Jimmy and I were born four doors apart in St Mary’s Park in Navan. My sister was studying piano in the convent and I tagged along. Then I started doing accordion lessons with Jimmy’s dad. The name Smyth and music were synonymous in Navan, his uncle still has the Navan swing band.
The first paying gig I ever did, I was 15: it was a hop on a Sunday afternoon in Drogheda, in a boxing club and then the Silver Tankard pub outside Navan that night. It was with Jimmy’s mum and dad and Jimmy, and between the two gigs, I got £1. At 16 or 17, Jimmy broke away from the family, formed a band I was involved in and did lots of pop rock, T Rex, Led Zeppelin.
I went to UCD for a short time, but I’d been bitten by the music bug and dropped out. I was offered a resident job in the Tudor rooms in Barry’s Hotel, it was a cabaret room in Dublin. And I was starting to arrange a bit of music for artists like Acker Bilk – I was doing this without any specific training, just the Meath hard neck.
I left the Tudor Rooms in 1977: Jimmy and I were both on the showband circuit, kept bumping into each other. We were both full-time musicians, it’s the only thing I’ve ever worked at. While our lives have separated and rejoined many times over the years, music has been the constant connection.
From an early age, I knew that Jimmy had an exceptional musical talent. It was apparent, even back then, that his was a special gift. Jimmy was as good as any guitar hero of the age. He just loves to play – it doesn’t matter what, once it’s good. He’s as happy in JJ Smyth’s [Dublin jazz and blues pub] on a quiet Monday, playing his beloved fusion set, as on the big stage.
Conversation comes naturally to us both . . . if Jimmy and I are in a dressingroom, it’s rabbit, rabbit, rabbit. Ours is not a silent partnership!
I got married in 1986, had kids, so I was grounded in Ireland; my career at an Irish level was flying, doing TV shows, orchestral stuff. Now I have a little studio at home, where I do a good bit of work: I do the music for Mrs Brown’s Boys, for example. And I do these RTÉ Concert Orchestra shows: we did four shows in the mid-noughties, the music of Bond, Elton John, the Bee Gees and Abba. Then we did the Bee Gees show last autumn, had a blast, so we’re going to do two more in February. Our aim is to get everyone up dancing in the aisles.
On February 7th, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra will present a Bee Gees show, You Should be Dancing and on February 28th, an Abba show, Super Troupers, in the National Concert Hall, Dublin, both produced, arranged and conducted by Andy O’Callaghan