Irish folk band The Fureys look forward to their first UAE gig

The veteran Irish folk band have come a long way since their formation in 1970.

Irish folk band, The Fureys. Courtesy The Fureys
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They have topped the charts, played Carnegie Hall, and taught Dave Stewart of Eurythmics his first guitar chords. During a 40-year career, The Fureys have done it all. Well, apart from one thing – a gig in the UAE.

The folk-music legends will put that right when they make their debut on Thursday at The Club in Abu Dhabi, and the band is determined to send everyone home happy.

“We are looking forward to it,” Eddie Furey says. “We stopped off in Dubai a while back on the way to Australia and I said to the boys we should play here.

“We will have a great time. We’ll be singing funny songs, sad songs, of course – it comes with the Irish thing. And we’ll have the banter.” The Fureys were formed in the 1970s by brothers Finbar, a champion uilleann pipe player, and Eddie, a guitarist and vocalist. They had toured as a duo before, including with another legendary Irish band, The Clancy Brothers, but really struck gold when they teamed up with their other brothers, Paul and George.

The band started off playing in small venues but went on to score two No 1 hits in Ireland, before their 1981 take on When You Were Sweet Sixteen, became a worldwide success.

They have toured the world extensively and are known for their emotive take on songs including Steal Away, The Old Man and Green Fields of France, along with a willingness to take on pop songs that hardcore traditionalists shied away from. This approach has helped the band remain popular not only in Ireland but the UK, Canada, Australia and the United States.

Eddie is now in his 70s, and tales of meeting Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Joni Mitchell, and touring America with The Clancys pour out while he chats on the phone from Ireland. One concert in New York in 1969 particularly stands out.

“I remember saying to Liam Clancy in New York, ‘What’s the name of the pub we are playing in later tonight?’” He replied, “It’s a pub called Carnegie Hall.”

"I didn't realise just how big the venue was until I arrived that night," he says. In the audience at that gig was Bob Dylan, one of Eddie's musical heroes, and their latest album, The Times They Are A Changing, is a tribute of sorts to him and the other artists who they met over the years.

“We realised we’d never done any Bob Dylan songs or those from the people we met, including Joni Mitchell, so we thought we’d do some of their songs in the Furey style,” he says.

“We tell a few stories on the stage. A lot of bands just keep on playing and don’t talk. It’s very important to tell the audience what you are playing and where it came from. If you are a pop star, it’s the same thing.”

The Fureys toured the UK and Europe throughout the 1970s and 1980s, building up a strong following. Dave Stewart from Eurythmics credits Eddie with teaching him his first guitar chords when they met in England while Stewart was still a teenager. The Fureys would later play at his wedding in France.

They may be part of the rich tapestry of traditional Irish music, but The Fureys also deal with themes familiar here in the Middle East – longing, displacement and the idea of a homeland.

The Old Man, a poignant song about the death of a father, and Steal Away, a tune about a couple who leave Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles, are two of Eddie's favourite songs.

The band have faced their own challenges. Paul Furey died suddenly in 2002, while Finbar left to pursue a solo career, including a notable appearance in Martin Scorsese's 2002 film Gangs of New York. But the band continue to record, tour and perform. "We used to have sing-songs in many airport bars but I'm not sure if we can do that over in the UAE," he says with a laugh. "We are looking forward to the gig.

“We have a saying in the band: ‘To be continued.’ We’ll keep it going as long as we can keep it going. We’ll do our best and we will have a great time.”

• The Fureys play tomorrow on the main beach at The Club in Abu Dhabi at 8pm. Tickets cost Dh150 from