It’s a rare musical act that’s still on top of their game after forty years in the business. A steady cycle of album releases and live shows can be a difficult thing to maintain, even for the most successful group – but legendary Irish folk duo, Foster and Allen, make it look almost easy. With record sales in excess of 20 million and a tour calendar that still takes them all around the world, the duo will return to Australia this year for the twentieth time.
Mick Foster and Tony Allen began their musical journey in the mid-seventies, playing in country music bands together around their home country. “The plan was to try to make a semi-success of it in Ireland,” explains singer and accordion player Mick. “By 1977 we had done that, and we were able to go professional.”
The decision was made to form a duo and play easy listening music and traditional Irish instrumentals. Shortly after, the pair had a ‘turntable hit’ with ‘The Rambles of Spring’, but it was in the late seventies and early eighties that they really made their break, releasing number one single ‘A Bunch of Thyme’ and breaking into the British market. The rest is Irish folk music history, with hit songs, successful albums and world tours to follow.
Foster and Allen’s first Australian visit came off the back of their fourth single, ‘Maggie’, which was released in 1983 and went to number one both here and in New Zealand. “That opened up that market for us, and we’ve been going ever since. So far, so good,” Mick says.
So far, so good indeed: next month, with signature accordion and guitar in hand, Foster and Allen will make the long trek back to Oz to entertain our audiences once more. “We’ve completed nineteen [Australian tours] – this will be twenty,” says Mick. “Nobody’s more surprised than us that we’ve lasted so long!”
The duo kicks off their tour at the start of May, playing a string of shows in Queensland and Port Macquarie before heading to our own Civic Theatre. Then it’s on to more shows around New South Wales, ACT, Victoria and Queensland, right through until June. It’s a demanding schedule, to be sure – but fortunately, Mick and Tony always enjoy visiting our sunny shores.
“The weather is fabulous in comparison to weather we would have [back home],” Mick laughs. “On top of that, the audiences are great. We’ve been coming to Australia since 1984, so we’ve gotten to meet an awful lot of people over that length of time, and we look forward to seeing them every time we come out.”
So what is it that has made the duo so successful, and endeared them to so many fans in Australia and across the globe?
“I think we were lucky enough to hit a niche in the market that was totally neglected,” Mick explains. “The radio stations were all catering for folk and pop and country, but the type of stuff that we were doing was middle of the road – there’d be Irish, and there’d be Scottish, and there’d be a bit of country. We’ve recorded everything from Dire Straits and Status Quo right through to Strauss waltzes, but we’ve done them all our way. They still all sound ‘Foster and Allen’, if you know what I mean.
“On top of that,” he adds, “we have a very loyal audience. When they take to you, they stick with you. They’re a great audience in all our markets that have stuck with us from day one.”
Fans both old and new are sure to enjoy a Foster and Allen live show. It’s a joyful affair with a mix of songs and styles, including plenty of classics and favourites. Here’s a sneak peek from Mick of what showgoers have to look forward to…
“In the first half, my wife, who’s our band leader and keyboard player, does a medley of Scottish songs; our bass player does a song; our guitar player does a guitar solo, and the rest of the night is Tony and myself. We do a section of songs from our current album; then we do a lot of the most requested songs we’ve had from the albums over the years.
“There’s hopefully something for everyone,” he continues. “I love to see the audience singing along and getting involved because it shows that they’re enjoying it, which is why we’re there in the first place!”
After their Australian visit, Foster and Allen have a few well-deserved months off, perhaps with some recording thrown in here and there. Then they’re off to Canada for a handful of shows in September before another break. Not overdoing it is the key, Mick explains. “At our age, we wouldn’t be able to do it around the year. We work for three or four weeks, and then we take a break, then we work for another three or four. All in all, between recording and everything, we don’t really work any more than four months a year. When you’re 71 and 67, that’s as much as we’re able to do!”
Luckily for their fans, it seems the pair will still be entertaining audiences for quite a while yet.
Foster and Allen appear at the Civic Theatre on Sunday, May 12 at 7pm. Tickets range from $57 (for season subscribers) to $72 and can be purchased through Ticketek. For more info, visit