Interviewed by Helen St Helen

Added on Monday 23 Nov 2009

(Helen)---Have you always had a love for music?

(Jim)----I must have liked music when I was young as I remember in Primary School going to 'try out' for the violin; unfortunately the school only had one violin and it didn't fit me - so that was the end of my violin career. I also tried to join the school choir, but again was unsuccesfull; I couldn't sing a note in tune at the time, so I can't say they made wrong decision. I wasn't even the singer in my own bands until my wife Pat persuaded me that I should be singing my own songs. She thought I could do a better job than the singers I had.

I started playing the guitar when I as a teenager. If my memory serves me right it was mainly because my friend and neighbour Derek Macpherson had started learning guitar himself. I was a competitive youngster and I thought I could be better at it than he could. :-) As soon as I could play a few chords I caught the bug (so to speak) and started writing songs; first as a song-writing partnership with Derek and then on my own.

I found it easy to make things up on my guitar; whether the things I was making up were worth listening to I have no idea. However, I haven't stopped making things up since.

(Helen)----- Who were some of your role models growing up?

(Jim)---I don't remember consciously thinking of anybody as a role model - even looking back I can't think of anyone who showed that a life in music was possible for someone like myself. I admired skillful people; whether they were golfers, racing drivers, tradesmen (like my dad who was a Plumber and was very good at his job), artists, or people who made things in their garden sheds.

I didn't especially admire musicians for their skills - it was more about whether they played the type of music me and my friends liked, i.e. when I was in the last years of secondary school the music we were into was Punk; which influenced me in terms of attitude and in terms of the idea that anyone could play music - even if you weren't good on your instrument.

In fact being a good musician was a disadvantage if you wanted to be in a punk band. I didn't consider Johnny Rotten a great role model though. When I got a bit older that changed when I started listening to old blues guitarists and piano players; people like the guitarist Big Bill Broonzy and the new orleans piano player Professor Longhair. Those people blow me away with their playing and still do.

(Helen)---How did you feel when you released your first cd/album?

(Jim)---My first public release was a tape cassette and my next was a vinyl record; CDs hadn't been invented then. :-) It was while contributing to the cassette release that I met my wife Pat - as she was organising this; that was in 1985.

Pat has been my manager since I decided to go solo. Pat's love and support has been the most significant thing that has happened to me in my music - and in my life. The vinyl record was a compilation with other Glasgow bands. It was a fairly low-key affair - but it was exciting to hold that piece of black vinyl and to see my bands name on it. My name was also on it as the songwriter - so I liked that.

I also played as guitarist on a single released by the band The Primevals, and released quite a few CDs with my own bands over the years. Apart from my very first cassette and vinyl records, the most exciting musical release was last year that I put out my first solo CD; that one felt special.

(Helen)--- What are some challenges you face as a musician?

(Jim)---Worrying about whether I'll ever write another good song; trying to figure out how to best promote myself and my music; finding enough time to work on music; learning words of new songs; finding other musicians to play on my records; playing entertaining shows; figuring out how to best arrange and record the songs I write.

(Helen----)Was it hard for you starting out in music?

No I don't remember it being hard; just picked up the guitar and tried to write songs. It was hard to become commercially successful because I had no clue how that worked. I like playing my guitar and I like playing gigs; I do a lot of both - and that's not hard.

(Helen)---- Who are some musicians you've been lucky enough to work with?

I've played with lots of great people, including; guitarist Graham MacIintosh, my brother Peter Byrne, who plays the bass, Drummer Bruce Ferguson, Robert Ruthven, Lawrence Alexander and Stevie from the band the Creeping Charlies and guitarist David Rodgers.

However, I guess you are looking for names that people might have heard of. I've written songs with Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet and the Jazz singer Carol Kidd MBE and met up with and played along with talented songwriters like Chris Difford and Martin Stephenson.

(Helen)-- How would you like to work with musically?

(Jim)---It would be nice to write songs with Tom Waits.

(Helen)----- What was it like growing up in Glasgow?

(Jim)---No idea, as I come from Clydebank originally; an industrial town to the West of Glasgow. I probably had a fairly normal childhood; riding my bike; playing football; running around the streets, fishing on the local canal.

As a youngster my health was poor - as I had asthma (still do) so I spent a lot of time in bed wheezing and feeling sorry for myself. I left school during the economic recession in the late 70s, early 80s - which had an impact on my world-view and my career path; i.e., I didn't have one. Luckily I've never needed one.

