THE DUBLIN Gospel Choir had modest beginnings as a local school choir almost 12 years ago but since then they have gone on to share the stage with James Brown, Rod Stewart, and The Chieftains.
From their ranks has emerged soul singer Padraig Rushe and with the release of his debut album Greyworld he is set to join the ranks of internationally-renowned Irish singer-songwriters such as Damien Rice, Paddy Casey, and Glen Hansard.
On Saturday March 21 at 9pm, Rushe travels west to perform at the Róisín Dubh where he will be joined by his 10-piece soul band.
Although Rushe claims Bray in County Wicklow as his home it was thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean in Chicago and New York where he spent much of his early life. His parents were into music and culture and encouraged their children to pick up as many different influences and experiences as possible.
When Padraig returned to Ireland in the late 1980s at age nine it took him quite a bit of time to adjust to his new life.
“Any time I came home for a few weeks everybody referred to me as ‘The Yank’ and then went I went back I was the Irish kid,” says Padraig. “Living in the States was great in the sense of getting to see what’s out there and hearing different types of music and meeting different types of people.
“It very much influenced my own musical taste and I was lucky that my parents had a big record collection. As a kid I was listening to soul and bits of folk and a good bit of country and I was obsessed with Bob Dylan. Then I would’ve listened to what ever my older brothers brought into the house as well.
“I think my brothers were much better at holding on to the brogue and so for years I had this sort of muddled accent. Even to this day I’ll say ‘elevator’ instead of ‘lift’ or ‘pitcher’ instead of ‘jug’. Then at one point I made such a big effort to pronounce everything really clearly that everyone thought I was from Germany!”
At school Padraig suffered from dyslexia and he found it difficult to communicate his thoughts and feelings. So at the age of 14 he took a part-time job and bought his first guitar, and through the encouragement of his English teacher developed an appreciation for poetry.
Such was his love of language that he went on to study Irish and English at UCD and then one evening he happened upon the Dublin Gospel Choir. Within a few weeks singing and performing with the choir took up his entire time and at one point his parents thought he’d joined a cult.
“Yeah, that’s true – they didn’t know what happened to me,” says Rushe. “It was a pretty full-on experience between working during the day and then rehearsing with the choir two or three times a week. I just became so heavily involved so quickly.”
It was through his work with the Dublin Gospel Choir that Padraig got to meet some of his musical heroes, and of particular joy for Rushe was being in the same room as the Godfather of Soul himself James Brown.
“That was really surreal actually,” he says. “We were to meet him in Vicar Street and then perform with him later that evening. Usually artists are one thing on stage and then they’re much quieter off stage. Anyway James Brown arrived backstage and he sort of jumped in the door, kicked his heels on the floor, and let out a shout!
“It was the sort of way you’d hope to meet him but then he capped it by bursting into a version of ‘Amazing Grace’ and went around the room and started to hug everyone. At one point I had to pinch myself and ask if all this was really happening.”
In the course of Rushe’s musical progress, he has also had the opportunity to work with many accomplished Irish artists and he treasures each and every one of these experiences.
“I had the privilege of singing backing for the Hothouse Flowers a few years ago on their album Into Your Heart,” he says “Definitely seeing Liam O’Maonlaí on stage inspired me in terms of stagecraft.
“Vocally I think he very much encapsulates that special version of Irish soul. I think it’s very important to acknowledge where you’re from and I think Liam does that very well. He’s probably one of the greatest singers this country has ever produced. Generally I think soul music works well for Irish people because a lot of our own music is rooted in hardship. It sort of resonates with an Irish audience.”
Another important figure in Rushe’s development as an emerging singer-songwriter is Paddy Casey. The duo first worked together when Paddy collaborated with the gospel choir and they have since become close friends.
“He’s quite humble and he doesn’t really big himself up and he’s just been there to give me feedback along the way,” says Rushe of Casey. “He put me in touch with the producer of his first album Pat Donne and the association has definitely paid off.”
In 2008 Rushe was chosen as the first unsigned Irish artist to feature on MTV’s Get Seen: Get Heard and the release of his debut single ‘Gonna Be A Change’ is much anticipated. See why when he plays the Róisín next week.
Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.