Album Stories
by Larry Kirwan

Live in London
SIDE A: Home of the Brave
1 Home of the Brave (Kirwan) - 4:18
2 Too Late to Turn Back (Kirwan) -
3 Paddy's Got A Brand New Reel (Kirwan) - 3:30
4 Patriot Game (Behan) -
5 Rockin' the Bronx (Kirwan) - 6:00
SIDE B: Live in London
1 Free Joe Now (Byrne/Kirwan) - 4:25
2 Funky Céilí (Kirwan) - 6:05
3 Liverpool Fantasy/Get Up Stand Up (Kirwan/Marley) - 11:40

Chris Byrne Uilleann Pipes, Tin Whistle
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitar, Synthesizer, Percussion
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle
Dave Conrad Bass
Thomas Hamlin Drums
Mike Fazio Guitar, Lute
Paddy Higgins Bodhrán
Eileen Ivers Fiddle
Joanie Madden Flute
Alfredo Scotti Bass on 'Too Late To Turn Back'
Geoffrey Lad Road Manager, Backing Vocals
Engineered by Joe Johnston at Lions Den Recording Studios NYC

Special Thanks: June Anderson, Carmel Byrne, Frank Gallagher, Frank Murray, Steve Duggan/Paddy Reilly's Pub, Sammy O'Connor/Flemings Pub, The Irish Voice, The Irish Echo, Gerry O'Sullivan, John McDonagh, Jack O'Leary, Jimmy Leacy

Black 47 did its first gig in the Bronx in October, 1989. Some of the originals performed were Desperate and Too Late To Turn Back. Within weeks I had written 5 or 6 more, two of which were influenced by those first nights up on Bainbridge Avenue - Home of the Brave and Paddy's Got a Brand New Reel (with a nod to the one and only, James Brown). Another was called Green Card - a reggae type number - which had the temerity to suggest that an undocumented Irish girl might marry a Jamaican guy to become legal. Of course, the song was tongue-in-cheek and it wasn't one of my favorites anyway but, to my amazement, I discovered that the "new Irish" took a dim view about being the subjects of any song which was not self-glorifying.

Still, I didn't lose a lot of sleep over the matter but felt that we should get some kind of recording out on the streets as soon as possible. So, Chris Byrne and I pooled about $500 together and I took it to a friend of mine, Joe Johnston, in whose studio I had done some recordings for modern dance. Joe's rate was $30 per hour but we settled on $25. With reel-to-reel tape costing around $200 that left us with about 12 hours to get something down.

We chose 4 songs, Home, Paddy, Too Late and a cover of Dominick Behan's Patriot Game which was causing a stir in the bars (I had programmed in an odd 6/8 urban beat that sent the venerated song in a whole different direction. Dylan fans might care to note that Bob lifted the melody for God On Our Side from Patriot Game - which might suggest why he is so testy when Dominick's name is mentioned in the wonderful movie, Don't Look Back - he probably didn't know that Dominick himself had lifted it from an old traditional air, The Merry Month of May). At first, the odd beat even confused us; we would be forced to let the drum machine play a couple of sequences to get the feel and then pray we were coming in on time.)

As regards this first recording, I would go in first, lay down the drum machine track then play electric guitar over it and sing the lead vocal, with a weather eye tuned to the clock. Chris, an officer in the NYPD, would arrive down from Midtown North, straight off the job and lay down pipes, whistle, bodhran and vocals. Fred, who had recently come aboard, as usual knew exactly what he wanted to play on the trombone. Then, my old comrade from the band Chill Faction, David Conrad would bring in his swooping 5 string bass and nail the song to the wall. I also remember Mike Fazio (also from Chill Faction) adding electric guitar and lute. Eileen Ivers dropped by one night with Joanie Madden and they jammed together, to great effect, on Home and Paddy.

This must have been shortly before Christmas 1989. Around that time, I received a call from Janet Noble, a playwright friend of mine. Her play, Away Alone - about illegal Irish emigrants - was due to open in the Irish Arts Center and her director Terry Lamude was looking for some incidental music. I dropped off the finished sides and some vocal-less rhythm tracks and Terry very skillfully inserted them in his production. Away Alone became quite the hit in the Irish community. The songs had an immediate in-your-face quality and contributed to the raw Bronx-like atmosphere. The play immediately added to our "legitimacy." People who had dismissed us as a crowd of wankers now tended to see us in a different light. To jump on the bandwagon, we titled the cassette, Away Alone and, to further fill it out, I wrote and recorded a rather dirge-like anthem, coincidentally called Away Alone which, I'm glad to say, appears to have completely disappeared.

On New Year's Day 1990, Thomas Hamlin and Frank Gallagher - Galigula from the song, Rockin' The Bronx and soundman for our old group, Major Thinkers - were out for a walk and decided to drop by my apartment to say hello. Frank had moved back to London and was working for Frank Murray, manager of the Pogues. By coincidence, the two Franks were forming a new record company and when Galigula dropped by I was making copies of the cassette. He took back a copy to London with him. Some days later, I get a call from Frank Murray offering to have our cassette be their first release. As simple as that! However, Frank Murray didn't like Away Alone as a title. Voila! Home of the Brave. The cassette was pressed up but, right before its release, Frank's daughter was badly hurt in a swimming accident. Frank scrapped the company and gave us the cassettes.

However, we remained good friends. Now Frank Gallagher, being the dogged Scotchman that he is, persevered and arranged some dates for us in London in December 1990. Chris, Geoff, Fred and I went over and did 3 pub gigs and 2 opening slots for the Pogues. The first was their Christmas 1990 show at Brixton Academy with Kristy McColl, among others. At that time, Fred quite often taped our shows. He did this for his own head, if not edification, and would just place his walkman on the sound board before going on stage; for economy, he invariably used the cheapest 90 cent normal bias tapes.

When we got back to NYC, I borrowed the Brixton tape and was intrigued by it. You could hear the crowd booing us as we took to the stage and screaming for "Shane, Shane, Shane!" At the time, I was in no mood to be booed by a crowd of half-assed Londoners, so I turned the amp up to the proverbial 11, added full volume to the distortion pedal and gave these Shaneatics the benefit of a thunderous open E Major chord. That blew eardrums, if not minds, and settled things down considerably. By the end of the gig the crowd were civil - if still unconvinced of our budding greatness.

Some of the songs we did that night include Rockin' The Bronx, Free Joe Now, Paddy's Got a Brand New Reel and, because it was some kind of John Lennon anniversary, Liverpool Fantasy, a song from a play of mine of the same title, which segued into Get Up, Stand Up by Bob Marley. We included these songs on the cassette of Home of the Brave.

So, to the best of my memory, that tape had three different incarnations: 1. Away Alone. 2. Home of the Brave (Frank Murray's version) and 3. Home of the Brave/Live in London. The tape sold mightily at gigs and helped finance our next recording which would be the Black 47 Independent CD. — Larry Kirwan

 

Black 47
Black 47
1 Banks of the Hudson (Kirwan) - 4:55
2 Rockin' the Bronx (Kirwan) - 4:32
3 Desperate (Kirwan) - 4:23
4 Funky Céilí (Bridie's Song) (Kirwan) - 4:01
5 Fanatic Heart (Kirwan) - 6:27
6 Free Joe Now (Kirwan/Byrne) - 3:35
7 40 Shades of Blue (For Kevin Wherever You Are) (Kirwan) - 5:44
8 James Connolly (Kirwan) - :5:52
9 Blind Mary (O'Carolan)  Her Dear Old Donegal/Sleep Tight in New York City (Kirwan) - 8:42
10 Livin' in America (Kirwan) - 5:30
11 Land of DeValera (Kirwan) - 4:23
12 Paddy's Got A Brand New Reel (Kirwan) - 3:30

Chris Byrne Uilleann Pipes, Tin Whistle, Bodhrán, Vocals
Geoffrey Blythe Tenor Soprano & Baritone Saxophones
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitar, Synthesizer, Percussion
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Percussion
David Conrad Bass
Mike 'Il Duce' Fazio Severely Effected Guitar
Paddy Higgins Bodhrán
Mark Blandori Rivington Street Percussion
Tony DiMarco Fiddle
Carmel Johnston Fiddle
Margie Mulvihill Tin Whistle
Deborah Berg, Sherryl Marshall, Emily Bindinger Backing Vocals
'Livin' in America' was recorded with Morning Star - Mary Courtney (Lead Vocals), Margie Mulvihill & Carmel Johnston
Eamonn DeValera Guest Vocalist

Special Thanks: Vin Scelsa, Steve Duggan, Dympna, Johnny Byrne, "Brother" Brian McCabe, John Flynn / The Village Pub, Brian Mor, Morning Star, I-47, Paul Hill, The Boston 13, Gregg Trooper, John Anderson, Dave Herndon, Joe Strummer, Paddy Reilly, John Swenson, Willie Nile, Shay Healy, Declan Farrell & his Too Live Crew, Sir Charles Comer, Patrick Farrelly, Terry George, John O'Mahoney, John McDonagh, Joey Ramone, Maura Crowe, Shane Doyle & Sin E, Brian Rohan, Patricia Harty, Joe Johnson, Rick Morgan

I suppose we must have started recording Black 47 Independent in the summer of 1990. We were having a problem with Home of the Brave, as radio stations (with the exception of Radio Free Éireann and a few DJs on WBAI) wouldn't touch cassettes. As far as I remember, we didn't set out to make a cd but to get as many new songs down on tape as possible. I know Funky Céilí was one of the first we did after Home of the Brave. As a matter of fact, that song was released as a single 45rpm in Ireland and, of course, did nothing. 45s too were going out of style. And yet, I believe that's how Vin Scelsa came to play the band. But more of that later!

I remember the first time we did Funky Céilí. It was in the Irish Arts Center on W. 51st Street. We had given it a run through immediately after setting up the PA. It sounded pretty good to me and I was keen to see how the audience would respond. They never even noticed the song that would soon change our lives but kept on dancing. I suppose that, in itself, was good. None of us had any idea that within a few years so many baby girls would be given so many versions of the name - Ceili, Kaylee, K-Lee, K-leigh, Kayleigh, Kayleey, Quaylee and others.

