Interview with Blues singer and harmonica player Paddy Smith. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?
Paddy Smith: – I first realised this was a passion I could make a living out of when I was fifteen and taking part in local talent competitions where I had a bit of success winning the heats. People commented that I had a talent.
I grew up by the mythical river Boyne in a town in Ireland called Navan in the county of Meath, Meath is a county steeped in ancient folklore and Navan is its mail town full of talent.
My interest in music was really ignited when I was fourteen and watching the movie Crossroads with the soundtrack by Ry Cooder, I was blown away by the harmonica playing which I later found out was Sonny Terry. I had picked up a harmonica when I was twelve but it was this movie that really inspired me to explore it for myself. When I was twelve my mother brought me and my younger sister to the Rolling Stones concert at Slane Castle. My mother had been in the Gresham Hotel in Dublin and these two lads started chatting to her and invited her to their gig, she had no idea who they were but it turned out that they were Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger and they gave her the tickets! It was an amazing experience for me at such a young age and it definitely fuelled the fire within me and started me on the adventure. The J. Gelis Band played that day and George Thorogood.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound? What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
PS: – The truth is I live and breathe the harmonica, I start every day first thing with practice, like everything practice is the key. I’d focus on tone, breathing, bending notes, scales in every key. I’m always listening with a view to learn from other harmonica players around me.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
PS: – My Spirituality and my spiritual health are an integral part of my every day existence, it keeps me sober and maintains my peaceful journey after years of turmoil, to play and practice my music is akin to prayer for me. I remind myself of the tough times when I had lost the ability to connect with people, and I try to keep my feet on the ground. Music is how I express so much; gratitude, hope, regret, love and acceptance and music gives me an understanding of my place in the world. All of this is a natural preparation and gives me the stamina to carry through performance and life itself.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022 – 23: Paddy Smith – The Devil’s Backyard, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
PS: – There was so much enjoyment for me in the process of making this album The Devils Backyard; to bring to reality what had been in my head for the last five years was profound. Some of the songs were co-written with Robbie Mc Donell and Danny Tobin. This is a very personal piece of work with songs about my daughter Ciara who died when she was seventeen from Cystic Fibrosis (An Angel All Along), a song about broken relationships (The Devils Backyard), ‘My Girl’ is about a real girl in addiction. The Devils Backyard was formed by my experiences and my journey back from the edge of reality to the place I’m at today, my heart is in this work.
The album was recorded at A.P Studios in the hills overlooking Dublin, the great engineer and studio owner Antimo Kelly put it all together with me and the pair of us truly clicked on a creative level.
I got great joy from the collaborative aspect of our time in the studio, and it was such a valuable experience working with Jason Duffy who drums with The Corrs, John Kearns on the bass who played with Bella Fleck and Stocktons Wing, Danny Tobin on lead guitar who played with Honor Heffernan, James Delaney on keyboard and piano who has so much stunning work behind him with the likes of Van Morrison, Chuck Berry, The Waterboys, Rory Gallagher and so many many more. To have that collective talent with me in the room was hugely inspiring.
Currently I am preparing for a tour and I’m writing songs for my next album.
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
PS: – Quite simply I wanted to work with we best from the Blues Jazz genre. I’ve played with all these musicians before in live setting, we worked well together so it felt like a natural process to gather them with me in the studio. I had full confidence in their ability to bring to life what I had imagined.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
PS: – For me, my soul is where the music comes from. The soul is a well from which we draw but it is also a well that can get coloured by the personal experiences of our lives, we all suffer and rejoice but not all of us can express those feelings, I thank God I’ve been gifted with the ability to voice it through my writing and playing. I suppose the intellect is the channel from the soul to the mouth.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
PS: – Emotion is central to Jazz and Blues and to have that live communication between me and the audience really fuels me. I know it’s a job well done when the audience connect with the emotion and the truth of my songs, this is a communication between listener and performer that is almost sacred, and when they come on the journey with me it is profound.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
PS: – So many memories and too many stories! We were doing a gig in the back of beyond in rural Ireland on New Years eve. First of all the audience had never before experienced The Blues and were calling for a Country song called Wagon Wheel, I felt like we were in that infamous scene from The Blues Brothers and we even did the Johnny Cash hit Folsom Prison Blues and that kept them happy for a bit. We went back to playing blues and they were non too happy, with all the commotion I forgot to ring in the new year and it was ten past midnight when they finally heard Auld Lang Sang. We just about got out with our lives and paid too.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
PS: – Thankfully many young people here really enjoy Jazz and Blues, for those who don’t I’d like them to know that much of what they listen to has its roots in the Blues and in Jazz. Giving them live exposure to Blues and Jazz who be a great way of getting them interested. I’d also recommend them to have a listen to Myles Davis Kinda Blue and the Muddy Waters song Hoochie Coochie Man, that should whet the appetite!!
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
PS: – What I’d like to see change is the fact that not every talented musician gets the chance to make a living from their art. There should be more help out there financially to nurture and foster young talent.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
PS: – At the moment I’m listening to a lot of James Cotton, Dizzie Gillespie, Big Momma Thornton, Paul Butterfield, Big Walter Horton, Charlie Musselwhite and Myles Davis.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
PS: – The message I’d like to bring through my music is that there is hope in all situations, that everybody should nurture their talents regardless of what they do in the arts, and that no obstacle is insurmountable to achieve your goal.
JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself… Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
PS: – Yes your questions have been varied and searching and I’ve really enjoyed answering them. I suppose my question to is have you come across many Jazz Blues artists from Ireland?
JBN: – Yes, of course. Christy Doran, Riley Stone-Lonergan, Clara Rose, Adrien Moignard, Limerick Jazz Quintet, Sid Whelan, Helena Kay, Alex Hitchcock, Tom Barford, Ross Lambert, The Limerick Jazz Festival 2017, John Turville ․․․ more!!! Of course, I can’t say for sure that all of them are from Ireland, I just wrote in the search section and found some that had a connection with Ireland. You can also search on the website and find many people, we have talked to thousands in these 10 years.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan
Note: You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals in Europe and Boston, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here. https://jazzbluesnews.com/2022/11/19/us-eu-jba/