We grew up with music in the house, as our mother Bridie played the accordion and our father Mick played the fiddle. We lived on a small farm near Mayobridge and the house was called Elmgrove after the trees that lined the lane that led down to our cottage from the Ryan Road. There was no electricity or telephone so our link to the outside world was the radio and the gramophone, both battery operated . We also enjoyed the occasional trip to a fleadh ceoil (music festival) in Newry, or even Dundalk , just a few miles away across the border. We mostly listened to the Irish state radio, RTE which played a lot of traditional music. I sang traditional songs that I learned from listening to the likes of Sarah Makem from Keady. But I also wanted to learn a traditional instrument and the one that appealed to me was the bodhran. I had to practice for weeks drumming on a cardboard shoe-box with a pencil before it was considered a good investment to get one made for me. We were also influenced by progressive American singers like Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. I was given The Joan Baez Songbook as a teenager and I have it still. It bears Joan’s autograph from when she came to visit Rostrevor and I had the privilege of performing in Denmark with legend Pete Seeger… But back in the late sixties we were playing in village halls around County Down and at the occasional sit -down protest in Newry, for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights campaign was in full swing. In 1968 Billy McBurney set up Belfast’s first recording studio and the first album on his Outlet label was ours. Then, in 1970, winning an all- Ireland talent competition in Dublin earned us a residency at an Irish pub in the Bronx and it’s sister pub in Queens. I had to get special permission to leave school as I had not turned sixteen. We found ourselves working with great artists like Tommy Makem and Paddy Reilly and even managed to get on the bill at Carnegie Hall for a St. Patrick’s night gala concert. On our return to Ireland we found the country gripped by folk fever and traditional Irish music festivals were springing up across the country in places like Ballyshannon and Lisdoonvarna. Young German tourists fell in love with the music and soon there was a huge demand for Irish groups like ourselves to play in Germany. We would often bump into Clannad or Planxty in an autobahn cafeteria or see posters announcing that the Dubliners or the Furey brothers had just played the same German city , or would be playing there in a couple of weeks time. Of the dozen albums I’ve recorded with the Sands Family, almost half have been recorded in Germany. We’ve now released a DVD of our 40th aniversary concert, recorded at Newry Town Hall. It includes a song Tom and I wrote called "I will always love you" about how quickly our children grow up and leave home to make their own way in the world and how special it is when they return home again and have children of their own.
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