The recording of Black 47 took a long time, mainly because of money. Chris and I would pool our resources every couple of months and I would attempt to record 3 or 4 songs at a time. We were back in Joe Johnston's but he had now moved to new quarters on Broadway and 20th Street. This very spacious studio was also being utilized as a rehearsal room. To my awe, the one and only Keith Richard was rehearsing his band The Expensive Winos at odd hours of the night, so I had to work around him and his equipment. As we were still working with drum machines, I would program the beats at home and later use Keef's amplifiers - without permission - for my strat. By this time the band had expanded and both Geoff and Hammy would come in later and lay down their parts.

Roundabout then, an old friend of mine reappeared in my life - the one and only Johnny Byrne. When I played him some of the recordings, he said, "I think I know how to get what you're looking for. Let's make a cd." And so, Johnny came aboard as engineer. Johnny was a master at recording acoustic instruments, having cut his teeth with the Bothy Band, etc in Ireland - or so he said. We all bullshitted a lot in those days. Whatever! The main thing was Johnny could walk the walk as easily as talkin' the talk.

And so Chris and I worked every gig we could get to piece together this now projected cd. Back then, there was music seven nights a week up on the Bainbridge Avenue/ 204th Street area of the Bronx. There had been a boom in the construction business in the mid-to late 80's and it seemed as though every chippy and bartender were opening their own bars. Now it wasn't that they had any great love for Black 47 but we were beginning to attract a bit of an audience - so, as soon as we'd get fired from one place, the joint down the corner would hire us. We were working 5 to 7 nights a week, with a benefit or two thrown in on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. This was the finale of the roarin' 80's - the recession was setting in but up on Bainbridge, it was drink, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we can always go home! Black 47 had found it's niche. The mood was ugly, we had attitude to burn, new songs arriving every week and as a result of the constant playing, we were starting to happen as a band.

Much of my memory of the recording of Black 47 Independent is pretty hazy. We were playing constantly, rearing young children and imbibing a lot of alcohol. We were now refusing to do more than two sets a night but they were long 2 hour steamy sets. We played Paddy Reilly's Wednesdays and Saturdays for Monsignor Steve Duggan. It seemed like the place never closed. What had been just another hole in the wall was now turning into a great scene. Madam Dympna ran Reilly's with a velvet fist and was a friend to many of the musicians and fans who hung out there - Joe Hurley and various Rogues, Patrick Maguire and Speir Mor's, Seamus Egan in pre-Solas days, Eileen Ivers, Joanie Madden and all those Ladies we Cherished so fervently along with regulars like Frank McCourt, Paul Hill, various Kennedys and so many more. Reilly's was the place to be and Black 47 ruled Reilly's.

I do remember recording Fanatic Heart and the look on Johnny Byrne's face when we finally mixed it. Not that I was blase at the time, but my mind was always on to the next song. He said nothing. Just stood up, turned off the lights and reran the tape. Then he turned to me in the soft glow of the mixing board and murmured, "that's something special, boy." Yeah, it was Johnny and you were something special too, man.

Another memory that sticks is the first night we performed James Connolly in Reilly's. Now remember, we did very little rehearsing back then and still don't. When you play so much, just the thought of rehearsing can be a drag. I was writing furiously at the time and we would piece together the songs, sometimes a couple at a time, in a few hours in some back room, then perform them that night. We were usually glad if we got through a new song without making too much of a balls of it. That was the goal. The good songs would take care of themselves, the others would just fade away. But somewhere in the middle of Connolly the audience stopped dead - even drinks were left untouched. It was a strange moment. When we finally finished, there was a hush. Oftentimes, I still hear that hush during Connolly and I remember that first wonderful night.

Another one that sticks is of being in a joint downtown on Third Avenue. Joe Hurley actually promoted the gig. Joe was an appreciator of Irish music and a general bon vivant around town before he formed the Rogues (now Rogues March). It was one of those hot humid Summer nights and during Land of DeValera, Chris leapt from the stage, microphone in hand and began rapping and thus was born what would later become Seanchaí.

Wild, wild nights and the crowds were getting bigger. Right from the git-go, because of our political stance we had attracted activists. The campaign to Free Joe Doherty was in full swing and we were doing benefits to help Joe, The Guilford Four, the Birmingham Six and many others. We became friends with Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon and Paddy Armstrong - friends to this day. Remember, back then, Sinn Féin were still a bunch of pariahs and Gerry Adams had not achieved his current superstardom. To be Republican was to often stand alone - beyond the pale - but the Free Joe Doherty Committee brought activists of all types together. The issue was more than just one man's liberty - there was a greater principle involved - should Britain be allowed interfere in the affairs of the USA? Black 47 was in the forefront of that movement and Chris' song Free Joe Now galvanized many's the audience.

But the band was growing by the day. Fred and Geoff's horns were doing things I never heard before from a brass section. Instead of the conventional R&B style, they were playing more like two interlocking soloists and when you added the pipes to the mix, it was all a glorious swirling cacophony. Hammy was using an array of percussion, African and otherwise, (my favorite was a Foster's Can partially filled with rice) which gelled mightily with the pounding drum machine.

Right from the start, there was an underlying confidence. After all, most of us had been up and down the pike with other bands, made records, played big shows. We were getting offers to play the major venues around New York City but we wouldn't budge. We felt the world should come to us and it did. We'd found our Cavern in Reilly's and Black 47 Independent came out around Christmas 91 and began selling by the bucketful. And why shouldn't it? There was nothing quite like that cd - raw, melodious and uncompromising - full of attitude and good songs and everyone knew it! — Larry Kirwan

 

Black 47 EP
Black 47 EP
1 Funky Céilí (Bridie's Song) (Kirwan) - 4:01
2 James Connolly (Kirwan) - 6:04
3 Maria's Wedding (Kirwan) - 4:11
4 Our Lady Of The Bronx (Kirwan) - 5:41
5 Black 47 (Kirwan) - 7:29

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor, Soprano & Baritone Saxophones
Chris Byrne Uilleann Pipes, Tin Whistle, Bodhrán, Vocals
David Conrad Bass
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Percussion
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Percussion
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals
Produced by Ric Ocasek and Larry Kirwan
Art Direction Marc Cozza / Henry Marquez
Design Marc Cozza
Photography Kurt Mundahl
Spraying & Running George Robertson

Our first major mistake was made - one, I might add, that made sense to me, at the time. EMI decided that, since we were such a unique and not easily pigeon-holed band, an EP of 4 or 5 songs should be released to introduce the American public and, more importantly, radio stations to our sound. Now, since we had a surfeit of recorded tracks, the original idea was that Funky Céilí should be the lead track, supported by others that would not be used on Fire of Freedom. But, as time went on, various people in the company insisted that their favorite tracks be included. So, eventually, Maria's Wedding (my choice for a first or second single), James Connolly, Black 47 and Our Lady of the Bronx were added. The latter was the only one that would not appear on Fire of Freedom - in retrospect there should have been more. But then, EMI was being run by a number of very headstrong people - some of them with years of experience in the business; Murad and Judy were beginners in the world of management, Elliot was in LA looking after Neil Young and I, for once, stepped to one side to let the record company do its job. Then again, we were playing 4 or 5 nights a week, doing hundreds of interviews, getting our pictures taken for all the big magazines and so on and so forth and so fifth! And is there ever any point in crying over spilt milk?

The EP was released in November 1992 and immediately, to everyone's amazement including mine, Funky Ceili became the most requested song on the then booming alternative radio format. EMI couldn't keep the EP in stores. Fire of Freedom, because of fights over the content of the cover, would not be ready for release until March 1993. And so for those four months, while people tried to find the EP, Funky Ceili and Maria's Wedding were played off the air.

At this point, we felt like we were at the center of a cyclone. But due to management and record company not being prepared, much of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was wasted. Of course, it's easy see all this in hindsight. I definitely had no idea what was happening at the time. Suffice it to say, we were hotter than the hob of hell with no product in the store to boast of. Oh, we did sell the 50,000 of the EP that EMI managed to print up but we would have sold 10 times that amount of a full cd. I mean, who the hell buys EPs? I certainly don't!

But we were having a ball. People were clawing their way into Reilly's and any other venue where we showed our heads. We had no idea that the 3 month window of opportunity was slowly closing in front of us. The reviews were stunning. We were the Second Coming! "Finally. Music that means something again!" Time Magazine trumpeted and many concurred. Most of the media was enchanted that we continued to play a hole in the wall on Second Avenue. And we were getting better. There is no question that success improves you immeasurably. Confidence is hard earned but we were playing like demons now. People who had given us the finger a year before were now trying to bribe their way into the gigs.

An then it was March and Fire of Freedom was released. The reviews were magnificent and I assumed that the radio play would soon follow for Maria's Wedding, our second single. But no, radio said they had already played the hell out of that from the EP, they wanted something different. The Brains Trust at EMI went into overdrive. Every song on the cd was considered and then Rockin' The Bronx was settled on.

These were minor details with us. We were burning up stages, receiving awards, playing Farm Aid before 80,000 people. We were being hugged by Kris Kristofferson and shaking hands with Neil Young and Johnny Cash. The world was our stage. We were on a bus hitting the country. About 6 months late, I now realise. Ah, but what the hell! We were the toast of Letterman, Leno and O'Brien. Life was a blast! And then I get a call from Pete Ganbarg. What had I got in the song department? EMI had decided to shelve the single of Rockin' The Bronx (even though it had already been printed) and Black 47 were to get their asses into the studio as quickly as possible and make a new cd.

