Northern Ireland

The Fureys: Stage fright no match for life on the road

Eddie and George Furey busked in Belfast city centre ahead of their most recent NI shows Image copyright The Fureys.com
Image caption Eddie and George Furey busked in Belfast city centre ahead of their most recent NI shows

They have performed for presidents, prime ministers and even a former pope, but folk legends The Fureys said they still "get nervous" before every show.

After more than 40 years in the music business, and hundreds of live shows, stage fright might seem like a strange admission by the Dublin-born brothers.

Just hours before going on stage in Belfast, George and Eddie Furey spoke to the BBC's Sunday News programme.

"It takes us a small bit to get warmed up, like it does every night," George explained.

"Of course we always get nervous, but once you get into it and you know that the audience is on your side, it makes work feel really good and makes you feel good inside.

"It's a special thing, with the audience."

Music in the blood

The band, with its various line-ups, has been entertaining folk fans around Europe and beyond since their formation in 1978.

Image copyright The Fureys.com
Image caption The Fureys on stage in Germany in the late 1970s

The four original Furey brothers - Eddie, George, Paul and Finbar - were born into a family of settled Irish travellers and grew up immersed in traditional music.

Their father was an accomplished fiddle player while their mother played the accordion.

The couple raised their sons in a housing estate in the west Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot, instilling a love and talent for folk music that would enable their children to travel round the world.

"It was a lot of work to get our name established in the early years," George recalled.

"But we love playing music, we always did."

Songs with stories

The Fureys were formed in the middle of the punk era, around the same time that another Dublin-based band, U2, were taking their first steps towards global stardom.

So, apart from their parents, who do The Fureys cite as their early musical influences in late 1970s Ireland?

"Loads of people over the years... The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the Kinks," George said.

"They were great bands, they wrote great songs. There will never be anyone like them again."

Image copyright The Fureys.com
Image caption George and Eddie with The Fureys' long time musical collaborator Davey Arthur in 1978

Eddie agrees that The Beatles were "fantastic" because they wrote "songs about ordinary people, people who went to work every day".

"That boils back down to the song we're doing - Sweet Sixteen, Red Rose Cafe - we're telling stories all night," he added.

Legacy

Some of the Fureys' best known recordings are their unique interpretations of other songwriters' works - such as Eric Bogel's anti-war song The Green Fields of France or Ralph McTell's emigrant ballad From Clare to Here.

The band's website proudly boasts that former British prime minister Tony Blair "has publicly stated his favourite peace song of all time is The Fureys' Green Fields of France".

The record reached number one in Ireland and stayed in the charts for about seven months.

George says it is important that bands put "their own stamp" on songs and develop their own unique sound.

Image copyright The Fureys.com
Image caption The Fureys line-up has changed significantly over the past 40 years

The brothers have passed their family legacy on to their own children, but lament that not enough young people are taking up traditional music.

"There are not many bands taking over the folk music like we did in our generation," George said.

"It's a pity that there's no younger bands coming up, playing the same kind of music, it's very hard to get them these days."

To be continued

The last four decades has seen The Fureys line-up change significantly.

Finbar Furey left the band in 1996 to pursue a successful solo career and their brother Paul died after an illness in 2002.

The brothers' long-time collaborator, Davey Arthur, suffered a stroke in 2014.

But Eddie and George are keeping up the family tradition and have just celebrated their 40th year in the band with a special anniversary tour.

Image caption Eddie and George spoke to Sunday News presenter Jayne McCormack at Belfast's Waterfront

The Fureys played more concerts in 2018 than during any of their previous 39 years on the road.

Asked how long they intend to keep performing, George joked: "I don't know, I didn't get the zimmer frame yet, so I'll wait.

"We don't want to give up yet... we want to make people happy. As long as they are happy to come and see us, we'll be more than happy to play music."

Eddie agreed: "We'll keep it going, as long as people want us to play and sing we'll be around. The Fureys 40 years on - to be continued."

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