Ged Graham, (seen here at the front) an Irish writer, musician, actor, podcaster and producer chats with Kevin Cooper about being a conduit for the music of The Dubliners, being the creator, creative director and producer of Fairytale Of New York, his latest project Pretty Vacant – The Story Of Punk And New Wave, and his extensive 2024 tour of Seven Drunken Nights – The Story Of The Dubliners.

Ged Graham is an Irish writer, musician, actor, podcaster, and producer who was born in Dublin into a musical family.

Amongst his many achievements he wrote and was involved in the very successful Fairytale Of New York show, before he wanted to tell the story of The Dubliners that had spanned a career that lasted fifty years.

Invoking the spirit of Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke, Barney McKenna, John Sheahan and Jim McCann, Graham has announced that Seven Drunken Nights – The Story Of The Dubliners will go on a world tour and with the 2024 UK and Irish leg of the show being the biggest so far, Graham and his fellow artists will be performing nearly three hundred shows and will be on the road for forty-two weeks.

With the charismatic writer and director of Seven Drunken Nights organising the shows rehearsals, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Ged, good morning, how are you?

I’m good thank you very much. How are you today?

I’m doing okay thank you and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No problem, it’s always my pleasure.

And how is life treating you at this moment in time?

(Laughter) I have to be totally honest with you and say that life at this moment in time is mental busy thank God (laughter). We are just about to fly off to Scandinavia because we are about to undertake a tour of Finland, Denmark, and Sweden. So, we are actually in rehearsals at the moment, and the crew are heading off at around 1.00pm today, as it is a four-day journey for us to get to the first show. So as you can well imagine, everything and everybody are in panic station mode at the moment (laughter). I am trying to get everything together but yes, it’s all good.

We must talk about Seven Drunken Nights – The Story Of The Dubliners which as you say is about to go out on tour.

Yes please, we certainly do need to chat about that (laughter).

What was the catalyst behind you writing the show?

Right here we go (laughter). Back in 2012 Barney McKenna the banjo player and original member from The Dubliners sadly passed away. And at that moment they decided to retire the name The Dubliners. I have always been a life-long Dubliners fan; I was born in Dublin although we came over to England when I was ten years old. One of the few things that my father bought with him was his record collection, and one of them was The Dubliners A Drop Of The Hard Stuff. Every Sunday those records were played in our house and as a child growing up into adolescence and becoming a musician, that music was always there as a large part of my life.

I loved listening to The Dubliners as they always had great character, a great persona, and there were so many different types of people in the band; Ronnie Drew with the gravelly voice, a cantankerous folk singer, who was an idealist, and there were just so many different characters that were appealing to a young man growing up, playing music. So, when the opportunity arose, I thought, ‘wouldn’t it make a great show to tell the next generation the story of this fantastic group?’

The Dubliners had a fifty-year career starting back in 1962 which started in the back room of a pub. From there they went onto play the biggest stages in the world and then after fifty years becoming musical royalty, the spiritual godfathers of Irish music, and after all of that, they decided to retire the name. What a legacy of music they have left behind; great stories, great craic, and I just thought that it was too good a story to let fizzle away into obscurity.

The crazy thing was that the song was banned in Ireland in 1967 and despite that, it went straight into the charts at number one (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s right, as you correctly point out, it went straight into the charts at number one. If you can imagine Ireland back in the 1960s it was a very, very conservative country. I would hate to use the word backward, but it really was a very conservative country. Immigration was at huge levels, as it is today and when The Dubliners released Seven Drunken Nights, the powers that be just thought that it was too provocative; they thought that the lyrical content was too risqué so they banned the song although the song had previously been played on the radio when it was sung in the Galic language, in Irish, for many years and it had never been banned then.

But I think that it was the persona of The Dubliners. These five hairy fellas from Dublin, singing about a man who comes home from the pub drunk, and who allegedly sees someone else in bed with his wife. It was a bit too much back in those days so they banned it (laughter). The song then got picked up by Radio Caroline, the pirate radio station, and then in turn by the BBC and they played the hell out of it. Because of that The Dubliners found themselves performing on Top Of The Pops in May 1967. Now, come on, 1967 was the year of Sgt. Pepper, Jimi Hendrix, Flower Power, Psychedelia, and in the midst of all this you had these five hairy buggers from Dublin singing folk songs and not being out of place (laughter).