BLACK 47: Black 47

Maybe Paulina was off on a photo shoot in the Azores, leaving Ric Ocasek alone when he wandered into the packed house at Paddy Reilly's in NYC to hear Black 47-the band he would ultimately produce. Black 47 (named for the great Irish potato famine of 1847) is a New York-via-Emerald Isle band with a mission, a rollicking good pub band with its heart and eyes focused on the little people stomped by the headlines. Gutsy, well-informed and as passionate about its causes as any politically-minded band in these times, Black 47's message rings with an air of "been there, seen that" authenticity, from the legend of an Irish activist ("James Connelly") to the culture clashes of life in the Bronx ("Maria's Wedding"). Never heavy-handed on the lyrical end, vocalist Larry Kirwan delivers these songs with a gritty wail, as if he were trying to ignite the recording with his voice. Watch for this band to cause a stir wherever it appears. — Steve Ciabattoni: CMJ New Music Report

 

Fire of Freedom
Fire of Freedom
1 Livin' in America ["Fordham Road 8:00 AM"] (Kirwan) - 1:20
2 Maria's Wedding (Kirwan) - 4:09
3 Rockin' the Bronx (Kirwan) - 4:02
4 Fanatic Heart (Kirwan) - 6:14
5 Funky Céilí ["Bridie's Song"] (Kirwan) - 4:00
6 Fire of Freedom (Kirwan) - 6:25
7 James Connolly (Kirwan) - 6:07
8 Livin' in America ["Bainbridge Avenue 2:00 AM"] (Kirwan) - 1:20
9 Banks of the Hudson (Kirwan) - 4:07
10 40 Shades of Blue (Kirwan) - 5:29
11 New York, NY 10009 (Kirwan) - 4:19
12 Sleep Tight in New York City/Her Dear Old Donegal (Kirwan) - 7:35
13 Black 47 (Kirwan) - 7:23
14 Livin' in America (Kirwan) - 5:38

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor, Soprano & Baritone Saxophones
Chris Byrne Uilleann Pipes, Tin Whistle, Bodhrán, Vocals
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Percussion
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Percussion
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals
David Conrad Bass
Ric Ocasek Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Backing Vocals Deborah Berg, Sherryl Marshall, Emily Bindiger
Soprano on 'Black 47' Mary Martello
Toasting, Bass, Keyboards on 'Fire Of Freedom' Darryl Jenifer
Chill Faction Guitar on 'Her Dear Old Donegal' Mike Fazio
Brass Arrangement on 'Fanatic Heart': Geoffrey Blythe
Brass Arrangements: Fred Parcells, Geoffrey Blythe, Larry Kirwan
'Livin' In America' with Morning Star Mary Courtney Vocals
Art Direction Henry Marquez / Marc Cozza
Design Marc Cozza
Photography Darren Modricker, Kurt Mundahl
Produced by Ric Ocasek & Larry Kirwan
Engineered by Jon Goldberger, Johnny Byrne
Assistant Engineers Samrat Vasisht, Hal Belknap, Richard Scott, Mark Dannat
Mixed by Jon Goldberger
Mastered by Greg Calbi

Special Thanks: Vin Scelsa, Tom Schneider, Monsignor Steve Duggan, & the staff at Paddy Reilly's, Elliot Roberts, Frank Gironda, Mary Frohman, Daren Schneider & Lookout Mgt., Murad Heerjee, Judy Greenberg, Emily Greenberg & Wish Mgt., Pete Ganbarg, Don Rubin, Daniel Glass, Mike Mena, Frances Pennington, Hilary Lerner, Kris, Ferraro, Ben Nygaard, John Sutton-Smith & all at SBK, Johnny Byrne for the important early work, "Brother" Brian McCabe, John Flynn/The Village Pub, Brian Mor, Morning Star, Paul Hill, Gerry Conlon, The Boston 13, Joe Strummer, Shay Healy, Declan Farrell, Sir Charles Comer, Patrick Farrelly, Terry George, John O'Mahoney, John McDonagh, Joey Ramone, Maura Crowe, Brian Rohan, Mary Power, Patricia Harty, Niall O'Dowd, James "The Light" Dean, Larry "Man In Black" Watson, Kieran Burke, Marsha Vlasic & Wayne Kabak at ICM, Connolly's of Rockaway, Brian Byrne, Wayne Rigliano, Mick Dewan, Brian Monahan, George Kornienko, Mo Chara, Tony Carlisle and the Springhill Feile, Friends at MTN, Nico Wormsworth and Tom Gartland, Peter D'Souza

And Very Special Thanks: Pierce Turner, Tony DeMarco, Copernicus, Rev. Brian Mallon, Margie Mulvihill, Carmel Johnston

Sinéad had blonde hair, a black beret and was a rebel. She hung out at our gigs, got drunk with us and laughed a lot. She wasn't married and had a baby at home. She was a can-do kind of person. One night she asked me what would move Black 47 to a new level? "Radio play," said I, with little or no hesitation. "Where do I start?" She replied. I told her about a guy named Vin Scelsa, gave her his address and a couple of 45s of Funky Ceili. The next week Vin started playing Funky Céilí.

That's one story. The other is that we were hired to play Greg Trooper's wedding and, in appreciation, Greg gave Vin the single. That's Vin's story and he's sticking to it! I think Sinéad's is more romantic. But such is life. (Another person would enter our life at that wedding - Stewart Lerman, but later of him.)

Vin played the single constantly and, soon thereafter, the independent cd. We were off in a canter. The lines had already began forming around the block for our gigs in Reilly's. Roughly the same time, the music editor of Newsday happened to be walking by and was intrigued by the scene - lines outside for a band he'd never even heard of. He came in and a few days later, John Anderson was assigned to do a big piece on the band. John came to all our gigs for a week and saw the tumult we were causing in the Bronx and Queens and the adoring crowds in Reilly's. He did a three page article about the band and soon record companies were banging on the door. I had had my fill of these people during the Major Thinkers days. (I've seen so many hearts and lives broken by the travails of the music business, but later for that too). Accordingly, when these "executives" would ask for a CD, I'd send them to the bar but tell them to have their money ready. I suppose that only added to the mystique.

For all their presence, they made little difference, at first. Back in their offices, none of them could put into words what kind of a scene we were causing or, even more importantly, how we could be marketed. One of them was different, however, his name was Pete Ganbarg and he was from EMI. I could tell he "got" the songs and the band. After his first visit, he knew all the words by heart. I felt he'd stick with us through hell and high water and he did - for the most part. (He's the A&R guy responsible for Santana's recent big seller.) Still EMI weren't ready to commit.

And so the beat went on. Rolling Stone reviewed the independent cd and Vin Scelsa wrote a piece in Penthouse - we were fast becoming national. Now remember, Steve Duggan had already sent us to play various Irish festivals in Boston, Chicago and San Francisco. It always amazed reviewers in these cities when they saw people sing along to songs that were not on the radio. God bless grass roots!

Joe Strummer showed up one night and didn't leave for months. He rarely spoke, just stood in the front row and bopped to the music. What a blast! The Man from the Clash groovin' to us. He told the booker for Wetlands that he we had to play there and so began our relationship with that club that lasts to the present. Matt Dillon was in most nights. He insisted that we appear in the movie "The Saint of Fort Washington." I remember so well the closing night party in Reilly's. Danny Glover standing on his stool, black power salute to James Connolly - Matt nursing a fractured foot on the bar. Celebrities came and went - most of them nice people looking for a night out where they wouldn't be bothered. We were pretty cavalier about their presence. After all, the crowds were there to see us.

One day, Murad and Judy showed up. Judy was the sister of Elliot Roberts who had apparently managed everyone from Jesus on down. Elliot was, at this time, looking after Neil Young, Tracy Chapman and Ric Ocasek. He was based in LA but offered to manage us - with Murad and Judy handling things in New York. Soon after, while on stage in Reilly's, I noticed a commotion in the crowd. It was hard not to take note of Ric Ocasek. Tall, deathly pale and intense. However, when I joined him for a drink I was stunned to see that no one was paying any attention to him but to the leggy blonde on his arm. Where had I been? I had never heard of Paulina, his wife and world famous model.

Still, it made things easier to have a one on one with Ric. After a few compliments about the band and the information that the Cars had started in a similar dive in Boston, he got down to business. "I can make that independent cd of yours great." That sounded intriguing, especially coming from someone who had sold 30 million records. "The problem is, I'm going away in a couple of weeks. If we're going to do this we've got to start right away. Think about it." Then Paulina turned to him, he melted into her arms (who wouldn't) and we got up to do our next set.

The next morning, Elliot was on the phone. "Well?" Says he, "do you want to do the CD with Ric?" I wasn't sure but then thought, "what the hell." We started later that night. It was a great experience - at least, for me. Ric was one of the most intelligent, insightful people I have ever met. In the public eye, he has been painted into a corner by his enormous success with the Cars. But to me, he is a true artist - very inquisitive, a vast sensitivity and, despite or on account of all his success, thoroughly unafraid to fail. He was an amazing blend of humility, artistry and self-confidence, and then on top of all that, he was a real rock 'n roll star, in the flesh - with all the good and bad that bestows.

His style of producing was to let you make the record, sit back on the couch and listen. And what ears he had. His studio was set in the basement of his town house in the Gramercy area. He rarely began recording before 5pm and would continue well into the dawn and long after I had crept home, bamboozled with sound. Whenever you faltered, he would make a suggestion, invariably right. Oftentimes, he would disappear upstairs with Paulina and leave you with his engineer and assistant, Heg. He had an uncanny knack for knowing when things weren't right and he believed that records should be made with the minimum fuss. Probably his long years of trauma making records with Mutt Lange confirmed him in this. After my departure at 4 or 5 am, he would work on. The next afternoon when I showed up, bright and bushy tailed, I would insist that Heg let me hear anything Ric had been messing with.

Thus was born the beautiful intro to Fanatic Heart on Fire of Freedom which he created with a Roland guitar synthesizer. Compare it with the more bare bones but still moving version on the independent cd - two ways of seeing things, each equally valid. Two snippets that he was about to discard were the pieces of Livin' in America which later became Fordham Road 8am and Bainbridge Avenue 2am. Whenever, he heard me do anything that sounded vaguely like the Cars he would beg me not to use it. "I'll be criticized for that," he would say. I told him to quit the paranoia! But he was right . Critics hated him and blamed him for a number of my ideas. (One moron who writes for the NY Press even chastised him for the production of Black 47 Independent). He took it all stolidly. Such was the price of fame - perhaps, if you're married to a super model, have a lot of money, fame and success, these things don't matter - I wonder?) Still, hanging out with him was a lesson in life and I remember the time with great affection.

