Arthur McBride has been successfully recorded by many singers but for most folk music fans, Paul Brady is the artist who provided the definitive version.
The song dates back to at least the 1840s but it had largely been forgotten before Brady resurrected it. He began performing it the 1970s and it immediately created a stir on the folk circuit.
When he performed it clubs, not only the audience but other musicians would sit up and take notice. They were attracted not only by the subtle and melodic way he sang the song, but also the masterful accompaniment he provides on guitar using altered tunings.
The Paul Brady and Andy Irvine album
Brady had already been performing the song for several years when he finally recorded it on the Paul Brady and Andy Irvine album in 1976, just after the two had left Planxty.
At the time it was just another track for Brady but it quickly became the song that defined him for many people. It became his signature tune and he was expected to perform it at every concert. Fans wanted to hear the song and musicians were always curious about the guitar tuning he used to achieve such virtuoso playing.
Eventually, he got a little tired of it and dropped it from his repertoire for several years. Thankfully, he has now restored it.
Brady learnt the song in America
No one is certain where the song Arthur McBride originated but there’s strong evidence to suggest it’s from Donegal .
Paul Brady is from Strabane in County Tyrone which borders Donegal. Ironically, he hadn’t heard the song while living in Ireland and actually learnt it when he went to work in America for two years in 1972.
A friend showed him a copy of an old book called A Heritage of Songs which had been compiled by the singer and collector Carrie Grover and published in Maine. One of the songs listed was Arthur McBride. Brady was taken with it and started to perform it.
It meant Brady had crossed the Atlantic to learn a song that most probably originated only a few miles from his home.
Paul Brady and Bob Dylan
While in the States, Brady came to the attention of major figures in the music world. Bob Dylan later gave him a nod of approval by mentioning him in a list of people he admired when writing the notes for his Biograph album in 1985.
Dylan said: “People get too famous too fast these days and it destroys them. Some guys got it down- Leonard Cohen, Paul Brady, Lou Reed, secret heroes – John Prine, David Allen Coe, Tom Waits. I listen more to that kind of stuff than whatever is popular at the moment. They’re not just witch doctoring up the planet, they don’t set up barriers.”
Dylan’s Arthur McBride was based on Brady’s
Dylan was later to record Arthur McBride in 1992 on his album Good As I Been To You. His version was similar to Brady’s but without the dazzling guitar playing.
In an interview years later, Brady recalled meeting Dylan while on a trip to America. One of the first questions Dylan asked was: “what guitar tuning do you use on Arthur McBride.”
Check the videos on this page featuring three versions of Brady performing Arthur McBride between 1974 and 2010. Each version is different but still brilliant.