He admits to being in show business for 49 years and in that time he has entertained generations across the country and farther beyond. It is not overstating things when one suggests that Brendan Grace has certainly secured his place in the cultural history of our country.
Sitting with Brendan on the morning after his live show in Ennis he was in great form as usual and very keen to chat as we powered our way through a lovely scone and cup of coffee. The meeting had been arranged in the previous months and the idea of chatting to him was for the “Live on Eire” the Irish radio programme on English-speaking Spanish radio station Talk Radio Europe.
The interview started by suggesting that playing in Ennis is pretty much a “homecoming gig” for the legendary entertainer. That’s all Brendan needed to launch into a list of reasons why Co. Clare is such a large part of his life, and has always been. He recalls that the first “country” (outside Dublin) gig he did with the Gingermen was in Cappa, Kilrush back in 1969. This led to regular gigs there in The Galleon and over in Scariff at the Merriman Tavern. His love of, and constant use of Shannon Airport is something that he mentions in his show but he’s only too happy to give the Co.Clare airport a plug in the interview.
The night that Tommy Drennan and the lads in the Monarchs Showband gave him his 21st birthday party in the West County in Ennis after a gig features, as does his memories of stopping at Durty Nellies in Bunratty as the Gingermen made their way back to Dublin after their Clare gigs. Needless to say his love of Killaloe and Ballina (which is on the Tipperary side of the Shannon) is a major talking point.
The interview was not all about Clare though and Brendan spoke so appreciatively about the success he has enjoyed over the past five decades. He talks about his wife Eileen and how she kept things going at home while he was travelling the country in the 1970s and 1980s particularly. His decision to move to America and how he loves the freedom that his anonymity in the States offers is discussed along with his health issues that have slowed him down somewhat in recent years.
Having started his showbiz career as a singer Brendan talks about his first hit, Cushie Butterfield and how when he was invited to sing it on the Late Late Show in the early 1970s he was asked by host Gay Byrne to “do Bottler” and how that opened up a wider audience to the young and enthusiastic entertainer. Until then his comic routine was probably better known to his Dublin audiences and those who came to see his shows as he traveled but the Late Late Show appearance beamed Brenda and Bottler (which he tells us was actually his nickname in school) right into the living rooms of rural Ireland.
His 1975 hit “I’ve got a brand new combine harvester” forms part of the interview as does his opinion of the British group, The Wurzels who had a number 1 in the UK with it the following year. The very clever ditty was written by Grace and was a play on the words of a previous hit for Melanie called I’ve got a brand new pair of roller skates.
A recent RTE television documentary was raised and his re-release of a song called The Dutchman that he had a hit with almost 40 years ago. The re-release version was backed by a choir called “The Forget Me Nots” which is aligned with the Alzheimer’s Society. All of the funds raised through the re-release of the song went to the society.
It is not the first time that Ger Sweeney interviewed Brendan but it was the first time that there was no time constraint on the interview and no specific reason for the chat apart from talking about life, show business and anything else that cropped up. Thanks to Brendan for the generosity he showed with his time, something that he is well known for. The interview is below, as broadcast on Live on Eire on 7th January 2019.