They were just so cool. If you see any photographs of The Dubliners from back in 1967 and you went to Glastonbury this year, they would not be out of place. They were cool, they were edgy, they were opinionated, and they were not singing about flowers or babbling brooks, they were singing nitty gritty urban folk songs. So, it’s easy to see just why they captured the imagination, certainly for us over there in Ireland. I was in Ireland at the time as we came over to England in 1970, but at the time there were people singing in our own accents (laughter). Nowadays on TV or on the radio you will hear people saying, “Here’s Paolo Nutini singing in a Scottish accent” (laughter) and they think that it’s great and it is.

Whenever I was in bands in Ireland we would sing in a mid-American rock and roll radio accent. However, to me, The Dubliners sounded just like my dad sounded; they sounded like my uncle sounded. Hearing that was like ‘wow’ it really did sound like a bit of us and that is what we were immensely proud of. Now, as I have grown older that is most definitely what I am enormously proud of. It is the language that I heard around me and the vibe of the people around me, which was a really important aspect of the authenticity of The Dubliners.

I personally feel that the old saying ‘a breath of fresh air’ fits The Dubliners perfectly. Would you agree?

Yes, I would, it does, it really does. I really love folk music because it is the music of the people. But I think that sometimes folk music can either be very niche and should belong in a museum, but The Dubliners version of folk music was meant to be performed in the back room of a pub, while you are enjoying yourself, getting involved and immersing yourself in that kind of thing. So, I think that the music side of things really does lend itself to being more real, more honest, and more open. Plus, they are simply great songs (laughter). We have been blessed with a catalogue of songs, so many songs for us to chose from, so much so that sometimes we can never make the decision of which songs we should leave out simply because there are hundreds of songs available to us.

Pretty much every song that you would hear around about St. Patricks Day even if you are Irish or not, probably would have been recorded by The Dubliners at some stage; The Wild Rover, The Black Velvet Band, The Irish Rover, Whiskey In The Jar; they are all Dubliners songs which are known world-wide. As a group with such a body of work, their importance simply cannot be ignored. If it wasn’t for The Dubliners and their success in 1967, you would never have had Thin Lizzy, you wouldn’t have had U2, and you wouldn’t have had any of those breakthrough Irish bands, simply because up until that point Irish music was alright. It was The Bachelors, it was Val Doonican, and it was a bit sanitised, BBCesq variety, but there was no rock and roll because there wasn’t any rock and roll coming out of Ireland.

There were plenty of show bands but up until 1967, which is a key moment in the history of music anyhow, with Sgt. Pepper, Hendrix and all the rest of it, we can always put The Dubliners in there because they changed everything. They made their own music accessible to you, and accessible to the world. You could go on and be a folk singer, like Donavan, the folk boom, and Bob Dylan whose back catalogue is full of songs written by The Clancy Brothers who were an influential Irish folk music group at that time and contemporaries of The Dubliners. So, as you can see, there is a whole theme there. In my opinion, I think that if you were to pinpoint who are the spiritual godfathers of Irish music it would have to be The Dubliners. From the traditional tunes of Barney McKenna and John Sheahan it is such a great back catalogue of material, and it is available to everyone to listen to.

I have to be transparent with you and tell you that, as yet, I have not seen the show.

Really, well all that I can say is that you will have to come along and see it (laughter).

I am planning on coming along to see it when you get up here to Nottingham.

That would be great; the Concert Hall is a great venue. Look, we take ourselves very seriously in that we really do want to put on a great show. Having said that, we really do not take ourselves too seriously (laughter). We are all about having a great time and it is all about the audience. Let me just say that in this day and age there is enough going on in the world that makes you feel a bit down so we just want people to come along to the show, enjoy two hours of great entertainment, great music, sing along, clap along, have a little tear in your eye, learn a little bit about the music that I am deeply passionate about, go back home, listen to the original stuff, and enjoy that great adventure that you find in music.

