If you’re in any way attuned to Galway’s much-celebrated street entertainment, you’ll undoubtedly be familiar with one of its more prominent voices Paddy Finnegan, singer-song writer from Rush, Co Dublin.
With eyes closed, Paddy regularly carries Shop Street to an almost cinematographic realm where he himself is out of focus. The 23-year old guitar-player blends so naturally into the crowd, softening the street’s clamour with impassioned covers from his humble fold-out stool.
Paddy ventured out of the Pale four years ago when Galway’s music scene welcomed him with open arms. Initially only here with a group of friends from Dublin who had come down for a party, he decided this “fairytale town” was fitting for the new chapter in his life. Bemoaning the formal and fickle nature of the people in Dublin, Paddy admits to SIN that “there’s less of a filter to people that actually want to hear music in Galway, it’s easier to know where you stand”.
The musician does not claim atypical beginnings. The truth is far from it, with the early stages rooted in the tin whistle until he picked up the guitar at 14 in the hopes of impressing a girl he fancied.
With the subsequent success in tow, Paddy’s career began. His family – his father a mandolin player, his mother influenced heavily by the greats of the 70s and 80s and his two younger sisters whose singing abilities Paddy eulogises every chance he gets – have always been supportive of his choices.
But the Rush musician has come a long way from his family trips to Cork and singing along to Disney songs in the car. Even after his five years of busking experience peppered with gigs here and there, Paddy’s ability to capture the crowd feels almost unintended, a happy coincidence signalled by a grateful, contented smile curling up on his lips as he sings on.
The audience dances and joins in for the choruses of favourites by Damien Rice, Glen Hansard, Fleetwood Mac and many others from Paddy’s diverse repertoire.
It doesn’t always come this easy, however. Busking, perceptibly, is a challenging undertaking, even when you don’t take the necessity to make a living out of it into account, compared to indoor gigs, which Paddy has recently transitioned to almost exclusively.
“People feel like they’ve got more leeway to critique when you’re on the street. You’re like a jester or a clown, although four walls and a roof are such a minuscule thing to separate such a huge difference in perception,” he explains.
In this way, Paddy feels like a judgement call is made not on who you are as a musician but where you are, which “undermines the value of people’s opinions on the music”. These very opinions are a funny thing as it is, with the audience falling into extreme categories of boundless compliments or malicious criticism, making it hard to find a reliable personal compass.
Even so, Paddy’s strong sense of self and candid individuality radiate through from his turn of phrase to his performances. It is impossible not to be touched by the fervour and evident sincerity he invests in his music, though this self-admitted high standard has proved to be an obstacle to his song-writing.
“I fear people misunderstanding the way I want to come across, I want to be honest but at the same time I don’t want to let myself and other people down by writing wishy-washy stuff that panders to the crowd.”
The struggle to win over crowds seems to be almost non-existent however. Recalling one of his favourite memories, the musician tells with extreme fondness of the time that he was very unexpectedly given a unanimous standing ovation by an older group in the Ardilaun Hotel.
Being one of the few solo buskers in Galway, Paddy recognises that he never sought a band of his own just for the sake of it.
“I’ve always been dead set against forcing anything just to be with X amount of people or because your friends are also into music.”
Though open to collaborations, to “wait for people to pick you up along the way” is his current philosophy.
Paddy Finnegan rejects the separation between artists and their fans and wants his message to be one of encouragement.
“I’ve never been a good swimmer but I will always swim to the deep end of the pool,” he said, selfeffacingly reflecting on his abilities and journey so far.
However, as he emphasises Dublin’s “anonymous nature”, the question of having left it for a chance at the “big fish-small pond” dynamic arise.
“I try to run on my own beaten track so I don’t really know the size of the pond or how many fish are in it,” he responds.
Though fame is nowhere near his agenda, it may perhaps be an inevitability.
You can check out Paddy’s Facebook page “Pádraig Ó Fionnagáin” for videos and stay tuned for his upcoming Youtube channel and semi-regular gigs in Áras na nGael and Massimo.
By Teodora Bandut