I remember in the early 90s seeing Paul Brady live quite frequently. Every time he sang “Nobody knows what Ruby had to hide” my mate Tim and I would shout in unison “Who’s Ruby!”
We eventually concluded that it was Jack Ruby who shot Lee Harvey-Oswald who shot JFK. However, Paul Brady’s new autobiography gives a page to the song that the line comes from - Nobody Knows.
Confirming that Ruby was Jack Ruby tells us that at the beginning it was Reuben Carter, the boxer convicted of murder whose innocence Bob Dylan pleaded in song Hurricane. The biggest revelation for me was that the song starts on a rooftop, imagining a band doing the Beatles Get Back concert with nobody watching. How had a I missed that!
The book took me through a lot of what I had missed in Brady’s ludicrously blessed career. I use blessed rather than successful as in the musical statistical terms Brady was never as big a star as those he hang out with - Dire Straits or Eric Clapton for example.
Yet, for a boy coming out of Strabane, what a life. My favourite stories have to be when he’s sitting face to face with Carole King writing songs, when he appeared on stage to Tina Turner’s surprise to sing Paradise Is Here, when he is standing with Elton John in Elton’s bedroom admiring the art and most of all when he is putting the fingers of Bob Dylan on the guitar strings as he teaches him his version of Lakes Of Pontchartrain! Bob Dylan for goodness sake. Wow!
In Crazy Dreams, Brady takes us through every concert, tv appearance, management change, song written and album recorded of his illustrious career. Never the top of the charts outside Ireland he could still sell albums and tours across the world.
The book is almost broken in two. About 170 pages on his early folk career and then another 170 on his song writing career.
I learned so much about his years with The Johnstons. I had no idea that they made seven records! Then his shifting the sonics in Irish Traditional music with Andy Irvine and finally as a solo artist before writing Crazy Dreams, Dancer In The Fire and Night Hunting Time sent him a whole different direction.
We do hear about the down times, especially at the end of The Johnstons time and mention of wife, daughter and son are threaded through. If I was being critical I would have loved a little more depth about some of the more personal. His marriage is a resounding success in rock music terms but it seems that it wasn’t always easy and he might have had insights on how he and Mary survived that would have been worth sharing. However, as Ricky Ross taught us in his memoir Mary’s story is hers to tell, not Paul’s. We will put it down to wise discretion.
There are also insights into Ireland, the traditional music scene and The Troubles and our divisions. Brady is for sure a nationalist but always seeks respect across the traditions and beliefs. He is the peacemaker of The Island for sure. He also suggests that even the Irish hid the wee sessions of folk as the music of the peasants. I’d love to do a PhD on that!
I found Crazy Dreams as riveting music memoir read. I couldn’t get enough. I learned a lot and probably discovered, as Brady did as he went, where his own rhythmic guitar sound style emerged from and how unique it was.
I am back listening to songs across his career - ones I loved and ones I missed. That’s what a good music biog does!