot of time playing together outside, and we both loved music."
After keeping his career on the road for an incredible five decades, Brendan plans to put on a true family show for his forthcoming 50th anniversary tour, as Emily will play keyboard and Philippa will do backing vocals. "We perform well and travel very well together too," he says, adding that his lovely Emily has an obsession with books, and he despairs when travelling as she buys loads of them wherever they go. The concert will include numbers from his ceili days, through to all the hits of the 70s and 80s, including Catch Me If You Can, which presenter of The X Factor, Dermot O'Leary, named as his number one song in his recently-published memoir. "For someone of his importance to say that a song I wrote so long ago meant that much to him is just incredible," says Brendan. "I have had a very happy family life, and even though the girls are married and gone, they are still my babies and are still a part of our house. Kathleen has been great too and so supportive. She never threatened to divorce me - well, maybe murder me a few times, but that would be it."
Pat Egan presents the Brendan Shine 50th Anniversary Concert Tour at the Theatre Royal, Waterford, on June 14; Limetree Theatre, Limerick, June 15; National Concert Hall, Dublin, June 18; Town Hall Theatre, Galway, June 21; Glor, Ennis, June 24; Cork Opera House, June 25.
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