The Bree Harris Band are one of the most exciting live bands playing the Dublin circuit today, thanks in part to guitarist, Paul Fairclough.
Their no-frills guitar ‘n’ bass ‘n’ drums lineup conjures up an earthy mix of blues, roots, folk and rock, topped off with Bree’s soulful roar. Bree’s vocals and Paul’s instrumental virtuosity are the two constants in a constantly evolving group.
Now a married couple, the two have been performing together in various bands since the late ‘70s. I spoke to Paul to find out more about this remarkable musical partnership.
Bree Harris was gigging around America originally?
Originally yeah – I won’t tell you when! She was actually doing traditional Irish in the States. I met her when she came back here, in a band called the Boulder Band. We started doing the country blues, then we went on to kind of funky stuff, and then we ended up back on the blues again. And then the Trinkets album [released under the name “Bríd Harris”] was all original stuff, except for one track on it which is a Radiohead thing we do, “Street Spirit”.
Oh yeah, I’ve heard that.
She’ll pick some songs like that that suit her, and we kind of do our own thing on them, you know? She gets into it because she loves the lyrics of that song.
And you’re into Bob Dylan as well.
Yeah, all that stuff. Any songs that have stories, basically.
I noticed there were different influences feeding in. Like Bree’s got a very Janis Joplin energy about her, there’s definitely an influence there.
There is that, but I wouldn’t put Janis Joplin too much as her influence. She was listening to Bonnie Raitt and people like that. When I met Breda [Bree’s actual name] she had a very country voice. It wasn’t as raunchy as it is now, she sang a lot of straight country stuff. Then there was a lot of other influences came in on her, more gutsy black singers.
The rest of the band seem very rootsy, bluesy to me. Then you bring in this kind of hard rock angle.
My influences would be Deep Purple…of course everybody was influenced by Hendrix. And Clapton as well. I knew Gary Moore, I actually played drums with him when I was about 14, he was about 18 or 19. Phillo [Lynott] was trying to get into the band then. They used to do gigs in Bray, they’d pay me a fiver to do the fifteen-minute break. Do a drum solo and then the band would come back on.
You and Bree have been together for a long, long time. It must be a fantastic musical chemistry there. When you first met, did you imagine you’d still be playing with her this far down the line?
When I first heard her I went, ‘Yeah’. I was with a band, it was a showband called The Cotton Mill Boys. They won Opportunity Knocks, which is like The X Factor, six times. The money was good, and it was six nights a week. But then I met Breda, and I just couldn’t believe the voice. So that was it. I gave my notice in to the others: ‘Sorry lads, I’m off.’
I don’t blame you!
I just liked what I heard. ‘I want to work with her,’ you know? Ended up marrying her then, 30 years later. We got married on the beach in San Diego.
You used to have a lot of original songs, apparently? You still play a couple of them don’t you?
We do play a few of them.
So who would have written those?
Well Breda wrote some, I wrote some. Some are both of us. I had a studio in my old house, out the back. I’d come up with an idea, and Breda would come in and say ‘What’s that?’ ‘Just something I’m working on.’ ‘I have lyrics for that.’
Have you done any albums?
Well, we did the Trinkets album. It was recorded on an 8-track reel-to-reel. I play bass, drums, guitar and keyboard. What I did it for was not to be an album – it was to be a basis to put a band together to work the songs. A load of people were coming in and out listening to it: ‘You should put that on an album.’ So we did.
Say you didn’t know Bree or any of the other guys you’ve played with, and you could have your dream lineup. What would that lineup be?
It’d be Louis Armstrong, because when I was 10, I played a tune with him. The old man was playing in a place called the Metropole, and Louis Armstrong was playing that night. I hid in the bass drum in the back of the car. My dad got into town, and he went to the back, took the drum: ‘What!’ He brought me to the dressing room: ‘You stay there.’ I snuck off out, I mean they couldn’t keep me away from the kit. The rehearsal was getting ready, Louis walks out on the stage, and the drummer goes to move me away, and Louis says ‘Leave the kid!’ So the band started playing, and I was behind the kit, so of course we played. And Louis came over and he patted me on the head: ‘You’ll make it someday! Not bad, kid!’
Do you have any good road stories with the Bree Harris Band?
She’d kill me if I told you some of them! There was some madness alright. We used to play the Sportsman’s Inn, it held about 400-500 people at the time. And everybody’d pile into the van to come back to the party at our place. And we used to get stopped, ‘cause people would be moving around in the back, you know? One of the guitarists was driving a Renault 4L – there was feet sticking out the window, they were so stuffed in. And the cop stopped us again. He went over to the car, and I mean it was on its knees with people. And the guy got out of the car and leaned on it, and the front wing fell off. The cop just started crying, ‘Why don’t I get another duty?! Please just put that somewhere!’ So he picked up the wing and threw it over the hedge!
And how do you get on with the current lineup? Do you hang out outside the playing, or is it more just a professional thing?
It’s just gigs. The bass player lives Northside, and the drummer lives in West Side, so you wouldn’t be hanging out.
But you get on alright?
Oh yeah, we get on fine. Everybody loves the band. We all really enjoy it, and the numbers are never the same. What happens is if someone misses a bit, we change the song. If Breda does something different, be ready for it to be different, and go with it. Just go with the flow. Have fun. As I said to Breda, “You can’t make any mistakes in this band!”
The Bree Harris Band plays JJ Smyth’s in Aungier Street on Friday the 7th of March. Trinkets is available for download on iTunes and Amazon. For more information on the band and dates of future gigs, check out their website.
All images courtesy Bree Harris Band