The Bona Venture
March 26, 2010
Celtic rock captivates and commemorates - Features

Friday, March 26, 2010

Celtic rock captivates and commemorates

Black 47 and McCarthyizm promote Irish culture and honor a former friar

Tim Gross

Issue date: 3/26/10 Section: Features
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Black 47 and McCarthyizm performed for the Bonaventure community last Friday.
Image courtesy of bradfordtoday.com


Larry Kirwin, lead singer for Black 47, walked onto the Rigas Theater stage at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts Friday evening with a glass of beer and about 150 students, faculty members, administrators and trustees before him.

"We're here to work on your hangovers," Kirwin announced, as the New York City-based Celtic rock band gathered the campus community with a hard-rock edge and smooth jazz tones in a concert presented by the Father Mychal Judge Center.

The concert, featuring Black 47 and McCarthyizm, an Irish band from Buffalo, celebrated the university's Irish heritage and honored the late Father Mychal Judge, who attended Black 47 shows and spent time with the band in New York City before his death in 2001.

"That's one of the things that was an intention of the Father Mychal Judge Center," said Larry Sorokes, the center's director. "A really important piece for Father Mychal Judge, personally, I think, was the continuation and support of Irish culture and heritage."

The show started with McCarthyizm's eight-song set of upbeat Irish rock songs, along with folk songs like "Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye" and a song combining Great Big Sea's "Ordinary Day" and The Who's "Teenage Wasteland."

Black 47 then incorporated traditional Irish rock tunes, such as nationalist anthem "James Connolly," with original songs like "Iraq" and "Izzy's Irish Rose."

Kirwan (guitar and lead vocals), Geoffrey Blythe (tenor and soprano saxophone), Joe Burcaw (bass), Thomas Hamlin (drums and percussion), Joseph Mulvanerty (uilleann pipes and flute) and Fred Parcells (trombone and pennywhistle) also worked in reggae and rap, as well as Irish dance tunes to give the crowd a diverse show and an impetus to dance.

At one point in the show, about two dozen students, two board members and one professor danced in the aisles.

"We didn't have a huge crowd, but I thought it was a very responsive crowd, a very receptive crowd, and they didn't seem to let seating deter them from getting up and dancing in the aisles," Sorokes said.

One of the dance participants, John Hanchette, appreciated the audience's response.

"I think it humanized things," said Hanchette, a professor of journalism.

Black 47 also humanized the show with the song "Mychal," a tribute to Father Mychal, who was a mentor to the band and the first confirmed casualty of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

After the show, Kirwan said performing the song about Father Mychal in the friar's former place of study meant a lot to him.

"It was kind of like coming home, in a certain way," he said. "I tried to capture him in that song, almost in the form of a prayer."

Kirwan recalled the days Father Mychals spent at the band's shows and the times he spent with its members at the bars afterward.

"I don't know if it was a really deep relationship with him, but he would always be at the gigs," Kirwan said. He felt Father Mychal came to the band's shows as a release from the intense life he led as a Franciscan.

Kirwan also portrayed Father Mychal as vain, but in a positive way.

"Larry (Kirwan) has this sort of honest and candid description of Father Mychal as this incredible human who also had kind of a vain streak," Sorokes said. "It gives you a glimpse of the human side of a person who was larger than life. To be able to see him as a real person with all of the flaws that go along with that is one of the things Larry Kirwan has done."

Father Mychal attended concerts with his hair slicked back and a charismatic presence, Kirwan said.

"(Black 47 concerts were) the happening thing in town, and Mychal was one of those people who liked being the center of attention," he said.

Outside the shows, Father Mychal gave his attention - and his counseling - to anyone in need of it.

"If you had a problem, he was the guy you went to," Kirwan said. "You hear the word charity, and that was Mychal. I think it was because he felt a lot of weakness in himself that he was there for other people."

But Father Mychal overcame his weaknesses, spending time at the bars with the band without drinking alcohol.

"I always thought he drank because he always had his elbow on the bar in a particular way," Kirwan said. "It never occurred to me that he didn't drink. He had drinking problems himself, and he had come out of them.

"It was only after he died that I realized how complex a person he was and his links to various things, to the gay community, to alcoholics."

Kirwan's tales of talking to Father Mychal reach beyond the singer's personal nostalgia.

"Thinking of Father Mychal hanging out in an Irish bar with Black 47 is not only amusing, but it shows that a lot of people have a mixed scope," Hanchette said.

In a similar way, the gathering of groups from different levels in the campus commnity under Fr. Mychal's name reflected that mixed scope.

"There's a lot that can be developed and a lot that can be learned and a lot that can grow as a result of having opportunities where students and faculty and administration and trustees get together and enjoy the same evening," Sorokes said.

Kirwan has worked with the Father Mychal Judge Center in shaping the center's development, Sorokes said. The center plans to bring him back April 21 for a one-man show. Kirwan will play music and discuss the writing he has done as an author.

e-mail: grossts@sbu.edu

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