But back to the recording. We worked and remixed many of the songs from the independent cd and added, Fire of Freedom, Maria's Wedding, Our Lady of the Bronx and New York, NY 10009. But time was catching up with us and Ric had a departure date. Sometimes we worked separately, in two studios, to get more done. He had such a clear idea of where a song should go. I had been agonizing with John Goldberger, the engineer, about the mix of Maria's Wedding. Ric swept in, an almost spectral figure and demanded the mix. When we told him our problems, he merely said "play it!" And while we listened back, he moved 3 or 4 different faders. By the time the song had finished, to our amazement and hurt pride, a new mix had been created. Without a word, he swept out of the studio, leaving us there staring at each other.

Maria's Wedding Single

But it was a two way street with Ric. He loved our band dearly and delighted to be inspired himself. One of my most vivid memories is making the cries and screams for the intro to the Famine song, Black 47. I used, perhaps, six tracks to get those sounds, layering them and always keeping in mind the millions who had died. Before doing a track, I would sit in his little vocal booth and summon up the spirits of those dead and discarded people. Track after track, I screamed, cried and moaned and each time I emerged, I would look at him. He would just stare back. Eventually, after losing all sense of time, he nodded. It was done and the three of us listened back wordlessly. He was a wonderful illustrator and always drew as he listened. When he left the room I snuck a look at his book. The page was empty.

That recording and mixing went by in a blur and, as usual, we continued to do gigs. One of which was an outrageously rowdy affair in Sam Maguires - that wonderful bucket of blood in the North Bronx. I remember rushing back downtown to the Record Plant where I had left John Goldberger mixing James Connolly. My ears were bleeding from Sam's and yet Connolly sounded magnificent - all the instruments blended together like some amazing fife and drum band. I heard Connolly on a compilation tape recently. It still sounds great. But all good things come to an end: Ric flew off to the Caribbean, Pete Ganbarg signed the band and so I brought the finished tapes up to EMI and..... — Larry Kirwan

Black 47: Fire of Freedom

One of those rare "shot-heard-‘round the world" type of debuts where ten songs strung together might permanently put a band on the musical map. — CMJ

Although Black 47 speaks to its own community, it doesn't shut others out, as Mr. Kirwan's lyrics tell stories that resound beyond their local details. Rowdy, catchy and unrepentant, Black 47's songs give a forceful voice to a group from the margins. — The New York Times

This is the real thing: a raw, refreshing band, untainted and unafraid to play their hearts out for the sake of human rights and dignity, not to mention dancing, drinking and fucking – the sad and beautiful things that make life worth living all over the world. — Penthouse

Larry Kirwan isn't content to stand within the lyrical confines of standard pop songs – and that's what makes Black 47 so much fun. — Chicago Tribune

A blistering set of Celtic rock by turns raucous and tender, venomous and full of rejoicing harking back to a time not so long ago when rock ‘n roll was something more than commerce, fashion statements and self-service whining. — LA Times

Though there's an emerald lilt in Larry Kirwan's voice, his songs evoke Springsteen's America. Grade: A- — Entertainment Weekly

 

Home of the Brave
Home of the Brave
1 Big Fellah (Kirwan) - 5:57
2 Oh Maureen (Kirwan) - 4:34
3 Losin' It (Kirwan) - 3:51
4 Paul Robeson (Born to Be Free) (Kirwan) - 5:18
5 Road to Ruin (Kirwan) - 4:38
6 Black Rose (Kirwan) - 5:05
7 Blood Wedding (Kirwan) - 6:09
8 Carlita's Revenge (Kirwan) - :47
9 Who Killed Bobby Fuller? (Kirwan) - 3:31
10 Different Drummer (Kirwan) - 3:36
11 Danny Boy (Kirwan) - 5:21
12 Voodoo City (Kirwan) - 5:44
13 Time to Go (Seanchaí) - 4:30
14 Go Home Paddy (Kirwan) - :32
15 Too Late to Turn Back (Kirwan) - 4:58
16 American Wake (Kirwan) - 5:26
47 Carlita's Revenge - 1:15 (Kirwan) Hidden Track

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor, Soprano & Baritone Saxophones, Brass Choral Arrangements on 'The Big Fellah' & 'Road To Ruin', Brass Arrangements on 'Oh Maureen'
Seanchi (Chris Byrne) Uilleann Pipes, Tin Whistle, Low Whistle, Vocals, Bodhrán, Lead Vocal on 'Time To Go'
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Hand Percussion, Trap Drums, Djembe
Kevin Jenkins Bass
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitar, Mandolin, Drum Programs, Piano
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals, Brass Choral Arrangement on 'Danny Boy'
Jerry Harrison Keyboards, Producer
Claudette Sierra Vocals on 'Blood Wedding' & 'Voodoo City'
Mary Martello Vocals on 'The Big Fellah', 'Carlita's Revenge', & 'Go Home Paddy'
Angel Fernandez Trumpet on 'Paul Robeson' & 'Who Killed Bobby Fuller'
Brenden Dolan Piano on 'American Wake'
Seamus Egan Banjo, Flute, & Tin Whistle on 'Different Drummer'
Eileen Ivers Fiddle on 'Different Drummer'
Danny Johnson Spoken Word on 'Paul Robeson'
Dan Chase Additional Drum Programming & Sampling

Special Thanks: Vin Scelsa, Tom Schneider, Monsignor Steve Duggan, & the staff at Paddy Reilly's, Elliot Roberts, Frand Gironda, Mary Frohman, Daren Schneider & Lookout Management, Murad Heerjee, Judy Greenberg, & Wish Management, Daniel Glass, Don Rubin, Fred Davis, Brian Koppelman, Chris Koppelman, Charles Koppelman, Mike Mena, Frances Pennington, Laura Rinaldi, Bob Cahill, Phil Blume, Kris Ferraro, Dutch Cramblin, Alison Bandier, Jon Cohen, Debbie Southwood-Smith (belatedly), Larry Braverman, Jason Wyner, Larry Stesset, & all at SBK & CEMA, Steve Martin, Susan Fowler, "Brother" Brian McCabe, Rosie (Whatever you are), Agnes Hamlin & Mary Quinn, Carmel, Josephine, Aine, and Colm X, Ann & John Byrne, The Old Shebeen, Montauk, NY, Fleming's Bar NYC, The Vatican Boys, Dublin, Section 413-Rangers Blues, George Kornienko, Peggy Saab, Maureen O'Neill, Sir Charles Comer, Monica Ryan, Kieran Burke, Brian Byrne, Wayne Rigliano, Nico Wormsworth, Jon Carter, David Conrad, Erik Boyd, Kevin Noble (for the banners), Don Blanford, Kevin Williams, John Murray, John Walsh (The Axe Doctor), Jeremy Schneider, Arlene Newson, Andrea Gaines, Patricia, Angelica, Maria Christina Dominguez, Eddie & Victor at LOHO Studios, Kash Monet, Randy Whiteman, Dr. Rick, Cathal Moore, Jack Kontney at Shure Bros., Edna Gundersen (for the Bobby Fuller lore)

Additional Thanks: to the crowd at Paddy Reilly's on April 30th, 1994 for their help on 'American Wake' and 'Time To Go'

And Very Special Thanks: Copernicus for Spanish Translation of 'Blood Wedding' and general ballbreaking, Little Steven for all the good suggestions, Pete Ganbarg THE A & R Man

Well, writing songs was never a problem for me. I had already completed some new ones anyway, just to be on the safe side. Still, I didn't want to let the grass grow beneath our feet - I went into overdrive and we began including new songs in the set nightly. How brave we were too! I recently came across some old set lists from Reilly's. Of our usual 15 song set, 7 or 8 were fresh from the oven - and this, at a time when Fire of Freedom was a national favorite.

I can safely say that Home of the Brave was the most difficult album I have ever been involved with - and possibly, my most difficult creative endeavor (when you include a number of plays with super-neurotic actors, etc that is really saying something). To me, the songs on HOB are some of the best I have written. It's probably the most eclectic of our cds. All sorts of styles, story lines - and Chris' great Time To Go - mixed and meshed together. No, it wasn't the songs that were the problem. But there were other factors.

My old friend and comrade from Chill Faction, David Conrad, had become a full time member of Black 47 during the recording of Fire of Freedom and had gone out on the road with us. But David had been very ill, some years previously, and had grown tired of the rock & roll lifestyle. On top of that, he wanted to pursue a literary career. So David opted out. We worked with a number of bassists and though all were good players, none could totally fit into the incestuous world of Black 47. Now, it had become obvious that, because of the varying styles of the new songs, a kit drummer would be essential for the next cd. Hammy was the obvious choice. Remember, up until this point we had been using drum machines with Hammy adding an array of percussion to great effect. But things had changed and we needed to deliver a very punchy, funky rhythm section to drive these new tunes. And we needed a great producer to pull the whole shebang together.

Out of loyalty, and because I felt he had done a great job, I would have preferred Ric. But the band was strongly against him. Although, it wasn't totally articulated, at least to me, I think they disliked the claustrophobic nature of his studio/home, his focus on the singer/songwriter and his sometimes curtness to musicians. I could have insisted and probably should have but the feeling was pretty strong. Surprisingly, EMI felt the same but for different reasons. The music business has little patience with producers who don't deliver million sellers and Fire of Freedom has still to reach that lofty goal.

I must have received 50 different tapes from producers. Remember, we were hot, critical favorites and, more importantly, EMI had a budget of $250,000 with which to make the cd and pay the band. An awful lot of money and, oh, how it was frittered away.

After burning my ears out listening to producers' reels and endless phone proposals and suggestions, I proposed Steve Van Zandt (Little Steven). He was familiar and empathized with us, had plenty of experience and played with the best live band in the world. All the members of Black 47 were in agreement. Steven is, after all, quite the guy. We went into big time rehearsal but just before we were about to settle on studio dates, he had to bow out. (He was trying to put together a label of his own and needed to spend time in Japan nailing down financing - a great person though, he just didn't want to hold us up and EMI was chomping at the bit for new "product.")