Whenever you discover an artist, for me it is like opening up Aladdin’s cave. You can go down that rabbit hole and enjoy a great experience. That is exactly how I discovered Bob Dylan and that, for me, has been a lifelong journey. It has been a forty-five-year journey (laughter). I remember a bloke once saying to me, “I wish that I were you now” and I asked, “why’s that” and he said, “at sixteen you are just scratching the surface of The Beatles’” and I thought, ‘what are you talking about you madman’(laughter). That was back when I was sixteen years old, I am sixty-three in a couple of months and I am still on that journey of discovery of music, and I have to say, “wow isn’t this great” (laughter).

Once you get hold of that first album of The Dubliners you are totally engaged, and you are going to look out for different versions of the songs that you have heard. I’m an anorak anyhow, I will admit that I will go looking for different versions of the songs; the ones that were recorded in pubs, and it feels great when you find it and have that passion for the music. Hopefully, that passion comes across on stage and we can be great entertainers, get the people wound-up enjoying it and going away happier than when they first walked through the door.

I totally understand that because I am a massive Tamla Motown fan which I have been collecting for well over fifty years now and I have to say that the discoveries are endless.

That’s another one, Motown. Once you get past the first few hits you start delving deeper and deeper, until you find The Funk Brothers who were moonlighting on other producer’s albums (laughter). Then that leads you to the Northern Soul connection, and before you know it a whole new world has opened up for you, and that is the beauty of music and the beauty of art. If you invest yourself in it, you will have a great time. It really is a lifelong experience, and I have to tell you that I too am a huge Motown fan.

There are a lot of parallels between The Dubliners and Motown in the fact that they were both underground. You could go to The Twisted Wheel in Manchester, and you could see American acts, which you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the same way that you could go to a small folk club and see The Dubliners. Then, when it goes over ground, it suddenly becomes very acceptable on the TV, the music tends to get watered down a little bit, and it’s not as edgy as when it first came out.

To tell you the truth I have always wanted to do a Motown show but the angle that I was always looking at, which I think is a really great story, is from the angle of Dusty Springfield and The Motown Special on Ready, Steady, Go. At that time the acts simply couldn’t sell any tickets, and the whole tour up to that point had been a total disaster. However, because Dusty was such a big Motown fan, she changed the way that Motown was perceived here in the UK. That is the wonderful thing about music, one single moment in time changed the way that we looked at Motown.

I understand that The Dubliners had a few famous fans?

That’s right, yes, they did. One famous fan of theirs was no other than Jimi Hendrix. He absolutely loved Ronnie Drew’s voice. That is the great thing about The Dubliners, they connected with so many different people, and so many different artists over the years. When Luke Kelly passed away, both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr sent wreaths to his funeral. The Dubliners reached further than most people would ever expect. They were held in high regard by so many artists. You thought just how the hell could this happen; they were from totally different worlds, but as they say good music is good music no matter what it is.

Sometimes we underestimate just how good tastes people have. You will have a bloke in a terrace house in Stockport and he will have every Northern Soul record and he will know who played bass on it, know who sang on it, know when and where it was recorded, and you will see him walking down the road and think, ‘he doesn’t know anything’ (laughter). But if you become invested in the music then that is a really great journey to be on.

We have briefly mentioned the Concert Hall here in Nottingham, so I have to ask, have you put your order in for a drop of the black stuff as they don’t usually carry it?

(Laughter) that’s right, I know they don’t keep it but believe it or not, we don’t drink on tour. Don’t get me wrong, we drink on our days off but not on the days when we are doing a show. With the show being a theatrical presentation, it is very disciplined. We have got to move to the right spot-on the stage at the right time, and everything is time coded, so we do treat it very seriously. However, on our days off, now that’s another story (hysterical laughter).

When you originally wrote and put the show together, could you ever envisage that some seven years later the show would be getting stronger and stronger?

No, absolutely not. For me it was a passion project. I just thought, ‘it is a great opportunity, I will have great fun doing it, and if we do manage to get a tour out of it, we will have had a great time’ (laughter). Now, as you say, here we are some seven years later about to embark upon a world tour. I never thought in my whole life that I would say, “we are off on a world tour,” that is something that Status Quo or Stevie Wonder would have done (laughter). Its crackers and I can’t believe it sometimes when I wake up in the morning. All that I am doing is singing The Wild Rover and trying to make people happy and the journey has taken us this far.

