From the hauntingly beautiful Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears, to the spiritually uplifting You Raise Me Up, Brendan Graham is known around the world as the Irish songwriting master. As we approach 25 years since his Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids conquered Europe, the Tipperary native shares memories from his extraordinary life and music career with Shea Tomkins
Seeing Red Hurley wash his car outside the front door of his south Dublin home might seem like an unusual place to begin a story, but that fortuitous sighting was the catalyst that sparked Brendan Graham’s epic Eurovision Song Contest adventure.
What followed was a rollercoaster musical journey that would take the Tipperary-born songwriter to an eventual brace of Eurovision titles, including the unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids triumph of 1994, all of twenty-five years ago, this month.
“In 1972, after living in Australia for almost five years, my family and I moved back to Ireland,’’ recalls Brendan, as we meet in a hotel lobby on a fresh spring morning, just a stone’s throw from the Aviva Stadium.
“My parents were living in Ballinasloe at the time. One evening, while up the town, the Eurovision Song Contest was showing on a television in the window of a local electrical shop. I remember thinking that maybe, one day I could write a song to represent Ireland at Eurovision! Shortly afterwards, I heard Red Hurley singing, and I was blown away by his voice. I decided, rather ambitiously, that the song I was going to write would be one for Red. The only problem was that I didn’t know Red or, how to get in touch with him.
“I had a job in Dublin with a company called Suedes of Ireland, and was giving this man I worked with a lift home when he pointed and said to me ‘There’s Red Hurley washing his car!’ as we passed Red’s house. When I had my song written, I knocked down to Red’s door in absolute naivety, not realising that he was probably besieged by wannabe songwriters.
“Very graciously he invited me in. I played him When on his piano. A few days later, I received a demo that Red had made of the song. It sounded great with him singing it, so I entered it for the 1976 National Song Contest, got the telegram from RTE, and, with Red putting in a powerhouse performance, it won.
“From there we went to Eurovision in The Hague. But When wasn’t a great song; it had no real hook and Red did a lot more for the song than the song did for him. We came tenth.
“Red still sings it but, I had learned something – you have to have good hooks for songs to work. I arrived back in Dublin the next day, dropped my case in the hall and went straight to the piano to start another song!”