So, it was back to the drawing board. Jerry Harrison's name had surfaced a few times and I gave him a call. A true gentleman, Jerry flew in from wherever he was - Jerry was always flying in from somewhere. I told him we were changing over to a full rhythm section and we were a little afraid of it. No big deal to Jerry! He had been a member of Talking Heads - The Heads had a great rhythm section, so what was the problem? We assembled the band in a studio in Little Italy and played the full set. Jerry's eyes lit up at the songs. Then he asked me to reconvene the next day with just the rhythm section. We played the songs again and he taped them. Then he took me out for a drink and said "we've got problems." Oh no! What now? The rhythm section wasn't clicking. Then he played me the tapes and it was obvious. Our bassist of the time was a fine player but the magic just wasn't there. And so it fell to me to tell him he was out. To which he gave me the very witty reply, "people usually take me out to dinner before I'm fucked!" A great line and fair play to the guy but such is life in the fast lane. And, Jesus, it was only beginning to heat up!

I knew who I wanted. I had seen Kevin Jenkins play around town and also with my old friend, Cyndi Lauper. One of the most most in-the-groove players I'd ever heard. He signed on straight away and immediately the section locked. With his rock steady bass kicking our arses, Hammy and I got tighter than we'd ever been before. Jerry had solved a great problem. The section was grooving, Hammy had become a full kit drummer again and we were away in a canter, or were we?

I don't know what it was about that record. Maybe, it was all the playing, the fatigue - we'd be in the studio until 6pm and then drive to Boston for a gig, play, drive home and be back in the studio the next afternoon. Then again, maybe, it was our own faults too. Had we become a little too big for our britches? Up until now we had managed to bulldoze our way through any problem. But a malaise seemed to have set in. What should have been easy songs to play - after all, we were performing them every night and had done a wonderful set of them live on the Vin Scelsa show - became nightmares in the studio. Worst of all, we began to doubt our own ability to play exactly in tune. That might seem like an obvious thing but it's not when you lose confidence. This was a new age of ProTools (a computerized recording system) and other such techniques. Jerry had come from a platinum double album with The Crash Test Dummies where every instrument had been treated through protools - down to the snare drum being placed exactly on the beat. Take a listen. Not a bad album but so technically perfect that a lot of the balls has been squeezed from it. But, I digress, back to the tuning issue! I'll only deal with my own problems.

For that CD, I was usually adding 3 or 4 guitar tracks to every song - a Fender rhythm, power chords on a Marshall, often an acoustic and some kind of electric lead line or other. After about 8 songs being completed in that manner, Jerry and I listened to the last track I'd done. He thought he heard something out of tune. I listened and had to agree. By the time we'd finished analyzing every track, I wasn't sure myself what was in tune and what wasn't. Remember, I was co-producing the CD. For the first time in my life, I felt that I couldn't trust my own ears. Was I in tune or not? But then I would remind myself, this is not Chopin, it's rock & roll. And still, did I want something to be blatantly out of tune on this record from which so much was expected? I went back, got out my tuner, checked my guitars and my fingering. In tune or not? Fuck it! I told the engineer to scrap everything I'd done. I went outside bought a six-pack, turned up to 11 and played like a maniac. Three days later, I was finished. The playing was powerful, choppy and, by Christ, was it in tune!

I won't speak for the rest of the band but these were not happy sessions. For months after I couldn't listen to any recording without noticing how many were out of tune. CDs that I loved were unlistenable. (Take a listen to the first chords of "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." I know, it's only rock 'n roll.) All I can say now is that I personally went through a dark night of the soul, but came through it - a better musician. Who was to blame for the malaise that occurred? I don't know. Probably everyone concerned with the making of HOB! Then again, if you want to get Freudian, tuning was probably only the surface of deeper ills and tensions amongst us.

The recording grinded on - time and money being used up indiscriminately. And yet what was I to do? Throw my hands up in the air, have the ultimate temper tantrum, stalk out and give up? No fucking way! I knew that the songs on Home of the Brave were very strong and if we only persevered, the end result would be great. And yet, the whole process was unbelievably soul-draining. A sense that things were out of control. At times, I felt like I was hacking away at Mount Rushmore with a hammer and chisel. And why? Too many cooks! Record company, managers, producers, engineers, myself, band members! The whole kitchen sink thrown in and in the midst of it all, gigs and more gigs. Of course, looking back at it from this vantage point, all these factors were ingredients for a disaster and this is more often the case, than the exception, with major record company productions.

And yet, there were inspiring moments - like the night we recorded the audience in Reilly's singing the outro of American Wake. The empathy with the song and the love for the band still leak through. And listen to the intro to Big Fellah! The passion of Paul Robeson, the sensuality of Blood Wedding, the mayhem of Black Rose. In fact, listen to any track. There's a drive, maybe even a desperation on them all. As Little Steven remarked, "there's a lot of carnage on that album." And he wasn't just talking about the songs.

Eventually, the time had run out - the money too. But now, instead of Jerry and I doing the mixing, the tracks were to be handed over to an experienced and well known "mixer" - Tom Lord-Alge. This was mind boggling to me. As yet, we hadn't done one rough mix of the tracks. In fact, we had barely finished the recording. Now the tracks were to be handed over to this guy, I'd never even met, to be soldered back into songs. I raised the simple objection, how was Tom to know what the soul of each song was? After all, we had something like 36 tracks for each song. How was he to discover the guts of each song, let alone come up with a finished product? Everyone said "don't worry, that's the way Tom works!" Don't worry, my arse! I'd seen enough prophets at work. But I held my peace. The only thing I insisted on was that I was going to be there for each mix. Record company execs, Jerry, management, everyone was appalled - a right old recipe for disaster - and Tom just didn't work that way! But I insisted.

And so, the great day arrived. I met Tom in the lobby where he was downing mugs of coffee at a ferocious rate. By this time, I had familiarized myself with Tom's rep. He had recently done a big CD for Stevie Winwood amongst others. Great! I loved Stevie - but with Traffic and Spencer Davis - back when he was playing a Hammond B3 and screaming his heart out! The song Tom choose to begin with was "Too Late To Turn Back." I had a copy of the original version from the Home of the Brave cassettee in my pocket. I thought, maybe I should play this for him, clue him in, like. But, Tom was a huge, formidable man and, as he attacked the mixing board like a maniac, I got caught up in his whole performance. And performance it was! He ranged over the board like a caffeinated King Kong, never sitting down, shouting to himself, treating each instrument with an array of effects - compressing and caressing the recording until it sounded like the pig's mickey.

Jesus, it was a tour de force! I sat there mesmerized. The track wasn't just coming to life; it was jumping out of the trembling speakers at full volume, pinning me to the back wall. And then it was finished. The man was pleased and it sounded mighty to me. He tossed me a cassette, told me to go home and listen to it, then hopped into his souped up jalopy and roared off to New Jersey leaving me ossified and out of my head on the midtown street corner. I took home the tape, thrilled with myself, sure that we had a hit single with the very first song the big man had worked on.

But in the quietness of home, it very slowly dawned on me that while the song sounded like Sgt. Pepper and A Whole Lota Love rolled up in one, it wasn't Too Late To Turn Back. I listened to it over and over and the more I listened the more I realized that it was just a wonderful big piece of confectionery without an iota of soul underneath. But what to tell Tom?

The next day, he was there with Jerry, downing his coffee and about to get stuck into the next track. He looked at me expectantly, awaiting my approval. I quickly downed 2 cups of black myself with my back turned to him. Then girding my loins, I gave him my considered, heart racing opinion. His eyes bugged out. He half dragged me back into the control room. Played back the track at full volume and asked me how I could be so stupid? He was a terrifying sight - like Jehovah on speed - but I remembered the early days in the Bronx facing down a crowd of drunken construction workers. I swallowed, told him that he was right, I'd never heard the beatings of this recording but it still wasn't the song I'd written.

Then I produced the original cassette of Home of the Brave and waited, my heart almost pumping out of my chest, as he contemptuously put in the player. After his jaguar version, ours sounded like a 30 year old morris minor badly in need of an oil change and a coat of paint. He sneered at me for the first verse but, when the chorus kicked in, his ear cocked up. True, it still sounded creaky but the soul of the song now beamed through. He looked a bit worried. Then came the second verse and he perked up a bit, the confidence and the caffeine rising in him again. Then, the second chorus beamed out again and he knew. He put his head in his hands, let forth a string of oaths that surely shook the Almighty in his heavens, then marched out downed another quart of Maxwell House, raced in, stripped the board and, in a couple of hours, produced the great version of Too Late To Turn Back that you now hear on Home of the Brave.

We had some arguments after that, most of which he won, and rightly so - the guy is a genius of sound, after all - but from that point on, he unerringly focused on the soul of the song. He was an inspiration to watch and I learned so much from him. Within two weeks, the album was, as they say, in the can. I'm still very proud of it. There were so many times we could have given up, tossed our hands in the air; instead we persevered and finished it. But at a cost.

The money was all spent. As band members, we may have received a pittance - if so, a bare fraction of what we deserved. Even weeks later the bills were still pouring in. It was a costly lesson and one which created a great deal of bitterness. And rightly so! Who was to blame? I suppose everyone - to some degree or other. But I blame myself. There was not the hint of a discrepancy in the figures or dishonesty on anyone's part. But, even with all the messing around, this album should have been done for $100,000 or $150,000, at the outside, with the balance going to the band who badly needed it. I was the one person who had access to all the parties concerned but I let things spin out of control. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure, given the circumstances, that anything I could have done would have made any difference. But that's beside the point. Whatever innocence that was left in the band was destroyed by the making of that album. My only consolation is that I still stand behind what I said at the time - that Home of the Brave, song for song, is one of the best albums released in 1994 and it still stands up. Listen to it!

EMI Records was thrilled with Home of the Brave. They were, of course, well used to situations like what we had endured. Every recording, to them, goes through the same process, more or less. Lots of money spent (wasted), no big deal as long as no one's been fired. "Onwards and upwards, dude! You made a masterpiece, now let's market the mother..."

