Spotlight: The County Affair

When did you first know you wanted to be musicians? 

Kevin Brennan: My Dad was a musician and had a band, so by 11 he taught me the guitar with a promise of a place in the band if I was good enough. Pretty soon I was hooked and had played 200+ gigs by the time I was 18. 

Tony Regan: With hindsight, it seems like it was inevitable. We both grew up in Irish families that were musical, and that wasn’t unusual. There’s a picture of me in short trousers, knock-kneed about 6 years old, holding a TV aerial lead like a microphone We had loads of Irish folk and trad (instrumental) music and I loved learning the songs. Then about age 11, there was a big push in the Irish community to teach music to the children, so I started learning the accordion (and later the piano). But in reality all of that’s circumstantial – the real breakthrough was meeting Kevin at school and being a good enough accordion player to get into his Dad’s band.  

You spent some time apart pursuing other careers, what made you decide to get back together and pursue this now? 

KB: About 6 years ago I took up songwriting and it seemed obvious that we should get back together given the fun and success we had in the past. It then built up momentum and we both were in a position to scale back normal work and focus on this which has been brilliant. 

TR: I had enjoyed a long stint (12 years +) playing occasional gigs in a Pogues tribute band, but was gradually finding deputies to cover for me so I could step down and move to other things. When Kevin started writing songs and invited me to work on them with him it sounded fun, and the experience in the studio quickly became irresistible. We both got truly hooked. 

How does the writing process work for you guys, are you both quite actively involved usually?  

KB: I write the songs and I’m continually writing. Once I have a core song idea I share it with Tony, as he has a good eye on arrangement or better melody lines to make lyrics work, etc. 

TR: After Kevin shares a song idea with me I love building it together – adding my vocals and then other instruments. We’re not sophisticated users of GarageBand but we’ve got better and better at sending demos back and forth that help a song take shape. 

Can you tell me the story behind ‘Beach’?  

KB: When I took to songwriting I liked the idea of storytelling; a strong Americana tradition. I try and find snippets of things I saw or heard happen or, importantly, an audience can believe could happen. I spend a lot of time in rural Ireland and there was a sad incident of a fatal car crash – all too common there – and I just thought up a backstory to what possibly happened, so bringing the love story angle, 

Tell me about your experiences working within the UK Country scene? 

TR: I guess we’ve always had a tangential entry point into the UK country scene.  Back in the days of Kevin’s Dad’s showband, we played a genre you’d call Irish Country: songs with Irish lyrical themes but musically in a country vein. Meanwhile, Kev was discovering outlaw country and other sub-genres emerging, sometimes UK-led, including alt-country, cowpunk, new country – all of which morphed over the years into what’s these days is broadly known as Americana.   

In the band name, in the word ‘county’ there’s a hint of American and Irish geographies, while ‘affair’ suggests a typical country music theme of small-town controversy and heartache. Now we’re up and running, it’s great to feel the warm embrace of the UK country music world in the guise of other artists, audiences and radio presenters; as well as festivals we’ve played this year like C2C, Black Deer and (coming up in September) the British Country Music Festival. 

You’ve recently been out on tour with Ward Thomas and have lots of festival dates in the diary, how excited are you to get on the road and connect with a new audience? 

KB: Being out on the road is just brilliant. To play your own songs to 100s of people and get a good response and build genuine fans is just unbelievably rewarding.  

TR: Our musical beginnings were playing live – it’s only relatively recently we’ve been recording in studios – so being out on the road truly takes us back to our roots. As soon as I got my driving licence we were playing 2-3 gigs every weekend, even while still at school. And as young men in our early 20s we toured coast-to-coast across America playing bar gigs we’d set up ourselves. So playing live shows is really just picking up where we left off, and it feels great. 

A silly question for you, what’s the strangest thing you’ve written a song about?  

KB: OK, so one of my early songs used incidents and stories from my family. My great uncle was supposed to get on the titanic but spent his ticket money on a dead cert betting tip. The horse lost and saved his life! 

What’s next for you? 

KB: The big focus is a second album and we are in full songwriting and demoing mode now. It will then be out next spring and we will get out on the road to support it. Can’t wait! 

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