BILLY SUTER chats to Blarney Brothers member DAMIEN MCILROY, father of funnyman Aaron McIlroy, about his group’s new show in Durban, his plans, being on an Irish postage stamp and the horror of being operated on while not fully anaesthetised. The Blarneys – also featuring Paul McIlroy and Tony Fisher – will perform at the Umbilo Rhumbelow Theatre’s temporary venue, the St Cyprians Hall, at 603 Umbilo Road, at 8pm on February 2 and 3, and 2pm and 6.30pm on February 4. The usual venue, in Umbilo’s Cunningham Road, is undergoing roof repairs. Tickets cost R150 each and booking is by phoning Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE TO ENCOURAGE THEM TO ATTEND THE BLARNEY BROTHERS SHOW AT THE RHUMBELOW THEATRE?
We always have a party and the Rhumbelow will be a blast, with all the old Irish favourites, action numbers and any requests we get from the patrons.
WHERE, WHEN AND WHY DID THE BLARNEY BROTHERS START? AND WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE REASON FOR THE GROUP’S LONGEVITY?
We started out in 1974 in Johannesburg, then moved to Durban and never looked back. We do such a variety of music with a big variety of instruments that people don’t get bored, and keep coming back.
HOW MANY SHOWS DO YOU ESTIMATE THE GROUP HAS PERFORMED OVER THE DECADES – AND IS THERE PERHAPS ANY ONE SHOW THAT IS MEMORABLE FOR YOU (AND WHY)?
After 44 years it’s impossible to count! We have had thousands of great shows – and every night at our old ‘home’, The Barn at Durban North’s Athlone Hotel, was memorable.
HOW HAS MEMBERSHIP CHANGED OVER THE YEARS AND WHAT IS THE CURRENT LINE-UP?
Our line-up is exactly the same as when we started. Paul and I are brothers, and Tony Fisher and Paul had played together in Ireland before coming to South Africa, when I joined. Paul plays piano, banjo and mandolin; Tony plays bass, fiddle and pennywhistle; and I play guitar.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST EMBARRASSING OR AMUSING MOMENT YOU HAVE HAD WITH THE BLARNEY BROTHERS?
Getting dates mixed up is often embarrassing. I’ve had the band already at a function and my wife getting a call from Paul to see where I was… when I was away for a walk in the hills. She set off to find me as I thought we were playing the following night. I had to drive like a mad man from Bushman’s Nek to Hillcrest and make a late appearance. This was only a few months ago.
HOW MANY RECORDS DID THE TRIO MAKE, AND HOW MANY TV SHOWS?
The TV series, You Don’t Have to be Irish, which we made in Ireland, was very special. We also did many TV shows in South Africa, especially when TV was just starting out here. I think we made 13 albums.
HOW OFTEN DID THE GROUP PERFORM IN ITS HEYDAY – AND HOW FAR AFIELD? AND HOW OFTEN DOES THE BAND PERFORM NOWADAYS?
In the old days we played six to seven nights a week.We played every country in Southern Africa and a lot in Taiwan, China, Singapore England, Australia and many other places. Nowadays we don’t work so hard… perhaps four or five times a month.
WHAT ELSE IS PLANNED FOR YOU FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR? AND FOR THE BAND?
More or less the same as other years, for the band. Mostly corporate work and functions. For me, personally, I will be planning lots of chilling at my place in the Berg, which I love.
HAVE YOU AND YOUR THEATRE AWARD-WINNING SON, AARON, EVER DONE A SHOW TOGETHER?
Aaron and I have done many shows together, especially when Lisa (Aaron’s wife, Lisa Bobbert) was pregnant. One was called Chip and That Old Block which we did at the arts festival in Grahamstown. We often get together now, at any chance we get.
YOU HAVE A LARGE FAMILY OF ENTERTAINERS. WHAT MAKES YOU MOST PROUD ABOUT THEM?
My four children and 11 grand hildren are all very musical. I’m really proud when they perform together… especially the little ones.
HOW MANY INSTRUMENTS CAN AND DO YOU PLAY? AND IS THERE ANY ONE INSTRUMENT YOU WOULD STILL LIKE TO MASTER?
I have a bash at most stringed, fretted instruments, but I’m no master.
WERE YOU NOT A MUSICIAN WHAT CAREER PATH MIGHT YOU HAVE FOLLOWED?
I was born to be on the stage, but trained as an engineer back in Ireland. So who knows? I was lucky.
WHAT IS THE ODDEST FAN REQUEST YOU HAVE EVER HAD?
Never had one that I can think of.
WHAT THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’? AND WHAT THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘ABSOLUTE NO-NOS?
Great are sunrises and sunsets in the Berg, surfing, swimming in our river on a summer evening, and a log fire in winter. I hate border posts in Africa, being stuck at airports, rap music and American politics.
FIVE OF YOUR ALL-TIME FAVOURITE SONGS?
Way too many to have to choose.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE’?
Walking in the mountains, good movies and babysitting my young granddaughters.
IF YOU COULD INVITE ANY PEOPLE TO DINNER WHO WOULD YOU CHOOSE?
James Taylor, Elon Musk, Brad Paisley and Trevor Noah.
THE BEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER HAD? AND THE WORST?
Being on an Irish postage stamp with the band I played with in Ireland, called The Freshmen, was a nice compliment. The worst was an Irish politician comparing the Blarneys to the black and white minstrels.
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH? AND CRY? AND GET ANGRY?
Donald Trump is my answer to all three questions here.
WHEN LAST DID YOU CRY – AND WHY?
At my sister’s funeral, a few months ago.
WHAT IS THE MOST PAINFUL THING YOU HAVE ENDURED?
I had an operation once and the anaesthetic didn’t work right. I could feel and hear everything that was going on but could do nothing and I was in agony. My heart-rate soared and alerted the surgeon, but it seemed to go on forever.
WHAT THINGS DO YOU MOST MISS FROM CHILDHOOD?
My mother playing piano. And Christmas Day activities.
THE MOST FRIGHTENING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO YOU?
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
I am still trying to figure it out!