(Helen)---- You have a new album out "On these Dark Night", could you tell us a little about it?

(Jim)---I wanted to get a CD out fairly quickly after I decided to go solo (after playing in bands for 28 years) - mainly so that I would have a calling card for getting gigs - so I wrote a batch of new songs and got the CD recorded and mixed over two weekends.

Pat was also a big driver in getting it recorded and out so quickly - and it was the right decision - it just moved everything up a gear right from the start. The CD was made with help from friends: Mick West, (nominated for the award of Scottish Traditional Singer 2008),who helped with backing vocals. Graham Mackintosh (Guitar), Geoff Martyn (keyboards and recording), Peter Byrne (Bass, Banjo, Banjo mandolin and backing vocals) and Robert Ruthven (Guitar and backing vocals). If it is of interest, the following is background to each of the songs on the CD.

The Holiday Song

This song was written to conjure up memories of my Scottish seaside holidays when I was a kid. I've tried to make the music evocative of the weather you tend to get on the Scottish coast; fresh and breezy. The spanner in the works is that when I was young I suffered from bad Asthma - so I was never feeling that well.

My Weather Girl

My wife Pat loves watching the weather reports on the TV. A long time ago I wrote a song called, 'I'm at one with the weather man' in reference to this. This particular song starts from the same idea - and is a partner for the original song. The music reflects the styles of the blues pickers I was in awe of when I was a teenager. It is also marked out by its short length; about 1 minute 30 seconds.

Come dance with me

A romantic ballad about music dance, dreams and travel. Part of it seems to be about a city dweller romantisising the lifestyle of the traveler; the apparent freedom and lack of inhibitions. It is all played out in the imagination of the stay-at-homer - looking for a way ahead in their own life. The lyrics where written in collaboration with Pat. I'd been playing the music for the song for a long time (perhaps 15 years) before the song was written.

As we step up this stage

This is a song about the points in your life when you decide to make major changes - when you decide to take a different path.

The Handle's broken on my cup

A heart-felt song about love, heartbreak and reconciliation.

Sunday Morning

A song about those times when everything is good within you - and between yourself and your partner; you are exactly where you want to be - and who you want to be with.

Daddy's car

A simple country style song about young lovers - at the point where they are striking out on their own - breaking free from parents.

Tenderness

A simple country song about love, friendship and sensuality.

On these dark nights

I wrote this song after a trip to Orkney and specifically after meeting and playing with Hazel Wrigley of the fiddle and guitar duo The Wrigley Sisters. The music is inspired by Orkney and that meeting - the words are about love and commitment.

(Helen)---- Where do you get your inspiration when doing music?

(Jim)---Generally I just play my guitar and hope that something happens; songs emerge with no prior thought. Once I'm started on a song I then try to figure out what it is about - and try to finish it in a way that is consistent with the existing music and subject matter of the song.

Over the last year I've been collaborating with my wife Pat - which has led to me finishing more songs than I might have in the past. Occasionally I write music based on existing words - then it's about creating the music that suits the words. For me, music is a habit - like picking my nose - it happens with no fore-thought. Having said that, I do tend to have an over-riding idea that I work within - which provides a context for the songs I write. This is based on two things; the general style of music and how challenging or accessible I want the music to be. This general idea changes every few years.

(Helen)--- What advice would you give someone who wants to perform music?

(Jim)----Play music with other people and play in front of an audience as soon as you can. Don't think everything needs to be perfect, i.e. your playing or your songs - just get out there and play. Playing live is a different skill from playing at home - and the only way to learn that skill is to play lots of live gigs. If you want to play live that is - not everyone does. Whatever it is you want to do, just do it and don't make up excuses why you can't.

(Helen)------ Do you have any hobbies?

(Jim)---- I've only recently started learning to record music on my computer; so I suppose that's my hobby at the moment. Another interest of mine is photography.

(Helen)------ Is there anything you would like to add(such as a story, advise, or anything you would like the readers to know about you)?

(Jim)---Steer clear of the idea that commercial success is the same as personal success; unless you like being miserable.

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What the critics said about 'Every day is sunshine' by Jim Byrne.

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  • "ten beautiful, atmospheric songs..", Folk, Blues and beyond
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