The Fureys and Davey Arthur are currently in the middle of their British tour, finishing in Eastleigh on May 20, so it seemed as good a time as any to catch up with Eddie Furey.
Most people will probably think of The Fureys in terms of their hit records such as Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway, Sweet Sixteen, The Red Rose Cafe, Steal Away and many more but their background and pedigree is the stuff of folk legend.
The Furey brothers from Ballyfermot in Dublin learned their trade busking on the streets of Dublin and at football matches and race meetings around Ireland from an early age.
Ted Furey, the fiddle playing father of the boys started the now famous sessions in O’Donoghue’s pub on Dublin’s Baggot Street along with son Finbar and Ronnie Drew.
Finbar won a host of championships for his prowess on the uilleann pipes and Eddie and Finbar won All-Ireland duet championships.
The two boys plus Ted also won the Ulster Senior Trio Championships and in 1966 Eddie and Finbar won the international folk award in Tralee.
So why did they decide to head for Scotland after that. Eddie said: ”We knew there was a good folk club scene in Scotland and England and we decided to try our luck although we were doing well in Ireland with the universities and folk clubs. Joe Heaney, the sean-nos singer from Connemara, was a friend of the family and he had a tour lined up but couldn’t do it as his brother was seriously ill, so he asked Finbar and myself to go.”
In Scotland Eddie was befriended by budding singers Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly (later to become The Humblebums for a while) who took him under their wings.
“In those days none of us had any money. If I had it I spent it on them and if they had it they spent it on me. There wasn’t great money in the folk clubs in those days but it gave you an opportunity to play and there was plenty of folk clubs around the country so you could travel. I loved playing the folk clubs.”
Some of the artists playing the scene around the same time went on to become household names. When Eddie was living in Edinburgh he remembers a young Barbara Dickson coming down from Dunfermline and he talked fondly about The Corries, one of the best folk duos ever to come out of Scotland or anywhere else.
”We did tours and a TV series with The Corries and I remember me and Finbar being in the car with Roy Williamson and Ronnie Brown (they were driving us around) when Roy Williamson was writing the words for Flower of Scotland. He was handing them back to us to read them.
“I still have the second or third actual pressing of the single that Roy signed and sent me. Ewan McColl invited us down to his club – The Singers Club – in London and we were resident there for a while.”
Ewan McColl of course was regarded as something of a God so playing in his club on a regular basis was a big break for the lads and got them into other venues around the country and eventually onto festivals.
Eddie said: ”We wern’t playing any Irish clubs at the time because it was difficult to get into them as it was all sown up by the showbands but we were busy anyway.”
Things changed quite quickly for Eddie and Finbar when they met up with The Clancy Brothers.
Eddie said: “We were getting on the train after doing a folk club in the Midlands as The Clancys were getting off. They persuaded us to stay on and we went to their concert. The next time they came to see us was at a folk club in Birmingham and they asked us to play on an album they were making. This was around the end of 1968. When Tommy Makem left to pursue a solo career the boys asked us to tour with them in America.”
Over the next two and a half years Eddie and Finbar toured all over the USA with The Clancys playing all the big venues but still did their own gigs in between tours.
Eddie said: “In the early ‘70s we did the first Irish Festival in Germany. We brought my father and Bobby Clancy over and were joined by George, Paul and Davey Arthur who were touring in Europe at the time. The jam session on stage at the end of the night went down great.”
“We finally got the band together at the end of the 70’s and started from scratch with new material. We decided we would try different songs so we recorded the song Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway that Gerry Rafferty wrote in the 60’s. We were the first band to use uilleann pipes with vocals, guitars and various other instruments but I don’t think we got the recognition for it”.
Eddie remembers teaching a few guitar chords to a young Dave Stewart (later of The Eurythmics) when Dave joined them on the road for a couple of weeks.
He said: “I didn’t see him for years then I read an article in the Sunday papers about this fellow Dave Stewart who said Eddie Furey taught him the guitar. We got invited to play at his wedding in Normandy. He loved slow airs and the pipes.”
Eddie claims that the pipes were dying out until The Fureys helped revive them. He said: “Young people were not playing them because they were too hard to play but when we started using them in contemporary songs they became more popular.”
So, I ask, is there a chance of Finbar rejoining the band? And although the reply is a no you can hear the brotherly pride in Eddie’s voice as he spoke about Finbar’s success with his music and acting career.
He also speaks warmly of their brother Paul who died from bowel cancer 10 years ago. They always mention him on stage and every year they gather at Paul’s local, The Belgard in Tallagh, for a get together in his memory.
You could talk to Eddie Furey all day. He clearly loves the music and there is no doubt that The Fureys & Davey Arthur are a big influence on people’s perception and appreciation of Irish folk music. Perhaps the full impact will only be appreciated in years to come.
Catch The Fureys and Davey Arthur on this tour at a concert near you – www.thefureys.com for dates.