Kieran Byrne is drawing the crowds in the city of Chicago

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Murray Leith and Jo Lang

You’re an Irishman currently living and playing in Chicago, how would you describe the differences with the Irish music scene?
I would say there are far more similarities than differences. In Chicago there’s a vibrant Irish music scene with both trad and folk strongly represented. There are sessions every Sunday dotted all around Chicago. You’ve also bands such as the Tossers from Chicago and a plethora of Irish musical talent from world renowned musicians such as Jimmy Keane, Pauline Connelly Liz Carroll and Denis Cahill to name but a few. There’s great local talents too keeping the scene alive.

The difference I suppose would be the crowd, for the pub gigs especially. Last summer I had the pleasure of playing for the Irish students working here for the summer. It was a run of six gigs and all were totally crazy. It was some vibe and there’s nothing like playing in front of your home crowd. While you’d get that here at times, it wouldn’t be on a smaller scale.

What first got you into music? Who or what inspired you?
My dad would have been my first introduction to music through his singing. I grew up in limerick at a time when Irish music was at a pinnacle. And Limerick had a great live music scene. You had bands like the stunning, Hothouse Flowers, An Emotional Fish, The Sultans of Ping FC. Then you have the Cranberries! In Limerick we had two great music venues so in essence we were surrounded with it. Then I discovered The Pogues and that was it!

Who would you most like to collaborate with on a live stage?
The Pogues

If you could turn the clock back is there anything you would change, if so what would it be?
I played in England with a phenomenal banjo player called Willie ‘Fingers’ Corrigan. We hadn’t played together for 10 years and were making plans to get him over to Chicago but unfortunately he passed away a few years ago before we got the chance.

What was the best advice you’ve been given or would give a new musician?
To play for yourself and let the crowd listen in. My dad told me that one. And to always be yourself.

What have been your favourite venues to perform at and why?
I played in England and we played Bedford, Luton, Northampton and London. Those towns were brilliant to play and when we toured Ireland it was always mad craic. All the venues I play here are great, they have a great atmosphere good crowds and it’s always a fun night. As long as the crowd are with ya it’s a great night!

How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business?
I suppose like anything there’s positives and negatives. The negatives would be the piracy of the music stripping people of earnings but then the exposure, downloads, and social media are huge and a massive positive. I also think the social aspect of music has changed from where you’d be waiting for an album to go on sale, get it and all your friends would come over to listen and you’d be reading Hot Press and so on. you’d be taping songs off the radio and making mix tapes. During the lockdown the exposure across the Atlantic of good Irish music facilitated by pages such as Glasgow Irish Bands and Gigs shows the power it can have. I know there are a good number of people who’ve spoken about how fantastic it’s been to have live music in their lives during this time.

You have come into the Glasgow Irish scene with live gigs during lockdown how have you found that?
It’s been mighty! I can’t thank Glasgow Irish Bands and Gigs enough for having me on. Every gig has been well received thankfully, and I made great friends and have the opportunity to go there when this Covid-19 stuff is over for a wee tour! The people who check in and follow have been wonderful it’s a brilliant platform.

What is the most useless talent you have?
Ice Skating. Yeah, No!

Live gigs are back up and running in Chicago, how have you found this?
It’s been wonderful. I feel very lucky, firstly as I know so many of my fellow musicians are on lockdown. There’s nothing like a live venue and the crowds have been more appreciative of live music during the restrictions here.

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