First encounters


Composer Bryan Byrne and broadcaster Ryan Tubridy


Broadcaster Ryan Tubridy presents RTE 2fm’s Tubridy on weekdays and The Late Late Show on RTE One TV on Friday nights. His first book, JFK in Ireland, was published in 2010; his second, a take on popular culture in Ireland and Britain, is due out in October 2013.

‘I MET BRIAN AROUND 2003: I was up and coming in my own career at that stage, but I was really just starting. There was a proms at Farmleigh and here was what could have been a run-out for the RTÉ orchestra, just another day at the office. And Brian came on, a young fella with a big mop of Simon Rattle-like curls. He was from Meath, a bizarre mix of Navan meets Rattle meets Byron. And he was wearing a good suit – I remember that ’cos we share an interest in the same designer, Paul Smith.

“We got talking, got on very well, were kind of kindred spirits. Then he got on stage: I love the sound of brass and there was this big band sound mingled with the orchestra. It wasn’t just the usual – suddenly you had sass with the brass. I sensed his enthusiasm, almost a hunger for it to work, his love for the music, love for the job.

“I’ve been his champion ever since then. A lot of people go into the entertainment business and start knocking everyone around them because they want to stay on top. That’s not the way I was brought up. I don’t gain anything by being his champion but I want to be because I admire his ability.

“We were a similar age – he was 26, I was 28. When I found myself with the Late Late Show, I wanted to bring back the original signature tune, but it needed some of my voice in it. There was only one man to call to do the job and that was Brian: he produced a jazzed up, fun piece.

“One Wednesday, after he’d been rehearsing one night for the 50th anniversary, we went down to O’Donoghue’s for a couple of pints and got into a big discussion. I was telling him that I hoped to start a bigger conversation about the Irish Famine, particularly for young people, one that makes history accessible. He really loved this idea. Can you imagine trying to explain the Famine to people – a million Irish men, women and children crawling along what’s now the M50, or making their way to parts of Mayo over mountains, eating grass? I said 1I’d love to get you involved musically’ . . .

I think he was composing Lament for the Fallen in his head as we were having a pint.

“We’re on the same wavelength . . . we might not meet that much, but could take up a conversation in mid-sentence. You meet people in your life like that where you can just sit down and go, ‘where were we?’ He’s very unassuming, doesn’t want the praise, we’re very opposite in that sense . . .

I predict now he’ll be accepting an Oscar for composing a soundtrack if not a song in the next 10 years.

“This is just the beginning – he’s got talent that will take him all the way. And he’s got a good grace with it.”


Composer and arranger Brian Byrne from Navan, moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago, where he has worked with artists such as Barbra Streisand. He won two awards for his score for Albert Nobbs and song Lay your Head Down at the recent World Soundtrack Awards. His first classical album, Tales from the Walled City, with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra will be released by Decca on November 12th. He lives in LA with his wife Kasey and son Asa.

‘I HAD JUST MOVED out to Los Angeles in 2003 when I got the call to conduct an RTÉ concert, Swinging at the Movies, in Farmleigh. I’d heard Ryan on the radio, thought he was smart and funny, and was excited when I heard he was presenting the show – I was a little bit in awe. We met seven minutes beforehand in the dressingroom, organising the links – and got on really well. The next day on his radio show he kept going on about it: he was my champion from the word go.

“From then, anytime I’d come home, I’d do another concert or something with RTÉ, live music on his radio show, jazzy stuff. He’s my generation, I’m 36, he’s 39; I can relate to him. He’s the same in real life as on radio or TV, except he’s funnier, more personable.

“When we were doing the Late Late 50th, I met him for a pint and it ended up as an all-nighter. We were talking about history; he suggested it would be good if I could write a piece of music about the Famine. I had the Tales from the Walled City album coming out, and wrote an unaccompanied fiddle piece, Lament for the Fallen, for it. I dedicated it to my father Jim, who passed away in 2010.

“I went to college in Scotland, then to the Royal College of Music in London. I’d been doing work for RTÉ as a student and when I moved home for four years, I was lucky, I worked with RTÉ, Bono, The Corrs, orchestrated music for the movie In America. I was 26, living in the Meath Gaeltacht, and met a guy living nearby – Tom Petty’s road manager – who offered to help me when I told him I was an aspiring film composer. He put me in touch with a man in the music business in LA who said ‘I can help you if you move here’. So I sold my car and went. Within the first couple of months, this man introduced me to Marilyn and Alan Bergman, who are US songwriting royalty – they were like my grandparents, took me under their wing. That’s how a melody I wrote, with lyrics by the Bergmans – If It’s Meant to Be – ended up on Barbra Streisand’s recent album, Release Me. I recorded it live with her, conducted the orchestra. This was happening in the same three weeks as I was working on Albert Nobbs and the song Lay Your Head Down, and doing arrangements for Katy Perry. Glenn Close and Streisand have really opened doors for me; that’s why the Tales from the Walled City CD will be on Decca, the biggest classical music label in the world.

“Ryan and I have similar tastes in music – he’s got an old soul in a younger body, appreciates good stuff even if it’s not in fashion. We’re both proud Irish guys, proud of our history, both wanting to in some small way maybe make our mark.”

In conversation with FRANCES O'ROURKE

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