I personally could never have done this journey without my passion of The Dubliners, their music and the honesty which we try to present their music with whenever we go out in front of the public. It’s not a bank raid; we are just out there trying to perform the songs in the best way that we can, play it the best way we can, and trying to get people to enjoy themselves in that two hours of release from the madness of this world that we live in, and having a bit of fun along the way. We tell a few stories, and just have a wonderful time.

What’s that old saying, ‘it’s a hard life but someone has to do it’ (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s what they reckon it is. It’s not easy but I get up in the morning and think, ‘hold on a minute this really is the stuff of dreams’ (laughter). I remember seeing Stardust the David Essex film back in 1972 and I can never forget the poster. It had a strap line on it which read, ‘show me a boy who has never wanted to be a rock star and I will show you a liar’ (laughter). I can remember seeing that when I was eleven thinking, ‘yes, that is just what I want to do. I want to be a rock star, I want to be on a stage, and travel the world,’ (laughter). Living in a terraced house in Manchester at eleven, where your future was going to the local factory, or the local wire works; that was the stuff of nonsense, but that was back in 1972.

Now, here we are in 2024 and actually the little lad who was living in a terraced house, is finally getting to do that simply because he liked music (laughter). It really is mental, but I am grateful for every moment as I’m getting up and having a go at it. I would never have had this opportunity unless I loved The Dubliners. And I wouldn’t have loved The Dubliners if my dad hadn’t have put that record under his arm when we came over to England and played it every Sunday in the house. My mum and dad had the record player on a Sunday, whilst me and my sister had control of the record player during the week. There were only two channels on the telly so there was nothing to watch.

So we had the record player and we could play our music through the week, but then on a Sunday dad would put on The Dubliners records, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, Johnny Cash, George Jones, a little later on The Furys, and my sister and I would be saying, “dad, this is rubbish, could you not put on Slade or David Bowie” (laughter). Little did I know but I was absorbing it. When the time was right, I just knew it, I knew the music and it was like, ‘wow’ (laughter). I am just blessed for having those Sunday mornings, and now whenever I hear a Johnny Cash record it’s like, ‘wow I know those’ (laughter). It’s great; it really is great music to listen to. Right, I will get off my soap box now but as you have no doubt gathered, I could talk about music all day long (laughter).

They always say that you should never believe your own publicity but some of the reviews that the show is getting are simply out of this world.

Yes, they are, they really are. I totally agree that you should never take notice of what people are saying about what it is that you are doing but for that moment when you walk out onto the stage, you are the king. There is absolutely no doubt about that. However, when you are loading the van in the rain at the end of the show or you are up at six o’clock in the morning in order to drive to the next venue, it really is not all that (laughter). But in a weird sort of way, that’s the bit that I like. I like the bit when I get to do the normal things that you would do as a touring musician. For me, the icing on the cake is every night when you go out and you get the applause, and you get some great reviews, but really that applause and those reviews are for the music, it not for me or the rest of the group, it’s for the music, that’s what they are applauding.

We are simply a conduit that makes the music happen. We don’t kid ourselves; we know that it is The Dubliners legacy that luckily, we have been allowed to carry on and I have to say that it really is great. We can play The Dominion Theatre in the West End, one of the biggest theatres in the world, and there will be people on their feet cheering, and half an hour later you can’t get to the bar because they don’t even recognise you once you get in there trying to get a pint afterwards (laughter). You can’t even jump the queue in front of them, that’s how famous you are (laughter). In the moment it’s great, but the reality is, we are just that conduit to bring that music to the audiences who pay their ticket money to come and listen. They don’t come to see me; they wouldn’t even know who I was. They simply come to listen to the music, the story and that is what it is all about.

The sad part in all of this must be that the boys never got to see the show. Would you agree with that?

