Paul Duffy is an Irishman-turned-Sarasotan that’s an area performer playing saxophone, trumpet, flute, guitar, keyboards, drums, bass, tin whistle, bagpipes —
“and a few other things very badly,” he says. Duffy's preferred instrument is the sax.
Duffy was born in North Donegal, moved to the states in 1982 and was first drawn to Sarasota in 2004 because of its circus history. He opened The Irish Rover Pub in Gulfgate which was known for it’s musical nights until he closed it six years later because, as he says, "You don’t own it, it owns you.”
Now he’s sticking to his roots as a performer and will host an Irish variety show this Sunday, March 10, at Universalist Unitarian Church. He’s also hosting a St. Patrick’s Day event from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Twin Lakes Park on March 17. He spoke to The Observer a little bit about his background.
So tell me about your background performing. I understand you are from an Irish Circus Family — Duffy’s International Circus?
By age 6, I was performing in the ring doing basic stuff like walking stilts and then progressed to a tightrope act (by age 9.) It was nothing like The Wallendas, but similar ... We toured around Ireleand ... And I played in the circus band, that was the beginning of my musical experience — one minute you’re playing the Can-Can and the next you’re playing the waltz.
I’m assuming you won’t be walking the tightrope while playing saxophone at this upcoming concert?
I’m 53-years-old, now. So I think my tightrope walking days are behind me now.
What brought you to this area initially?
Being a circus person! When I was growing up in Ireland, my parents always talked about John and Mable Ringling — they were the superstars of circus to anybody. I heard the name Sarasota before I knew geographically where America was. When I first came to Sarasota, I found there was an energy that really appealed to me, and I thought, I’ll come back here.
And when did you come back?
I came down in 2004 and looked around and found a place in Gulfgate (and opened) The Irish Rover Pub in November 2005, which I owned for six years.
And you’ve played with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and I hear Brian Johnson of AC/DC. Tell me about your relationship with Johnson.
I used to close off the parking lot, had a tent and a big stage. And I was performing the (pub’s) first Patty’s Day and in walks Brian Johnson. He’s very unassuming ... I introduced myself and we became friends. When I had the second anniversary party, he said, “I’m going to come up and play for you. Is that okay?” and I told him I couldn’t pay him what he was used to. But he told me, “Your Uncle Brian will do a favor for ya.” He’s very warm and very down to earth. I can’t say enough good things about him.
And you’ll be performing a tribute to St. Patrick’s Day this year?
I’ll be doing some comedy, and some audience participation. The Irish Dance Academy of Sarasota will perform. Greg Holt will be on Fiddle, Michial Hickmott on the bodhran (a hand-held Celtic drum). And we’ll also have dancers doing their thing. It’ll basically just be an Irish variety show, for lack of a better word.
Why should someone attend?
There are so many Irish Americans around Sarasota. I’m always astounded with how much they know about Irish history and how proud they are of their heritage. When these people come, it’s an uplifting experience. It’s a feel-good show. Even if you aren’t Irish.
Will you be wearing green?
Oh yeah! And most of the shows we do, people will show up in green.
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