THE Durban-based Irish group, the ever popular Blarney Brothers, are commemorating 40 years with a bang around St Patrick’s Day in Durban and Joburg.
More than just a music group, the Blarney Brothers are an entrenched and extended family for many fans.
As band leader Paul McIlroy explains, over the years they’ve played to a few generations of families. “When we started the band in the ’70s we saw an opening (in the market) and thought we can play the pubs. It grew from playing in pubs to town halls and marquees and more…
“These days people come along more for the nostalgia. People who used to come to see us back in the early ’70s still come to our shows today… some of them met their wives at our shows and they had children and brought their children to our shows… So we have been playing to two and three generations over the years.”
The Blarney Brothers – Paul and Damien McIlroy, and Tony Fisher – have performed across the country and the world – from the ’70s at venues like Durban’s Astra Hotel in Russell Street, the Elizabeth Hotel in Cape Town, the then Athlone Hotel (now the Riverside Hotel) in Durban – which is also where the group were based for 13 years.
Since the early ’90s they have toured the UK, Singapore, Shanghai, Macau, Taiwan, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Australia. A highlight was the seven-part television documentary series, You Don’t Have To Be Irish, commissioned by SABC, which saw the group filming in Ireland for a month.
“We came over from Northern Ireland, which at the time was going through a lot of trouble. We were playing in the band business back there. We saw the nice weather and sunshine in South Africa and really didn’t want to go back home,” he laughed, “… we like being a band and hoped to continue here.”
McIlroy says much has changed in entertainment, largely due to dwindling funds for live bands. “Back in 74 most of the bands were four to six piece; but it’s become hard to pay for all the band members and get accommodation and so on. So bands today are getting smaller and smaller. Also over the years venues have stopped having cover charges, so we see a lot of one- and two-man bands playing to backing tracks.”
But they don’t intend to stop any time soon. “We’ve travelled almost every road in the country. Today we’re mostly semi-retired but we’ll keep going as long as people want to hear us… it’s fun for us to be on stage. Someone once said enjoy what you’re doing and you never have to work a day in your life. Music will always be in our blood.”