For more than 40 years now, Foster and Allen have been entertaining the nation. With their easy-listening sound – tinged with country music and Irish folk – the Irish duo have sold over 22 million albums worldwide.
Foster and Allen have scored many huge hits – such as A Bunch of Thyme, Maggie and Old Flames – and in more recent years have released the successful singles Mrs Brown’s Boys and Galway Girl, featuring X Factor and Coronation Street star Shayne Ward.
Mick Foster and Tony Allen will soon be coming to the north east as part of their Scotland and Northern England Tour 2017, with gigs in Spennymoor (March 27th) and South Shields (March 28th). Newcastle Magazine recently caught up with Tony Allen for a quick chat:
How did your single Mrs Brown’s Boys come about?
Well, we’ve been friends of Brendan (O’Carroll, creator and star of the show) for years and years. I like the show, I watch it a lot and I knew it was a big show, but I didn’t realise just how big. When I was in New Zealand last year, I noticed there was a tribute show to it, which shows how big it had got, even down there.
For our fortieth anniversary two years ago, we suggested to our friend, songwriter P.J. Murrihy, that he might have a look at the show and try to write something based on it. What he came up with was great; it described the whole show so well.
And we got a massive reaction to it; it was unbelievable. Twenty years ago, it would have been number one.
What about the single Galway Girl that you did with Shayne Ward?
During Shayne’s X Factor days, his mentor was Louis Walsh, and Louis is a friend of ours. Louis told us that every time he got into Shayne’s car, he had one of our CDs on so we asked if he’d like to have a go at a song with us.
Shayne’s parents are both Irish and he’s got a good Irish connection and a huge Irish fan base so I thought about what we could do and then I thought about that song. He’s got such a strong voice and he’s such a good singer and it’s a great song. So he came over to our studio and we started working on it and he came up with some great ideas for the recording. Again, we got a huge reaction to it. The BBC stations, including Radio 2, all played it when it came out.
In your career, you’ve sold more than 22 million albums.
Well, that’s what they tell us. No, seriously, all our products sell well in England, all over the UK, and in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada.
I’ve never interviewed anyone who’s sold so many records. How does it feel to know so many people have your albums in their houses and are listening to them?
It’s a great, great feeling. You get used to playing for people over the years and travelling and meeting a lot of people, and you don’t think like that, but then you think that there are probably CDs and cassettes of us in nearly every house in the UK. It’s a great feeling.
In 1982 you went on Top of the Pops to perform your single A Bunch of Thyme. That performance really seemed to break you in the UK. What was that experience like?
It was amazing. Mick Foster had never seen Top of the Pops and didn’t know what it was all about, but I loved it. I used to rush home from school so I could make sure I got my homework done so I could sit down and enjoy it.
We used to come over and work the Irish clubs in England and the Irish pubs in London, but we never dreamed anything like that would happen.
But when that record came out in 82, Ritz Records picked it up in London and released it. Terry Wogan and Gloria Hungerford started playing it on the radio and we made number 18 in the British charts. At that time, that was huge – it would be equal to number one for ten weeks now.
It changed our lives completely. After that, lots of our songs charted. We’ve had an album in the British charts every year from 1983 to 1999 and then from 2001 to last year.
We were used to coming over and working the Irish pubs, but then all of a sudden we were driving down to the BBC studios in Shepherd’s Bush to do Top of the Pops. The Nolans were on and all kinds of acts I’d only ever seen on Top of the Pops. It was all very exciting.
You’ve released over 30 albums, so you have a huge catalogue.
We’ve recorded over 1,500 titles over the years. We’ve recorded compilations and different things, so it’s actually 50 or 60 albums although officially it’s 30 or 40.
Out of all the songs you’ve recorded, do you have a favourite?
After all these Years would be my favourite one. You know, A Bunch of Thyme was in the charts and Maggie was number one in Australia and New Zealand, but After all these Years has been recorded by a lot of people and it’s lasted longer so that’s the one we’re really proud of.
You come from a musical background. Your father was a fiddle player, your mum a singer. Do you think that led to you taking up a musical career?
Well, it did, because I was hearing a lot of music in the very, very early stages of my life. There were nine kids in our family and all of them played something. The minute I heard music, and the minute I saw bands on stage in Ireland, I wanted to be part of that. I think the fact there was always music in the house played a big, big part in helping me go down that road.
Would you say the Irish folk influence is coming out more in your later music?
It could be in the recordings, but it’s always been there strongly on stage. With the records, they were a little bit determined by records that were hits and things like that and by the record companies. And you’d just have ten or twelve tracks on an album so you’d have to choose the ones that would do best. But on stage, anyway, we’d always do a fair selection of lively Irish tunes.
Thanks very much Tony and we’ll look forward to seeing you in the north east.
Foster and Allen play Spennymoor Leisure Centre on March 27th (01388 815 827) and the Customs House Theatre, South Shields, on March 28th (0191 454 1234/customshouse.co.uk).
Foster and Allen’s new album, The Gold Collection, is out on March 3rd 2017.