Yes, I would I really would agree with you on that point. I have always wondered what they would have made of it; what would they make of it all? Luke’s (Kelly) brother Paddy has actually been to see the show several times and he is very complimentary about the show. He feels that we have got it right, the balance between the energy of the music, telling the story and not telling the story in a saccharine way, and not being a tribute to The Dubliners in a look-a-like or sound-a-like sort of way but having an honest approach to the music. Paddy said that his brother would have been incredibly happy with how we have portrayed the music of The Dubliners whilst keeping the integrity of the band and their music.

I did meet Ronnie (Drew) and Barney (McKenna) on several occasions, and I have to say that they were very grumpy lads once they had had a drink (laughter). I feel that we have been lucky to take that music and pass it on to another generation. You can listen to the records, and they will encourage people to listen to the music, but you can’t really absorb it unless you hear it live. You have got to hear it in the moment, and then it comes alive, and it is at that point that you will say, “ah right, I finally get it”. And let me say, at that point, if you have a pint in your hand that’s good (laughter) because the music always sounds better if you have got a pint in your hand (laughter).

I have been looking at your tour itinerary for 2024, and it includes 300 shows and 42 weeks out on the road. I’m knackered just thinking about that. Are you looking forward to that?

(Laughter) I’m with you on that; I’m knackered just thinking about it myself (laughter). To be totally honest with you, I never look at the bigger picture; I only ever look a week ahead. Just a week ahead will do for me. We do one week, we try to have a good week, and then we will do the next week, and before you know it you are somewhere near to the last show (laughter). The trouble is that I still think that I am eighteen years old but if I thought about it too much I would be thinking, ‘just where did the last fifty years go because I don’t know where it’s gone’ (laughter). Whenever I wake up in the morning, I put my elbows out and if they don’t touch wood, then the day is a bonus (laughter).

I can’t speak to you without mentioning another of your shows, A Fairytale Of New York of which you are the creator, creative director and producer. With eighty-one dates during November and December, just how do you fit everything in (laughter).

I have to tell you; I ask myself that very same question many times a day (laughter). We go back into rehearsals the first week of September, and then we open up on the thirty-first of October running straight through until the twenty-third of December. We have already started the pre-production on that which is another busy project that I am working on. I am really looking forward to getting that back out on the road.

What next for Ged Graham?

(Laughter) I have another project in the pipeline which hopefully will start touring in 2025. It’s called at the moment at least, Pretty Vacant – The Story Of Punk And New Wave. Back in 1977 I was sixteen years old, and 1997 was the year that music exploded with Punk music. I have to say that I was just the right age, if there ever was a perfect age. If I had been sixteen in 1963 when The Beatles hit, then you were the perfect age. You could embrace the whole of the movement. I was just lucky enough to be there when all of these bands were touring and playing. I was having great fun and now the people who would like to come along and see a show, like Pretty Vacant are all my age (laughter).

At sixty-two you don’t want to be in a nightclub, watching a band on stage. You want to be sat down with a glass of wine or an £8 bottle of beer in a theatre (laughter). The old knees just don’t want to do the standing up gigs anymore, and there are lots of people like myself so I thought it’s a great musical genre, and when you look at it it’s not as noisy and reckless as you first think. There is a lot of depth to the music, there is a lot of melody to the music, it’s a fashion thing, it was a whole explosion of a cultural revolution and I think that it is a story worth telling. So, we are going to have a go at telling that story in January, February and March in 2025.

Will you bring the show to Nottingham which as you know is the home of the Never Mind The Bollocks Obscene Publications Act 1959 trial?

Fingers crossed; we will be trying to get the show into the Royal Concert Hall but getting a show into the Concert Hall on a first tour is I have to say almost impossible. If we get complimentary reviews, and we do well then it is most definitely on our list of places that we want to visit especially with the part that the city played in the trial.

(Laughter) it’s funny that you mention the trial being held here in Nottingham because on Thursday 24th November 1977 I was a fresh-faced eighteen-year-old policeman who was instructed to get myself over to the Nottingham Magistrates Court in order to look after Richard Branson and the Sex Pistols’ front man, one Johnny Rotten. As I recall John was removed from the building for lighting up a cigarette. (laughter).

Oh man, I would love to talk to you about that at another time, that really is an amazing story, and I would love to pick your brains and get some more information from you.

I hear that you are currently working on something that is; shall we say, a little different to your usual productions?

