“I’ve been holding a fiddle since I could nearly walk.”
by Gill Sherry
Gráinne Brady was born into a musical family and taught to play the fiddle by her father in their native County Cavan. Since then she has recorded two solo albums (The Road Across The Hills and Newcomer) both featuring self-composed music. Rumour has it, she’s now working on a third album.
“I’m in the process of trying to organise that,” she confirms. “I’ve no solid plans just yet but I’m hoping to record an album in the next year.”
In the meantime, she has plenty of other things to keep her busy. Not least a performance at Fresh Ayr Folk Fest in August.
“I’m looking forward to it, it should be great. It’s a chance for me to test out some new songs for my next album.”
Truth be told, it may be the only chance she gets because full-time employment beckons.
“Until a couple of years ago I was doing music full-time but I decided to go back into education. I’m a teacher so that’s my day job now. I start a new job in August.”
To my surprise, it’s not music she teaches, but maths.
“I actually studied maths at Glasgow Uni. That’s how I ended up over here. I used to teach music but I moved away from that. I wanted to make music more of a hobby.”
Gráinne has lived in Glasgow for the last twelve years. Her accent, however, remains a soft Irish lilt. I ask about her time in Ireland and how her musical journey began.
“I’ve been holding a fiddle since I could nearly walk. It’s quite a musical household. I have four siblings, most of us are pretty involved in the trad scene. My parents both play the fiddle. I did get piano lessons when I was young as well, which I didn’t really keep up. I played guitar as a teenager… and I play guitar a bit more now.”
She continues: “County Cavan is a fairly musical county but the secondary school I went to, there was no music at all. It was down to your parents to push you and pay for lessons. It’s not like here where it’s included in your education. I can’t thank my parents enough.”
That said, it perhaps wasn’t the most conventional childhood.
“My parents dragged us to trad sessions when we were young!” she laughs. “The pub scene in Ireland is a lot more lax than it is here. Most pubs will allow children in until night-time, whereas here is has to be a family-friendly pub.”
Those trad sessions still play an important role in Gráinne’s life, the informal musical gatherings now just as popular in Scotland as they are across the water in Ireland.
“In the last 20 years that scene has exploded in Scotland. There are probably more informal trad sessions in Glasgow now than there were before Covid. There’s way more sessions with a whole array of people running them.”
Playing music with other musicians is something Gráinne enjoys a great deal.
“I like playing music with other people. I wouldn’t be able to do that every night of the week, the same way as I couldn’t do composing as a day job because it’s too much. I kind of like a little bit of everything.”
That includes being able to record music in a studio.
“I always really enjoy being in the studio with a bunch of nice people,” she declares. “I’m always quite sad at the end of the week when it’s finished. It’s like the end of era even though it’s only been for a week. I like good musicians but I like nice people as well. It’s good fun.”
Talking of nice people, she tells me of a collaboration she has in her sights.
“I’m hoping to collaborate with Boo Hewerdine. He’s a well-known English singer/songwriter based in Glasgow. He plays for Eddi Reader quite a lot. Him and Findlay Napier wrote these songwriting workshops called ‘Bird on a Wire’ and I attended one a couple of years ago. It was online during Covid. I kind of formed a friendship with Boo, he’s just lovely. He’s really inspiring and he has time for everyone. I imagine he’s really great to work with so I’d love to work with him in the future.”
In the meantime, she’s been working with cellist, Jessica Kerr, on a project titled Stories of People and Trees.
“It’s a big community project. Jessica asked composers to pick a story and write a piece about it. She’s part of a string quartet and they performed the pieces.”
The concert, which showcased seven new pieces of music, took place on Friday 23rd June in The Hidden Gardens, Glasgow and was free to attend. The intention was to record, celebrate and honour the stories of human connection to trees.
The mention of trees brings to mind the natural world, reminding me of the stunning artwork on the cover of her albums. She confirms both were designed by Scottish artist, Somhairle MacDonald. The scenes, one a seascape, the other mountainous, are a perfect representation of the traditional folk music played so beautifully by Gráinne.
Those attending Fresh Ayr Folk Fest will be lucky enough to hear Gráinne perform some of that music live when she takes to the stage on Saturday 12th August in what she admits may be her last public appearance for a while.
“I’ll do some stuff from my albums with some new stuff,” she confirms.
Gráinne is no stranger to folk festivals. In fact, many of her childhood holidays were based around folk festivals in Ireland. And she cites the Celtic Connections Music Festival as one of her career highlights. This year’s festival was the 30th of its kind and saw artists from all over the world perform at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.
“I really enjoyed my gig at Celtic Connections this year. It was a really nice gig, with nice people. It made me want more of that.”
Fresh Ayr Folk Fest may be her only live performance this summer, but something tells me we’ll be seeing a lot more of Gráinne Brady, maths teacher or not.