Time to let the brains trust take over. Things had changed in the intervening years. Alternative radio had taken a heavier edge. Guitar bands were in. So were angst, flannel shirts, Seattle, moping and groping. What was to be the first "emphasis" track? Singles being a thing of the past for white people. Which of these songs would break us through on radio? It seemed like every track got some consideration. But, at last, it was down to three, with Black Rose and Road To Ruin falling by the wayside - Big Fellah (my choice and John Cohen's, EMI's alternative radio guru.) Jon felt that the big guitar intro would be a natural - we could edit Mary Martello's voice from the front. I favored it because of its politics. Also, I didn't want us to get pigeon-holed into a Funky Ceili, comedy type group). The second track was Different Drummer (favored by those who felt that it sounded in the same ballpark as Funky Céilí and thus would give us more instant recognition - I have to say now that I opposed this for the reasons I've just given - what a stupid mistake!) The third track was Losin' It (this was favored by those who had no favorite or felt that this up-tempo song could play all formats - Alternative, AOR and Top 40.

In the end, after much discussion the CEO of EMI, Daniel Glass, a great supporter of the band, said let's go with Losin' It and release it to all formats at the same time. Cohen and I were both doubtful but management and record company solidified as if by magic, (you have no idea what this is like - everyone is afraid to make a decision individually because if it's wrong, then blame can be pinpointed; so when it looks as though a unanimous choice is being made, then everyone jumps aboard, because cover is afforded) and the die was cast. Losin' It was the one.

Home of the Brave was released on a Tuesday and Daniel Glass was fired on the following Friday. Despite the master plan, Losin' It only went out to Alternative. Cohen worked his ass off but a state of paralysis set in at EMI with everyone fearing for their jobs and no money being allocated for independent radio promotion - an absolute necessity for a breakthrough. The record was finished before it even started. Some weeks later, the new CEO took over. His name was Davitt Sigerson. Chris and I were summoned to a meeting with him. His first words, before our arses hit the seats, were, "I want you to know that I don't have the least problem in dropping bands from any company I am in charge of." It was downhill from there.

He said we were off to a bad start and things weren't looking so good. (No fucking kidding - they pay you a half a million a year to divine that?) Of course, we tried to tell him Daniel Glass' promotional ideas, etc, etc, But he was obviously a guy with a new broom - as are they all. If your point man in the company gets fired, it's essentially all over, as the new guy doesn't want the old guy getting posthumous credit. Davitt wasn't a bad person; I think he even "got" the band, in an odd way, but this was business, he had about a year to prove himself and the clock was ticking furiously. He told us he was going to cut the EMI roster in half and start from scratch! He neglected to inform us as to which half we figured in.

Well, Losin' It was actually getting played those first few weeks in Boston, Cincinnati and some other cities whose names escape me now. Of course, when these stations found out that EMI was not about to put any money behind the CD, their interest began to wane. We, however, had little idea about this state of affairs. Odd too, when you think of it; because bad news travels like the wind in record companies. And so we set off on "the tour." As usual, we got great crowds and the people loved the CD but when we'd visit the radio stations, the refrain was, "gee, you guys are great and we all loved Funky Céilí and we're giving Losin' It as many spins as we can but we can't add it right now because...."

Oh well...The tour, or what I remember of it, was great anyway and Losin' It rocked the Conan O'Brien Show. George Kornienko, our old buddy was driving the van and doing merch. For some reason or other, we have always got good airplay in Salt Lake City. Our Mormon brothers and sisters seem to think that this bunch of New York Paddies is very exotic. So, we decided that we would take one of our days off in SLC. Accordingly, we set off from Boulder, Co. for the scenic, if slippery, drive through the Rockies (a somewhat late start because of the previous night's festivities). We didn't reach Salt Lake until late that Sunday night and decided to straight away hit the local bars and fleshpots. But, lo and behold, there didn't seem to be any bars, let alone fleshpots. It was a cold night and a blizzard was heading in but we decided to hang out on a corner and await inspiration from the Lord. (Mormon or Whomever, you get very open-minded when the thirst settles in).

And lo and behold, The Lord was moved by our piety to send unto us two revelers whom we followed to the unlit door of an unprepossessing looking building. We were informed that it was a private club but Nico, our intrepid road manager, proceeded to inform them of the importance of their soon-to-be guests. The Keeper of the Gates was one big formidable Archangel and he listened impassively until he heard our name. "Black 47," this Servant of the Lord sayeth unto us, "my favorite godamn - excuse the language - band!" No charge, special guests and inside every party animal and drunk in SLC ready to down pints with us.. Chris Byrne's search for cigarettes the next day, I might add, was also epic in its own way.

We finished up in San Francisco at Slim's, one of our favorite clubs. I was suffering from bad bronchitis that Saturday night. But, according to Galigula who had given up on London and relocated to the Bay Area, it was one of our best shows ever. Then the word came through from EMI that we had been invited to take part in a special radio show at Bogard's in Cincinnati on the following Wednesday. Thus followed the Trail of Tears. I retired to bed in the Phoenix Hotel and the band set out, on the Southern route for Cincinnati, driving day and night to play 3 songs with a dozen other groups. I seem to remember sharing a dressing room with a band called the Ass Ponies - a more appropriate name for us - as our last shred of innocence disappeared into the ozone of Southern Ohio. (Richard Nixon said elections are about one thing - Ohio! And we seem to know every acre of that state. God bless it!).

And so, fittingly ended the official promotion for Home of the Brave - in Ohio. We were informed by EMI that the record was "over." No more singles, bye bye Home of the Brave! But, if I cared to submit some songs to the company, they would consider them for a new album. As far as songwriting goes, I don't care to submit anything to anyone. I told them that, in no short terms. And so we were at an impasse. But I continued to write. Finally, the penny dropped. I went to Davitt with the proposal that since Home of the Brave had cost over a quarter of a million dollars, why couldn't he give me a budget of $15 to 20 thousand to make "demos" of the new songs. If he liked them, we'd make an album, if he didn't, we could walk with the "demos." To my surprise, Davitt, a sporting man to the end, agreed.

Now, I hadn't the least intention of making "demos" - a complete waste of time, in my book. I had been down that road before courtesy of CBS/Epic Records in the early 80' with the Major Thinkers. We did some wonderful "demos," then spent a year trying to duplicate them as a record. You live and learn.

And so I contacted Ian Bryant, to assist us in making the new cd (as of then, untitled). After laying down the basic tracks in a couple of days out at Waterfront Studios in Hoboken, we did some very rough basic mixes and submitted them to EMI. Very soon, the word came back that not alone were they unacceptable but Davitt now felt that there was a great degree of hypocrisy in Black 47 - despite all our political principles, with which he agreed wholeheartedly, he found that we had a very strong strain of sexism in our songs that he found highly offensive. I wasn't granted an interview with the man, so he never got to specify which were the offending ditties. That will probably remain a mystery as Davitt himself got the boot some months later. In retrospect, he was probably alluding to Afterglow, a song on the "demo" that had the temerity to suggest that women might have as strong or even, dare I say it, a stronger sexual drive than men. Who knows? It wasn't one of my better songs and we never released it. Whatever! We were free of EMI, and had the full rights to the "demo" which soon thereafter was to become, Green Suede Shoes. — Larry Kirwan

Black 47: Home Of The Brave

Bursting from the implausibly varied New York City music scene of the `90s, Black 47 has struck a nerve with a diverse audience, attracted either by the band's sociopolitical stance, its distinctive Irish lilt, or intensely energetic live performances. Home Of The Brave is a natural follow-up to last year's critically acclaimed Fire Of Freedom. It's filled with broadly told stories of heroes of every stripe, from activist Paul Robeson to rock-'n'-roller Bobby Fuller, as well as a multitude of characters right from the streets of urban America. Co-produced by bandleader Larry Kirwan and former Talking Head Jerry Harrison, Home Of The Brave also shows Black 47's uncommon ability to incorporate traditional Irish melodies, dancehall reggae, funk and a variety of rhythms into its big rock sound. "Paul Robeson," "Who Killed Bobby Fuller," "Danny Boy" and "The Big Fellah" stand out among the 16 tunes here, as vast and unpredictable as New York itself. — Jim Caligiuri: CMJ New Music Report

 

Green Suede Shoes
Green Suede Shoes
1 Green Suede Shoes (Kirwan) - 4:01
2 My Love Is in New York (Kirwan) - 4:18
3 Bobby Sands MP (Kirwan) - 6:00
4 Change (Kirwan) - 6:12
5 Czechoslovakia (Kirwan) - 4:09
6 Brooklyn Girls (Kirwan) - 4:13
7 Gerty's Farewell (Kirwan) - :44
8 Vinegar Hill (Kirwan) - 6:26
9 Sam Hall (Kirwan) - 4:51
10 Walk All the Days (Byrne) - 4:04
11 Five Points (Kirwan) - 2:46
12 Rory (Kirwan) - 3:07
13 Forty Deuce (Kirwan) - 6:37
14 Mo Bhrón (Kirwan) - 3:30
15 Green Suede Shoes ["Acoustic"] (Kirwan) - 4:00

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor, Soprano & Baritone Saxophones
Chris Byrne Uilleann Pipes, Tin Whistle, Low Whistle, Bodhrán, Vocals, Lead Vocal on 'Walk All The Days'
Andrew Goodsight Bass Guitar, Keyboards
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Hand Percussion, Trap Drums, Djembe
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals
Mary Martello Vocals on 'Mo Bhrón'
GE Smith Guitar on 'Rory', 'Change', & 'Brooklyn Girls'
Angel Fernandez Trumpet on 'Green Suede Shoes', 'My Love Is In New York' & 'Vinegar Hill'
Mike Fazio Guitar on 'Bobby Sands', 'My Love Is In New York' & 'Mo Bhrón'
Seamus Egan Banjo on 'Czechoslovakia' & 'Five Points'
James Keane Accordion on 'Czechoslovakia', 'Five Points' & 'Change'
Deborah Berg-McCarthy Vocals on 'Change'
Sherryl Marshall Vocals on 'Change'
Tour Manager Nico Wormsworth
Live Sound Engineer & Production Manager Jon Carter
Sound Engineer John Murray
Transportation & Merchandise George Kornienko
Internet Website Jeremy & Tom Schneider
Cover Painting Brian Mór
Band Photos Marc Trunz
Design / Layout Tom Schneider, Steven Birch

Special Thanks: Vin Scelsa, Tom Schneider, Monsignor Steve Duggan, Elliot Roberts, Frank Gironda & Lookout Managenent, Richard Grabel, David Weinberg, Danny Goldberg, Dana Millman, Bigi Ebbin & all at Mercury Records, Thor Lindsay, Mike Pantino & all at Tim/Kerr Records, Steven Birch @Servo, Stewart Lerman, Sweet Nancy, Steve Martin, Dave Kirby & all at The Agency Group, "Brother" Brian McCabe, Monica Ryan, Phyllis Kronhaus, Kieran Burke, Martin Somers, Kate McLoughlin, Irish Visions & Sounds, Nina Keneally, Sir Charles Comer, Tom Moran, Cathal Moore, Jack Kontney at Shure Bros., all our friends at Killian's, Dave Saldana for Green Suede Video, and all of you out there who never lost faith in us.