Oh really, just who have you been talking to (laughter). I have got a children’s theatre project that I want to put together that I am currently working on called Jungle Bees, which is all about the bees at the end of the garden which are pollinating all of the flowers. It’s an educational thing. My daughter is a Year One teacher, so this is something that I can do with her as well and it keeps the whole thing going. That is currently on the backburner but yes, we are having a great time.

On a sad note, on Thursday 30th November 2023 we lost Shane MacGowan, was he a troubled soul or did he have the best time ever?

I personally feel that we are all troubled souls, and I don’t think that you can produce that kind of lyric writing if you are not a very deep person, but he had a great time doing it. He really did have a wonderful time doing it (laughter). There are certain lyric lines in Shane’s songs that simply speak to you, for example in A Pair Of Brown Eyes he sings, “While Ray and Philomena sang of my elusive dreams I saw the streams, the rolling hills where his brown eyes were waiting” going back then to when my dad would play his records, his Philomena Begley and Ray Lynam records and they covered a Johnny Cash record called A Thing Called Love.

That appeared in the lyric line, and I noticed it straight away. Shane was not being clever for the sake of being clever; it was his ability to write lyrics that would mean something to someone. If you get it, then you get it but if you don’t then it is still a great lyric line. If you get it you go ‘wow’ and that is just one line (laughter). They really are pretty profound lyrics. It is a great loss, but what angers me is the amount of people who are now jumping on the bandwagon, idolising Shane, which to me is a little bit in bad taste because why didn’t they do a little bit more of that while he was alive. Perhaps then they would be seen with a little more integrity.

However, at the moment everyone wants to be seen as his friend. It’s exactly the same with Sinéad O’Connor, everybody is now wanting to say how great she was. But when she was going through her troubled times no one really wanted to know her or be associated with her. When any artist is on top of their game then everyone wants to be their friend. But when they are struggling, everybody ignores them and that is exactly the time that you need them to give you a little bit of love. So, in order to answer your question, yes I think that Shane was a troubled soul but we all are at times especially if you artistically inclined, but I have to say that he had a great time doing it. Some of the best times that I have ever had, are the times that I can’t remember (laughter).

What was the first record that you bought?

Oh, am I allowed to say it (laughter). It was Leader Of The Gang by Gary Glitter.

Don’t worry, the BBC will most probably edit that bit out (laughter).

(Laughter) you are most probably right; they most probably will edit that bit out. In all honesty that was the very first record that I bought with my own money.

What annoys me is yes, he is a paedophile, yes you wouldn’t want him living next door to you but what you have to remember is that he was one of the biggest artists of the 1970s so why do the powers that be try to eradicate Gary Glitter from history?

That’s right, the BBC in their wisdom are rewriting history. Gary Glitter’s records were produced by a guy called Mike Leander who was a phenomenal record producer, and he actually did the string arrangements on She’s Leaving Home on the Sgt. Pepper album. So, the big question is do you wipe everything away, I simply do not know. But anyway, that was the very first record that I bought.

Who did you first see performing live?

Right, this is a big one (laughter). It was on 21st June 1975 and I went with my cousins to London. You have to remember that I was living in Manchester so going down to London was like going to the moon, and we went to see Elton John, at Wembley Stadium on his Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy tour. The support acts were Stackridge, Rufus, Joe Walsh, The Eagles and The Beach Boys. Not too shabby a line up would you say (laughter). All for the princely sum of £3.50 (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

The singer songwriter Jamie Lawson’s song Wasn’t Expecting That. When I heard that it totally caught me unawares. It took my breath away. It is one of those songs that make you think.

On that note let me thank you for once again taking the time to speak to me today, Ged, it’s been absolutely fantastic. We will have to talk about Northern Soul another day.

(Laughter) we most certainly will. Thank you Kevin, it’s been a great conversation. Thank you for taking the time to put the interview together, it really is much appreciated. I look forward to seeing you when we get up there to Nottingham. If you can’t make it to Nottingham, pop over to Birmingham as there is a pub next door to the theatre who I know sell Guinness (laughter).

Seven Drunken Nights will be performing at De Montfort Hall Leicester on 24th May and the Royal Concert Hall Nottingham on 1st June 2024