Sunday 21 January 2018

Brendan Shine: "The priest used to separate the couples who were close-dancing; he'd say, 'Leave enough room for the Holy Spirit.''

Brendan Shine (69) is an Irish folk and country singer and a farmer. Born in Portarlington, Co Laois, he lives in Taughmaconnell, Co Roscommon with his wife, Kathleen. They have two daughters - Emily and Philippa

Brendan Shine's Lobby Tour is nationwide from June 9 to June 28. Photo: Brian Farrell.
Brendan Shine's Lobby Tour is nationwide from June 9 to June 28. Photo: Brian Farrell.

Ciara Dwyer

We don't have alarms in our house because I often work late at night. Where I live the birds normally wake us. We're out in the middle of the countryside, in south Roscommon in Taughmaconnell. I live with Kathleen, my wife of 44 years. Being in show business, my days vary. Two days ago I arrived home from America where I was working on Cape Cod. So those days were quite different to my normal day.

Generally, Kathleen would be up before me, but when I'm not working at night, we both get up together. If I'm up late at night, I might get home at 5am or 6am and I try and get my eight hours sleep. In the general sense, we get up at about 9am. Porridge, fruit, tea and brown bread - that's my breakfast. I'm not a man for the fries. I'd have a long way to go here to get a newspaper. With iPhones and the news, we're not big paper fans. Generally, my first call is to check in on my cattle. We run an Angus beef farm here - calf to beef - and we have about 50 cows. The cows are finished calving at the moment. I go down to my shed and check in on them. They've come to the end of feeding and I'm getting them out to grass.

I was born and reared on a farm and when I married Kathleen, I married into her farm. As a young lad, I used to grow carrots. I remember when I played my first days with the Ceili Band - I was only 16 - I was also bringing carrots up to the Dublin markets. My dad worked for Bord na Mona and he also ran a dance hall back home in Kielty. I was the one who helped out my dad on the farm.

I always loved farming. In those days, we did a lot of tillage and vegetables. Farming has changed so much. Years ago, farmers tended cattle in their own way. Now, you rear cattle as you're told by aristocrats in Brussels and fellas with briefcases and computers. With all these directives coming from Europe, common sense has gone out the window.

Normally, Kathleen and I would have some lunch in Athlone or we might meet one of our daughters - one lives nearby and the other girl is in Galway. We have six grandchildren and they take up a bit of our time as well. Afterwards, we go back home and I do a couple of hours on the farm. Then if I'm going playing, I might prepare some stuff in the studio. I don't do the six nights a week any more. This year I'm doing a tour celebrating one of my most famous songs - Do You Want Your Old Lobby Washed Down? It's a song which has stood the test of time.

It first appeared in 1979, the year that 2FM started, which also happened to be the year that the Pope came to Ireland. It was the song of the summer. At the time, there was a lot of sending up between the city folk and country folk, and I was regarded as a country man. Vincent Hanley, the 2FM DJ, recorded a send-up version of it and of course, it all added to my song. I even recorded a version of it in German and they played it on German radio. People always ask what it means. I tell them that it's about a man standing at his door and this lady comes passing by and she is the dread of his life. I say to everybody, what would you call a lobby? It's the front of a hotel or the front of anywhere. I tell them that they are going to have to use their imagination. I say, this one is saying to the man, do you want your old front washed down?

Growing up, there was always music in my house. We lived beside the dance hall and my dad had a little band and he used to play there. I started playing the accordion at a local event and then I was picked to join Ciaran Kelly's Ceili Band. I was still in school. Back then, the Catholic Church didn't allow dancing during the seven weeks of Lent. Concerts and plays were permitted, but whatever went on at the dancing was a different matter. The priest used to separate the couples who were close-dancing; he'd say, 'Leave enough room for the Holy Spirit.'' During Lent, the Ceili Band played in England instead. We went by the cattle boat from Dublin to Liverpool. We were up on the deck in the torrents of rain and the cattle were downstairs with a roof over their heads. It was quite adventurous but it was hard work, playing six nights a week, going around different dance halls in London. Landing there was quite a shock to the system for a young lad of 16 years of age.

Eventually I got my own band going, and in 1968, we had a weekly residency in the Irish Club in Parnell Square in Dublin. I think we were successful because I came along with a very simple sound with my accordion. I always picked songs that had a strong storyline in them, songs that touched people.

I'm a very hands-on person no matter what I do. I'm not one of these artists who turns up in a flashy car five minutes before they go on stage. I'm the first to arrive - at 4pm - and the last to leave. Straight away, I make sure that there is the right formation on stage. I have to feel happy at all times on stage. After the sound check is finished, I rarely leave the venue. I might have a cup of tea and a biscuit. I don't get nervous but I get thoughtful. It's a slightly different thing. I like to watch the people coming into the show. Sometimes I walk around the front but people wouldn't pass a remark. Half of them wouldn't know me anyway. Before a show, saying a prayer is never too far from my mind. I rarely pick a programme. I go out and see what the audience is like and then I decide.

After a show I'm tired, but I like to talk to as many people as I can. I walk around and mingle with the people. I know a lot of my fans and their children and even grandchildren. I nearly always drive home after a show, even if it takes four hours. I'm blessed that I live in the centre of Ireland, so it's quite convenient to everywhere. I come home, have a cup of tea and go to bed. There's nowhere better than sleeping in your own bed.

The Lobby Tour is nationwide from June 9 to June 28, including Cork Opera House on June 9, see, and NCH, Dublin on June 19, see

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