FREDDIE WHITE has been to the forefront of Irish folk for more than 40 years. He began playing gigs in his teens around Cork city before perfecting his unique style busking in London.
In 1974 he returned to Ireland and formed the influential folk-rock band Scullion with Philip King, Sonny Condell, Greg Boland, and Jimmy O’Brien-Moran. Towards the end of the decade he left the band to pursue a successful solo career which included self penned numbers and interpretations of songs by American country and blues artists for eager new audiences.
“When I started out in the late 1970s Freddie was a star in Ireland,” says his contemporary and friend Luka Bloom. “He was the man of the moment and was doing these really amazing gigs. Freddie was drawing these huge crowds and his completely fresh take on other people’s songs was absolutely riveting.
“If you wanted to hear a Randy Newman, Guy Clark or Tom Waits song done really well then Freddie was your man. He was a one-off in Ireland at that time in terms of what he was doing.
“People like Sonny Condell, Jimmy McCarthy, Mick Hanly and I were totally inspired with the possibilities of solo performance through watching Freddie White do his stuff. He opened up a new world to us and to many people during that time. He is just truly brilliant.”
White’s take on Waits’ ‘Martha’ and Clark’s ‘Desperadoes Waiting For A Train’ have become favourites. Freddie is synonymous with music of the highest quality and collects songs like treasures.
“I’m recognised for my renditions of those songs the most and obviously I’m delighted to be credited with introducing people to them,” Freddie says. “I had an opportunity when those guys like Waits, Newman, Clark, and even someone like Frank Zappa were completely unknown in this country.
“A friend of mine in Dublin had a vast record collection and so I kind of raided that. I’ve always had a very good ear for an interesting song and how to make them my own. They were as new to me as they were to my audiences. I could look on them as a blank canvas.”
Tom Waits, Guy Clark, and Randy Newman have all acknowledged Freddie’s contribution to their successes in Ireland.
“I always found Guy Clark very friendly and very courteous,” White says. “He’s an absolute gentleman and every time he plays Ireland he mentions my name. I remember at one show he said ‘I wouldn’t be here in Ireland if it wasn’t for Freddie White,’ and that was nice of him. I’m always a bit reticent though about meeting people that I admire artistically. I wouldn’t actually seek them out. I’m much more interesting in their craft.”
Freddie has been interested in American music and culture for many years. In the early 1980s he travelled to the States in an effort to make it as a singer-songwriter there. He had some modest successes but never truly broke through.
Renewed interest in his impressive back catalogue of albums in the late 1990s prompted him to return to his native Cork. Since coming back to Ireland he has released two critically acclaimed solo albums, Four Days In May and Stormy Lullaby, and has toured continental Europe many times.
White has also collaborated with a number of new and established songwriters including Albert Niland and Jimmy McCarthy. He remains an inspirational figure on the scene.
Recently though the travelling itch has presented itself for Freddie to scratch again. Later this month he will leave Irish shores bound for Australia and a new chapter in his life as a touring song man.
“My partner, Trish, works for a multinational company and she’s been offered a job there,” he reveals. “We thought about it and figured we’d nothing to lose by giving it a try. Andy Irvine, Sharon Shannon, Mary Black and Mary Coughlan tour there regularly and do very well. I’ve been told that Australian audiences could be quite amenable to what I do. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
As part of his ‘Farewell to Ireland’ tour White will play The Crane Bar, Sea Road, on Thursday February 17 at 9pm. Tickets available from 091 - 587419 or www.thecranebar.com