Paddy Nash’s latest album with his band The Happy Enchiladas is a fairly decent representation of the man himself. It’s upbeat, thought provoking and it gets to the point in a way that isn’t over imposing. Most of all, after listening, you’ll be left with a smile on your face.
During an otherwise mediocre day on Thursday, I had one of those smiles on my face after a chat with the Derry singer songwriter who handed me a copy of the album where he quickly scribbled, ‘keep er lit - Paddy.’ It was a requested signature of course and one he was a bit embarrassed to give. The Creggan born singer isn’t really a man for autographs or egos. The practical attitude to his music is one he’s gained in pubs and at parties where he’s spent the best part of his life gigging and trying to earn a crust from the thing he enjoys most.
Paddy, as he says cheerfully, was born in the back of an ambulance on Spencer Road.
The ambulance had to pick up a few extras along the way due it having been a particularly bad day for rioting but together with his late mother Patsy, Paddy eventually arrived at Altnagelvin unscathed. The youngest of a family of ten there wasn’t a lot of fuss over his hurried birth. His mother Patsy left the hospital just hours after she’d first reported his arrival.
Paddy like thousands of others, was a child of the Troubles, although he didn’t see it like that at the time. He’s immortalised the era in the fourth song on his album, aptly titled, ‘Rubber Bullets’. It’s not a political ballad, it’s life in Derry, during the conflict, from the point of view of a little boy who just wants to pay on the monkey bars - and it’s well worth a listen.
“We definitely grew up in dangerous times but when that’s your life and those are your surroundings, you make the best of it and you don’t actually realise when you’re a child how dangerous it really is,” says Paddy.
He grew up in Rathmore Heights, beside the reservoir in Creggan.
Together with close childhood friends Jimmy Friel and Terry O’Kane, he has fond memories of growing up and finding his feet, which at one point were uncomfortably situated at the bottom of a highly questionable pair of burgundy flares.
“We were great friends and we were very into the whole Madness scene in the late seventies. There was one Christmas I really wanted a pair of burgundy drainpipes, Everyone was going to be wearing them but instead I ended up with a pair of maroon flares that my mother had bought in Vij’s stores. They were obviously not the look I was going for but I remember wearing them to midnight Mass and being mortified!”
It’s just one of the many colourful anecdotes that make Paddy the Derry man that he is. Chatty and with a real sense of humanity, both these qualities combine seamlessly in the man and his writing.
After a short time at St Joseph’s Boys School in Creggan, Paddy found himself at the Derry Workshop on Bishop Street. It was there, under the mentoring of Derry musicians Eamon Toland and Liam Nelis, that his interest in music was first awakened and initially nurtured.
“The workshop brought me out of my shell at that point and I learned so much about music,” he smiles.
“Liam Nelis taught me so much about the kind of music that I might not otherwise have had access to and it was around then that I started writing songs, I was taking bits and pieces from the music I was listening to. I always remember a great quote from Morrissey where he said that great artists borrow from other artists, but geniuses steal! I suppose when you start out that’s what you’re doing really.”
Paddy cites his influence best on the biog on his website
“Inspired by the Country collection of me Da, the Rocker collection of our Peter, the Punk collection of our Jimmy and the New Wave collection of our Sean, both me and our Paul (the two youngest) started to make our own sounds on cheap guitars bought on the never-never,” he quips.
Paddy’s first band had a memorable, of its time name. Inspired by the Australian soap opera, he was one of the founding members of Mrs Mangel’s Boys.
The band - Paddy confesses - enjoyed a short musical career. It was around this time he found himself working at the youth club in Dove House and after a few impromptu performances in the Bogside Inn, then owned by Terry Crossan, he secured his first regular paid for slot playing in the then popular bar.
“They were great days and I was delighted to have a regular gig,” he says.
He then went on to become a founder member of award winning band The Whole Tribe Sings. Their most popular hit ‘Happy’ was picked up by Guinness and used to promote Harp in the US. A trip to America followed for the Derry band but in hindsight it was an adventure that Paddy admits didn’t work out.”
A combination of the wrong management and bad timing meant the band were left high and dry in the States and subsequently returned home to Derry. At that point, with a need to bring money in, Paddy applied for a job. He started working in Xtravision where he stayed for eleven years until, inspired by his partner Diane, he returned to his love of music.
The Happy Enchiladas were formed in 2009, and released their first album in 2010. The feedback was good, even overwhelming, according to Paddy.
“We got 1,000 albums pressed and we were getting so many letters, emails and phonecalls. It was really heartening, it really gave us the drive to keep going,” he says.
Two years later the hype over the Happy Enchiladas shows no sign of going away. After an extensive tour of England and a recent ‘legenderry’ performance at Ebrington during the Clipper Festival.
Paddy has also enjoyed huge solo success playing the LeftField stage at Glastonbury in 2011 and supporting Billy Bragg on his Irish tour.
Paddy’s not holding back when it comes to grabbing opportunities during the City of Culture year. He says other artists have a responsibility to grab the bull by the horns as well and capitalise on the fact that Derry is set to be put on the world stage for all the right reasons.
“When I played at Ebrington it was an amazing feeling. I can say that for the first time in my life I felt like I was having an out of body experience. Standing there on stage looking over at the Guildhall, I never thought I’d get to look out at the town from that view. It was amazing. I think we have really exciting times ahead of us and I want to be a part of all that. I’m really looking forward to next year.”
In the meantime, thanks to Arts Council funding, Paddy’s working on new material.
On paper he’s self employed and that, he admits, is slightly daunting. But people like Paddy tend not to live their lives on paper and for that reason, fans have a lot to be grateful for.
All life is there inside the sleeves of The Happy Enchiladas album. In the writing and the music it has all been covered. A perfect mix of people, politics and powerful lyrics have firmly re-established him as one of the North West’s best and most popular performers. And he’s not going away, you know.
Visit www.paddynash.co.uk for performance dates and see local press. Paddy Nash and the Happy Enchiladas’ latest album ‘Times of Transition’ is now on sale and the band will play the Foyle Folk Festival at the courtyard at Cafe Soul, Shipquay Place on Sunday September 15.