I was sick of the whole idea of co-producing by this stage. I wanted to just get back in the studio and do what the band did best - just play live. And that's what we did. Most of the tuning problems just evaporated and we concentrated on the songs. Some of my favorite Black 47 songs were on this CD, Bobby Sands MP, Change and Vinegar Hill. I wanted to also feature the toughness and character of the band and the natural cohesion that we display on stage. I think we succeeded.. The CD was recorded for a budget of about $20,000, about 7% of the cost of Home of the Brave.

The truth is, that despite any difficulties in recording, I like all of the band's CDs. I'm constantly asked which is my favorite. And I don't have one. To me, they all sound very different but I'm equally fond of them all. For, in the end, they are all just collections of songs, stuck together in some way to make a coherent whole. That might sound unromantic but it's the truth. With Black 47, I've never had the opportunity to think in terms of a concept album, such as Sergeant Pepper (one of my favorites). No, CDs are always hammered out song by song; usually we record more than we need and then winnow the whole thing down to a manageable 12 or 13. Indeed, the CDs may not even contain the best songs - some technical error may have occurred and a song scrapped, never to be re-recorded. For some reason, going back is painful for me and, anyway, the future is always hammering on the door.

The fact that we continue to play gigs during the recording often leads to a state of fatigue which tends to obscure all objectivity. But that too is the nature of Black 47. Everyone needs the money from gigs to survive, so the question of sequestering ourselves in a studio and arguing out the pros and cons never arises. Perhaps, if that were the case, the cds would be a bit more polished but I don't know. We're rough diamonds and so are our CDs and each one seems to pass the test of time. I never listen to them but I hear them on jukeboxes and am always pleased that the song and the passion imbedded in it still shines through. Besides, how many people really sit and critique the sound of a bass or a snare drum? A good song endures - while a piece influenced by and relying on the fashion of the day now seems ludicrous. What constitutes a good song? Well, that's a topic for another time.

Speaking of bass. During this period we picked up the inimitable Andrew Goodsight. Let's go back to a snowy night in Providence, RI. We were playing The Strand- a massive old theater. It's since closed down and was a very impressive, but quite a scary, place. Of course, Providence has always been one of our strongholds. No, it's not the city that's scary. Rhode Island, with its miles of sea line is one of my favorite states - but the dressing rooms of this club were a at least a hundred feet up above the stage. Think about that as you clamber down with a few belts inside you and the strobe lights flashing. Still, it was a blistering show and the promoters insisted that we take the extra three cases of guinness home with us. No problem! However, the weather forecast was ominous. A snowstorm sweeping up I-95. It never occurred to us to stay over. No, with Herr Kornienko sober and at the wheel, and us with 3 cases of the hard in the back, we went for it.

Now usually after a gig we're in great form and whooping it up in the van and this was no exception. Kevin Jenkins was in a rare mood and regaling us with stories of life on the road. Around Lyme, CT. the snow hit us and we slowed down. The talk had turned to favorite bands and T Rex was mentioned. We were trying to remember how Mark Bolan met his Maker when all of a sudden we were flying around the van, as it hit the intersection, rolled over on its side, straightened up and turned over one more time into the ditch. Like idiots we didn't have our belts on and we floated around that van like rag dolls in a surreal rugby scrum. I ended upside down with Kevin's considerable black ass lying astride me. It was a scary few seconds that seemed to go on indefinitely. As we tried to right ourselves, I was sure my neck was broken. We were all bruised and battered as we tried to crawl out. At that moment, a car came slithering round the bend, hit us full on and we were thrown around once again, for good luck.

Finally, we did get out into the snow. Fred grabbed a case of Guinness, discombobulated but practical as ever, seeking to hide the evidence but it was too late. The other two cases were exploding like geysers on good old 95. With cars and trucks careening around the corner, we lit out for the hills. What a sight! Jenkins looked like an Old Testament Prophet, the snow settling on his dreads. Hammy searching frantically for his glasses. I met a dazed Fred hiding his case of guinness up in the woods (I guess it's still there, if the thirst ever hits you in CT.). The troopers were on the scene instantly and we couldn't figure it - later we realized that we'd crashed almost on their front lawn. And yes, one of them was a Black 47 fan, as the song says. We were taken into the hospital. My neck wasn't broken, but ribs badly bruised (I felt pain until the following September). And eventually, we took the commuter train home to NYC. What a sight! The six of us, battered, moaning, exhausted and depressed, mingling with the rush hour commuters.

The upshot of all this was that Kevin decided that he'd had enough of "the luck of them godamned Irish. Stick around with you mothers and I'll be history in a year!" He went back to playing with Cyndi Lauper and now leads the band of Enrique Iglesias. He still remains a great friend, a nail-em-to-the-wall bass player and we have a chuckle about "the good old days" when we meet. (I think we remind him of how lucky he is to be alive). And so, enter Mister Goodsight.

We weren't in a mood to rehearse and our next gig was in Atlanta. Andrew joined us there - I don't know how he learned the songs, maybe he didn't - and has been with us ever since. When was that? 1995/96? Oddly enough, on that first night in Hotlanta, coming from a late night party in the cold rain, the van was run into by a car whose driver had fallen asleep. No one was hurt. Welcome aboard, Andrew. Long may you flourish.

Andrew's musical riffs added greatly to Green Suede Shoes. One other remembrance of that recording: listening to Séamus Egan lifting the title track to another level. Many people wonder about Séamus' musicianship. He's probably the closest thing to genius that we have on the Irish scene. Check out his playing on any Solas album. I think it's his timing that sets him apart. He can shake a melody around effortlessly within a four beat bar. Talk about playing in the pocket. Listen to the jaunty spring in his banjo on Green Suede Shoes and his flute on Different Drummer.

The recording of Mo Bhrón was also magickal. Mary Martello is a very dear and old friend of mine. She is an exceptional actress, singer and person. Hers is also the voice on The Big Fellah and Our Lady of the Bronx. I love working with her as she is so fearless. She's never even heard Gaelic being spoken but has an uncanny feel for the sound of words and can always summon up the appropriate passion to bring them to life. I write out the text phonetically, explain what it's about and then she just lets her voice, musicianship and womanly ways interpret it. We did that track in one take - me playing synthesizer but, in reality just trying to stay apace with her passion. For me, in an odd way, Mo Bhron sums up all the pain, longing and hope in emigration. I hope you're well, Mary, and still thrilling all those who come in contact with you.

When the recording was finished, I delivered it to our lawyer, Richard Grabel who sent it off post haste to Danny Goldberg at Mercury Records. Now Danny had thought of signing the band when he was with Atlantic and I had always had a good relationship with him. The next day, he called me and said that he cried as he listened to Bobby Sands MP; he hadn't cried in some time, and that was a good enough reason to sign anyone. Seemed like a good enough reason to me too. And so, we joined our second major label.

I still like Danny a lot. But being with Mercury Records almost drove me around the bend. Danny might have loved Black 47 but most of the other people up there seemed to think that we dropped down fully formed from Alpha Centauri. They just didn't know what to make of the music or what to do with us. I found this puzzling. Black 47 might be original but, for Christ's sake, the songs have a beginning, middle and end. It's not like we're Van De Graf Generator (one of my all time favorites! Where are you now, Peter Hamill, one of "rock's" great songwriters) Of course, at that time, Mercury's hottest act was Hanson and it does take a stretch of the imagination to picture us in their rarified stratosphere.

Back then too, I didn't know the nitty gritty of what was going on inside the label. Danny had also dropped down out of the sky and been made boss only months before. He brought along a lot of his own people and there was wholesale resentment within. The things you learn in retrospect! Anyway, the cd was released, got good reviews but radio was getting even tighter. Still, the cd was big with our fans and brought us many new ones, the title track made a big impact on college radio, songs like Bobby Sands MP added to the legend and as the guy says "That's the story so far of Black 47."

Green Suede Shoes Poster

But it wasn't. The story went on. Rip roaring gigs and a whole new crowd. I don't know why we picked up so many new young fans. We definitely weren't getting any younger ourselves. But there they were coming to see us at shows all over the country. Was it because the cds were lying around people's houses and kids were picking them up and discovering their own favorite songs? The kid who was 12 when Funky Céilí came out was now 16 or 17 and turning on his and her friends to the band. Or was it because there was just nothing much else out there of significance? I don't know but around 1996-97 our audiences changed. As often happens, your original following grows up, gets married, still is into the band but with the first child coming along, can't get out to gigs anymore. Chris Byrne and I had laughed about becoming the voice of the New Irish in America but now we were, without any effort, fast becoming the voice of young Irish America. We were invited to all their colleges, Notre Dame, BC, Manhattan, Iona, Holy Cross etc and we continue to play for them. They are our base and when they go home to their towns and cities all over the country, they bring their cds with them and spread the word about the band that was rocking their college dorms.

Round about this time, we did the infamous St. Patrick's Day gig at The Academy on 43rd St. in Manhattan. St. Patrick's Days are usually a blur for us. We play non-stop for a month beforehand and then are hit with the amazing wild energy of the day itself. I've often equated it to being on the back of a wild stallion. You go with it or else get thrown off. Many bands have to stoop to trotting out the usual blend of fast Irish songs, just to stay abreast of things. Luckily for us, songs like Funky Céilí, Rockin' The Bronx, Livin' in America, etc have become synonymous with St. Patrick's Day in New York. That gig at the Academy was particularly good. Some nights you just have it and nothing can go wrong. Other nights you're swimming upstream, waiting for "the moment" to come (It comes eventually at a Black 47 gig, but now and then you have to fight like a dog for it - often a mistake - better to relax and trust in the songs, they never let us down).

