Music

The Fureys bring their music legacy to Belfast

Jenny Lee chats to George Furey about his 47-year musical journey which shows no signs of reaching a final destination

Legends of Irish music and song, The Fureys, make a welcome return to Belfast Waterfront in April

THEY may both be in their 70s, but George and Eddie Furey, the remaining members of legendary folk and traditional band The Fureys, are showing no signs of retiring.

Instead the brothers are hoping that Covid restrictions allow them to get back on the road, with planned UK and Irish tours, including a special showpiece concert at Belfast's Waterfront Hall.

It will mark their first live performance in 24 months and their first Belfast show for three years.

"I definitely will be very nervous. It's like telepathy with me and Eddie as we've been together so long we know what we're doing, so we just need to polish things with the whole band together again," says George, who never considered a career outside music.

"Everyone in our family is a singer," says George, who with brothers Eddie, Finbar and Paul, and Donegal-born singer Davey Arthur, formed the original line-up of the Dublin band.

Finbar quit the band in the early nineties to pursue solo work, and when Paul passed away in 2002, The Fureys became the present-day duo.

Whilst Eddie's son Conner and George's son Georgie have instrumentally accompanied their fathers on various occasions, it's George's second youngest son Anthony who has made music his career.

His band The Young Folk, now renamed Elgin, are often compared to Mumford & Sons, with a definite folk and Irish trad influence to their music.

"They did a few guest appearances with us over the years, including at The Waterfront and in Holland. Then it got to the stage where they were playing bigger venues than us. Most recently they toured Germany," says a proud George.

Fureys classics like I Will Love You, Red Rose Café, Leaving Nancy, The Old Man, Her Father Didn't Like Me Anyway, as well as their interpretations of Ralph McTell's From Clare to Here and Eric Bogle's anti-war song, The Green Fields of France, have become the soundtrack to the lives of fans all over the world.

With a huge back catalogue, I quiz George over the hits which are his favourites to sing.

"It would have to be the ballad The Old Man, which is very emotional. Belfast Mill would be another favourite."

It is adapted from the original song Aragon Mill by Si Kahn, which laments the loss of the mill culture in the Georgia town.

"We met the guy who originally wrote it one time and he said, 'Your version is played more than mine, fair play to you'. That was nice."

When it comes to accounting for The Fureys' enduring success, George points to "just being ourselves" and having "new generations of fans".

"All these kids who come and see us probably listened to their parents or grandparents play or sing our songs," says George.

Their global fan loyalty has continued throughout the Covid pandemic, when George and Eddie provided a weekly message in song on Facebook.

"Brothers always have competitions. I decided to play more acoustic stuff with the guitar and Eddie did the lovely songs we've done over the years.

Experimenting with these songs online has even given George the inspiration to put together a new album.

"The last folk album we made must have been in the early '80s. Some of the songs I did on Facebook are completely new. It will be good to get together with the musicians we've worked with over the years in the studio and put some tracks down."

In terms of career highlights, they are particularly proud of their UK chart success with songs like I Will Love You and When You Were Sweet Sixteen.

Their appearance on Top of the Pops in 1981 was a defining moment for the band as it took Irish traditional music to a completely new audience.

"We were in America on tour when we got a call from Gay Byrne from his radio show telling us he wanted to be the first to congratulate us on making Top of the Pops. We didn't believe him."

Upon confirmation, the band cancelled a couple of forthcoming gigs and made their way by limo to JFK airport.

An early-morning drinking session left them disoriented, and making things worse, their flight home was delayed for six hours because the pilot had broken his big toe.

"I asked, 'Why can't he fly with a broken toe?' and the reply I got was, 'He might steer the wrong way', laughs George who thoroughly enjoyed the TOTP experience, including the after-show party with Kool & The Gang.

The Fureys' indelible musical footprint is rivalled only by their vast collection of personal stories of their musical experiences and friendships, with the likes of Billy Connolly, David Bowie and Tommy Makem.

Many other stories were formed during visits up north. "We used to meet an awful lot of people in the bar at the Europa who were there performing or over for the tv chat shows in Belfast," recalls George.

Joe Dolan, Philomena Begley, Tom O'Connor, Chris Rea, the Chieftains, Liam Clancy and Phil Coulter are just a few of those who have joined The Fureys for their impromptu late night sessions.

They also enjoyed a backstage tour of the Grand Opera House with panto dame John Linehan.

"The Belfast people have great wit. Like John, whenever you ask them something they have the answer straight away before they even think," adds George, who always tries to combine their visit to the city with some busking sessions on the main shopping streets or around the docks.

"We love it. We do it just to meet the people. It's part of who we are, it's what we did years ago when we were kids and busking was the only way we could make a living."

Some of George's fondest memories are of busking their way into football matches at Croke Park.

"We used to climb through the barbed wire at the Railway End with our accordion and start busking. We also busked on the trains - it was our livelihood. It got embarrassing sometimes, when you met the headmaster," he laughs.

:: The Fureys' show on Saturday January 8 at The Waterfront Hall in Belfast has now been rescheduled for Friday April 22. Tickets on sale via waterfront.co.uk, full tour dates at thefureys.com/concerts.

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