Paul Brady: Collaboration with New Yorker Theo Katzman is keeping me young

Jenny Lee chats to singer songwriters Paul Brady and Theo Katzman about their unlikely collaboration that highlights the global and ageless nature of music

Singer-songwriters Paul Brady and Theo Katzman take their Souls in Sync Tour to Belfast next week
Singer-songwriters Paul Brady and Theo Katzman take their Souls in Sync Tour to Belfast next week

ON THE surface it may appear that Paul Brady, one of Ireland's most respected songwriters, has nothing new to learn when it comes to music. He has enjoyed success with groundbreaking traditional group Planxty as well as solo pop and rock albums and his songs have been covered by the likes of Tina Turner and Bob Dylan. But a collaboration with an American musician 40 years his junior has breathed new life into the Co Tyrone musician.

The catalyst for the latest chapter in Brady’s life was seeing American funk band Vulfpeck play live in Whelan's bar in Dublin last year. It was the vocals of their 33-year-old lead singer Theo Katzman that captured the Strabane man's attention and has led to them teaming up for an Irish tour this month.

"To hear so many great classy grown-up pop songs [performed] with such musicianship was a rarity. As a singer he could do anything with his voice, from a soft emotion-laden whisper to a scream that made me think of another hero of mine, Prince. The band was outrageously good and the quality and variety of Theo’s songs was inspirational to me," Brady says.

An after party at the home of his manager John Munnis's son, Dara, a world-renowned photographer, cemented their relationship as they traded songs back and forth late into the night and ultimately led to the pair's Souls in Sync tour this month

"2019 was a year I wanted to do something totally new. I thought about the possibility of us collaborating and, in spite of our obvious differences, geographical and generational, I decided to ask him how he’d feel about doing some shows together," says Brady.

"What a thrill to discover that’s what he wanted too. With a band Theo will bring together, featuring Joe Dart (bass), Lee Pardini (keys) and Louis Cato (drums). I am gearing up to starting a whole new and exciting phase of my musical journey."

Their tour kicks off tonight in Cork, before visiting Dublin, Limerick and Belfast’s Ulster Hall on June 5. Both singers will perform together throughout the performances, with an even 50-50 split of each other’s songs. However, Brady says that most of his “family favourites” won’t be played.

“When I was first talking to Theo about doing something together I asked him to send me a list off his favourites of mine that he thought would work for us together and I was very surprised by the choices. There were songs like Sea of Love, Let it Happen and Don’t Start Knocking, which I don’t really perform very often.

“His selection made me realise I had cut out a lot of songs that I’d really loved and that expressed a big part of me.”

Katzman, who has two studio albums of his own, Romance Without Finance and Heartbreak Hits (2017), was introduced to Brady’s music at a young age by his good friend Tyler Duncan, the Michigan-based producer/musician and the first American to win the All-Ireland Championship on uilleann pipes and bodhran.

“The first time I heard Paul’s solo album, Welcome Here Kind Stranger. I was completely floored, captured, and transfixed by his voice and emotion. It really hit me, and for years I couldn’t listen to that album without crying. I began digging through his entire catalogue, and he quickly became one of my favourite artists of all time. You could hear his spirit on all his records,” he enthuses.

He admits working with Brady is “a dream come true” and describes their collaborations as “a meeting of rock and soulful folk". Both songwriters would love to work together more in the future, with the possibility of an American tour on the cards.

“We have so much respect for each other and singing together feels so natural. Paul has done so much writing and collaborated with the likes of Carol King and John Prine and it would be great to write together in the future,” adds Katzman, who is also a huge fan of Booker Prize winning author Anna Burns and is looking forward to performing in Northern Ireland for the first time.

While Brady admits he wouldn’t have minded writing with Prince or Paul McCartney, he adds “I don’t loose any sleep over it”, and is instead relishing his new collaboration, which is “keeping him young”.

“I'm sure my fans are scratching their head over this collaboration with Theo and a lot of his fans are wondering what he’s doing with this oul fella?" he laughs. "It was a surprise to me too and it’s taken us both out of their comfort zones in a challenging way, which is what I wanted to do at this point my career.”

Brady recognises a lot of his younger self in New Yorker Katzman. “A lot of people think I started out with traditional music, but when I was studying in Dublin in the 60s I was in a soul and r’n’b band, doing covers of Ray Charles and playing a Hammond organ. What turns me on about Theo is that he’s into as many different types of music as I was.

“There is a huge colour to all the songs he writes because although they are pop songs, they are informed by jazz, blues, country and rock. I don't often hear music now from 20 and 30-somethings that really excites me but he's just a very intelligent writer,” adds Brady, who went to St Columb's College in Derry and later UCD. He says his favourite songs of Katzman’s are Breaking Up Together and Crappy Love Song.

Now a proud grandfather of five, Brady feels for musicians starting out in today in the music business.

“The music world is almost like it was back in the early 60s when if you were a musician living in Ireland you had to move to London or America to succeed. Then, of course, things started to happen in Ireland with the likes of Rory Gallagher, Boomtown Rats and U2.

“But it's almost gone full circle now. The record business has collapsed and the only way younger musicians have of making a living nowadays is playing live. Yet this generation don’t get as excited about seeing or supporting their own peer group of musicians in the same way my generation did.”

Next up for Brady with the Irish Liverpool Feis next month, followed by some solo gigs in Ireland in the autumn, including Newry City Music Festival.

:: Paul Brady and Theo Katzman brings their Souls in Sync tour to Belfast’s Ulster Hall on Wednesday June 5. For full tour details and tickets visit aikenpromotions.com