For the Sake of the Song: Paul Brady “Nothing But the Same Old Story”


Song Sake: Paul Brady

We knew we had something special here

Paul Brady’s words from his autobiography ‘Crazy Dreams’ (Merrion Press 2022) describing the closing song on his album ‘Hard Station’ (1981).

Paul Brady is now 76 and very much an Irish music legend. His career started in traditional Irish music. Along with Andy Irvine he had already recorded an outstanding Irish folk album in 1976. Hearing Gerry Rafferty’s album ‘City to City’  inspired Brady to start writing and arranging his own music. “At that point, I decided to say farewell to traditional folk music and see if I could become a songwriter” he told Reader’s Digest in April 2023. Brady’s songwriting career after ‘Hard Station’ is legendary. Santana covered ‘Night Hunting Time’. He was instrumental in the resurrection of Tina Turner’s career. He’s credited on many a Bonnie Raitt song. Riding shotgun with John Prine, they wrote a masterpiece called ‘Beautiful World’. Brady was permitted to re-tune Dylan’s guitar then help move the great man’s fingers over the frets to help him play ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’. Overall that’s pretty legendary.

It was not on Baker Street but Commercial Street that I discovered Paul Brady. At sixteen, ‘Hard Station’ was the first LP I ever bought. I was sure to be in John Menzies browsing through the records on the first floor. The store gloriously assured Dundee folk that it was “for people who appreciate music … and money.” So long ago now. Back when many Dundonians thought nothing of a visit from General Lee to the store: despite all the connotations that came with the TV series and the car’s symbolic paintwork. I just liked the Subbuteo figures on the album cover. I still have a well-loved box of figures in quirky late 70’s Admiral kit. I noticed the lyrics conveniently printed on the back. Scanning ‘Night Hunting Time’ with the lines “Black Sabbath drive a young boy crazy/This ain’t no frivolous affair”. Back home I discovered the record had been well worth buying. Not the double-tracked rich voice of Rafferty but great tunes and Brady’s own unique phrasing. Sometimes his Irish accent came through. ‘Crazy Dreams’ so good it didn’t even need a chorus. Each track unapologetically around five minutes in length.

‘Nothing But the Same Old Story’ closes the album. The track smoulders and then ignites as an Irishman heads to the United Kingdom carrying all the unavoidable stereo-typical baggage. He encounters the usual prejudices, assumptions, condescending attitudes and the fear many locals display towards Irish working people. There is solace in the pub and time spent with his own kind. A few finding fortune in the land of the free. Forty years later the protagonist now sounds like a stereotypical male from another time but racial tension is still very much out there today. Ultimately, the plan is to move back home with an Irish girl after being somewhat disillusioned with “nothing but the same old story”. Implying, it doesn’t matter where you go: the proletariat always get shafted by the higher classes. Not a lot of change there either. The book gives an insight into the album cover. It is a Johnny Devlin painting of Tara Street Station in Dublin with all the people looking like Subbuteo figures, some standing, some knocked over, to show how “powerless and vulnerable we all were in that dreadful economic downturn“.

Parrying the synth driven pop music of the time ‘Nothing But the Same Old Story’ is still a bit special. ‘Hard Station’ was produced by Hugh Murphy. The Hugh Murphy who produced Rafferty’s ‘City to City’. It was the first time Brady had assembled a band in a studio and plugged them all in big time. Lead guitar on this track was accomplished by the late Jimmy Faulkner. In Faulkner’s Irish Times obituary (2008) Brady said that his solo guitar on ‘Nothing but the Same Old Story’, “still thrills me after all this time“. Fran Breen is drumming. ‘Fisherman Blues’ still to come. Drummer of choice for Nanci Griffith not quite yet. The piano playing would be owned by Betsy Cook –  who just happened to be married to Murphy at the time. There did seem to be some conflict between the two during the recording of the album because of Brady’s reluctance to fully embrace synthesizers. But in his autobiography Brady credits Cook’s playing on ‘Nothing But the Same Old Story’ as the spur that made him lay down one of his strongest ever vocal recordings.

I realise I might have crossed features here… classic album, more people should know about and Paperback Riders? But I hope it encourages some to revisit or check out Paul Brady. Wasn’t until 1986 that I managed to see him play live at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh. £4 well spent. ‘Nothing But the Same Old Story’ is definitely six minutes well spent. Bit more time required for the book but worth a read too.

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