A pioneer of the Irish sound, Finbar Furey talks life, legacy and the continued love of songwriting ahead of his long-awaited Newfoundland return
A living legend of Irish traditional music, Finbar Furey returns to Newfoundland and Labrador for the first time in nearly three decades.
A former member of influential family band The Fureys and backing member of The Clancy Brothers, Finbar Furey has pioneered the Irish sound for almost 50 years. From penning The Lonesome Boatman to singing New York Girls in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Furey has done it all and has a devoted following ahead of his Newfoundland return.
“The last time I was out there was with my brothers years ago when we had the big band and we toured from one length of Canada to the other,” Furey shared from his home in Ireland.
“You know we actually finished up at St. John’s, which was terrific. We had a great time playing music.
“I remember the day of the concert they brought us to one of these beautiful houses outside St. John’s. We just sat outside and ate lobster tails and dipped it in butter, drank beer with the lads and played a bit of music with them. After the concert I remember we went to a little Irish pub which was sort of a good bit aways from the hotel and we had a few drinks there till all hours of the morning talking about music again. A fellow said to me would you like a drink? I said I’d like a beer. He says I asked you would you like a drink? And I said to me brothers, we’re home.”
Pride that burns deep
There’s a pride in watching the development and maturation of a medium that one has honed and developed for decades, a pride that burns deep in Furey.
“It’s fantastic to listen to all the new songwriters coming up and kids coming up writing new music in the same vein,” he explains. “The music has doubled over tenfold since we were kids. Irish music is in great hands at the moment all over the world. These young kids understand our culture.”
Furey recalls his upbringing in the musical culture and sound of Ireland. He describes his roots, and what he calls ‘a simple and beautiful life.’
“We were very lucky to be born in that area for the music you know, because it was like it was spread out. It was like a family tree and it was just amazing. When I listen to it today it’s still spreading its wings.
“I think one of the nicest things my father said one time about Irish music, I wrote the Lonesome Boatman and he said to me one day you wrote the Lonesome Boatman. I said Yeah. He said you don’t own it now. He said it goes into a well of heritage you know, the kids who leave Ireland can take a cup of the heritage with them and it’s lovely and the heritage grew out of this folk music and the kids in Ireland got to know their heritage through the folk music.”
Don’t Stop This Now
Furey’s most recent album, the aptly titled Don’t Stop This Now, was inspired by a serious health scare for the now 72 year old singer-songwriter.
“I just can’t stop writing you know? If I’m not writing then I’m thinking about it. I’ve more melodies than I can a handle. I have more melodies than words,” he jokes, explaining the genesis of his critically acclaimed 2018 release.
“After I had a heart attack I really got down to brass tacks. So it’s just nice to move on and I know the songs, I needed to do them and I needed to sing and I need to express myself through poetry. I think that was a big part of me that was fighting through the years when I was mostly playing pipes and flute back with my brothers and eventually singing the odd song you know with the boys and then eventually I was singing most of the hits anyway. I just didn’t have the courage at the time to put these songs out there.”
For fans in St. John’s and Carboenar, the opportunity to witness a craftsman of the very sound Newfoundland traditional music was founded on is appointment viewing. For Furey, there is a desire and love of the performance and of the continued craft that has guided his entire life.
“I want to write songs, I want to keep putting stuff out there,” he says. “I think you keep your heart alive too. I love writing songs about what’s happening now.”
For tickets to Finbar Furey at the Holy Heart Theatre in St. John’s on May 13th and the Princess Sheila NaGeira Theatre in Carbonear visit finbarfurey.com and the respective box offices.