It was the encore, the lights were flashing, the crowd was going crazy, the dance floor pulsing and we were doing Maria's Wedding. Suddenly, there was a strange smell - rather like too many firecrackers going off at once. I never heard the sound, although others say they did. Someone came out on stage and said something to me. I just smiled back. Then another person ran out, looking very worried. You have to remember that this is something that often happens when the crowd gets going. Management, promoters, owners always seem to want to throw their weight around. But, from my perspective, once we hit that stage, we are the ones in control. The show goes on - no matter what and no one, but us, is going to stop it!

Finally, Josh Cheuse came out. Now he is a close friend - he designed the covers of both Home of the Braves - and someone I trust. He looked shocked and had blood all over his clothes. At that point, I knew something had gone terribly wrong but the audience was still jumping around to the song. He said there had been a shooting on the balcony right next to him and I definitely became fearful. Ever since the British gutter press had pronounced us "the musical wing of the IRA", we had been wary of some kind of attack. But, to my dismay, I could see that the side-exit doors of the Academy were not, as yet, open. I knew that if we stopped playing suddenly there would be a rush for the small front door which would have been catastrophic. I told Josh that we couldn't leave the stage until the management opened the side doors. And so we played on for another couple of exceedingly long minutes. Now everything looked ominous - particularly the balcony. Eventually, the lights came up and the side doors were opened. We finished the song, in an orderly manner, and people filed out onto the street unaware of the drama that had just happened above them. It was some minutes later before we found out that an off-duty member of the NYPD had accidentally shot himself and that members of our families had been wounded in the shooting. — Larry Kirwan

Black 47: Green Suede Shoes

New York City is a natural place to spawn a sound made up of traditional Irish pipes and horns, reggae beats, big band sounds and rock 'n' roll - something like what the Irish ex-patriots in Black 47 have put together. The sextet's instrumentation includes, guitars, horns, pipes, keyboards, tin whistles and a saxophone. Although the band has three previous releases, Green Suede Shoes is its first through Tim Kerr-Mercury. Black 47 is most famous for consistently packing an Irish pub on New York's East Side; recreating that experience, Green Suede Shoes will have you swaying with a frosty glass of your favorite ale, singing along with all your pals, and laughing at the charm and wit of the stories being told. Vocalist/guitarist Larry Kirwan communicates a strong message, as well as a zesty spirit of fun, in every song. While the title track has a Celtic feel, its lyrics make references to New York City, Hoboken and Providence as they tell a tale about the band's various live performances. Ethereal vocals accompany the leads on 'Bobby Sands, MP' and 'Mo Bhrón'. Black 47 stimulates both the brain and the feet, forcing you to think as you dance. — Brenda Linguiti CMJ New Music Report

Angry, mournful, hilarious! Sing along, drink along and be merry. — People Magazine

Larry Kirwan isn't content to stand within the lyrical confies of standard pop songs – and that's what makes Black 47 so much fun. — Chicago Tribune

 

Keltic Kids
Keltic Kids
1. The Pirate Boy - 4:24
2. I Won't Play With My Brother (Kirwan) - 3:44
3. Billy The Kid (Kirwan) - 4:10
5. Hookedy Crookedy (Kirwan) - 3:54
6. Arlo (Kirwan) - 3:55
7. Daddy is a Rock & Roller (Kirwan) - 4:28
8. The Leprechaun (Kirwan) - 4:42
9. I Wanns Be Five (Kirwan) - 3:39
10. The Wild Colonial Boy (trad) - 5:09
11. Don't Ever Lose Your Dreams (Kirwan) - 4:21

GE Smith Electric Guitar
Tommy Walsh Button Accordion
Siobhan Egan Fiddle, Bodhrán
Larry Nachsin Organ Synthesizer
Deborah Berg-McCarthy, Sherryl Marshall Backing Vocals
Geoffrey Blythe Saxophones, Clarinet
Andrew Goodsight Bass, Harmonica
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Percussion
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle
Larry Kirwan Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards, Drum Programming
Samples by Ralph Drake & WNTI, Don Dannemann & Mega Studio

Special Thanks: Johnny Byrne, Tom Schneider, Mike Lappan, Brian Mor & the cast of Radio Free Eireann, Martin Somers & Kate McLoughlin at Irish Visions & Sounds, Brian Nolan at Blarney Gift Catalog, Nina Keneally, Kathleen Murphy, Ken Schlager & Moira McCormick at Billboard, Sir Charles Comer, the most courageous boy in the world - Arlo, Joe Davi, Ralph Drake, Larry Nachsin, Don Dannemann, Tim Devlin, Peter Walsh, PS41, NYC

Sometimes when you look back your kids' childhoods seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Where did all those long lovely days go? Sure, there were the hard times, the hassles, the fights, the tears and the heartaches but there were so many beautiful moments that seemed like they would go on forever. I wanted to capture those as best I could through making the Keltic Kids album when the boys were seven and five. I also wanted to make a gift for those parents who had suffered through endless hours of the treacly patronizing children's music that we are all forced to listen to. I knew that my own kids and their friends had already developed an acute and generational sense of humor so why not acknowledge it.

I tried to imbue in my boys the sense of wonder that I felt at their age. My childhood was so different - I was allowed to wander around our small town and observe the goings on from an early age, whereas New York City didn't really afford that freedom. I had also spent much time on my grandparents' farm down on the wild South East corner of Ireland. People there still believed in leprechauns and all manner of ghosts and spirits. In days gone by pirates had cruised those waters; stories and legends had woven themselves into actual history and everyone was the better for it because imaginations were big and reality was less defined than it is nowadays.

I would never have recorded this album had it not been for Johnny Byrne, Black 47's soundman and recording engineer. I mentioned one night that I had written some songs for my kids. He insisted that we could record an album in my house, even with the boys underfoot and we did. We bought some decent equipment, laid down tracks with the acoustic guitar, invited in members of Black 47 and friends like Rosanne Cash and GE Smith, and had a ball in the process.

When it was all done we scheduled one last session to fix two little "mistakes." Then Black 47 headed off to the Dublin Irish Festival in Ohio. In the middle of the night the phone rang in my hotel room. Steve Duggan of Paddy Reilly's told me that Johnny had fallen from my apartment building and was in a coma. He passed away a couple of months later. I never fixed the "mistakes," and I've forgotten their nature. But I do think of Johnny every time I hear the album. It sounds perfect to me as it does to so many kids and parents who "grew up" enjoying it.

My own kids never really listened to it. I guess they heard the songs too often during its recording; then they became adolescents and were embarrassed that it was written about them. Maybe someday they'll play it to their own children. In the meantime, there are songs on Keltic Kids for pirate boys, and kids who won't play with their brother; ditties about the boy who couldn't sleep, and Arlo the little hero from Chicago who beat the odds, along with tales of leprechauns, magic horses and daddies who are still rock & rollers. — Larry Kirwan

 

Live in New York City
Live in New York City
1 Three Little Birds (Marley) - 3:55
2 Desperate (Kirwan) - 4:55
3 Funky Ceili (Kirwan) - 5:52
4 Green Suede Shoes (Kirwan) - 3:56
5 Walk All The Days (Byrne) - 5:27
6 The Reels (Black 47) - 5:28
7 Fanatic Heart (Kirwan) - 7:07
8 James Connolly (Kirwan) - 6:41
9 Different Drummer (Kirwan) - 3:48
10 40 Shades Of Blue (Kirwan) - 7:21
11 Maria's Wedding (Kirwan) - 6:35
12 Like A Rolling Stone (Dylan) - 6:07

Chris Byrne - Uillean Pipes, Tin Whistle, Bodhrán, Lead Vocals
Geoffrey Blythe Tenor, Soprano & Baritone Saxophones
Andrew Goodsight Bass, Vocals
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Percussion
Larry Kirwan Guitar, Lead Vocals
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals
Nico Wormsworth Tour Manager, MC and Enabler
John Murray Live Sound Engineer and Production Manager

One of the constant refrains we've gotten over the life of the band is "the CDs are great but there's nothing like the band live." It can get annoying, at times, until you realise that it would be really bad if the situation was reversed. Then again, I know that I have said the same thing for three of my favorite performers, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen and The Clash. Their records never seemed to live up to their live shows - for me anyway. And so, I've accepted, with some humility, what people say. For to me, the studio and the stage are two very different mediums. There is a fire that happens on stage when everyone is blazing away. However, that same fire in the studio can cause things to get overblown and out of focus.

One of Black 47's strengths is its facility to play in counterpoint. Often, on stage, there will be four to five soloists going at it like the hammers of hell. This can be particularly uplifting - especially when you are there and looking at the players. In the studio, however, the same ferocity can be disorienting, as the lack of focus can make everything seem like a big hodge-podge. Therein, lies the difference. In the studio, I'm constantly trying to craft the performance so that the song takes center-stage. Of course, there's a thin line at work here. In gaining focus, you can lose fire. But, for me, the song is all important on the cd. (On stage, it's the performance of the song that counts.) In the studio, I'm trying to fulfill the Yeats' dictum - "that poetry be as cold and passionate as the dawn." In other words, I'm doing my level best to highlight the song so that 10, 20 years from now it will still sound fresh, clear and relevant.

And yet, I know what people mean when they say there's nothing like Black 47 live. I exult in that feeling too. One of the first (unspoken) ideals of the band was that you take your mood on stage with you and transmute it into music. Thus, any smiling faces you see us wear are genuine. Sadness, anger, fatigue and frustration can be read openly too. How many times I've come to a gig distracted by some personal or business problem. But, within seconds of those first opening notes, I can feel something take over - the joy of being in a great band, surrounded by very innovative musicians, all pumping out powerful music. This is not a band you'll become rich in, it doesn't pay health insurance or pensions and we may all end up on the Bowery (and even that's become gentrified) but, every night, we do have the opportunity to break on through to a rare kind of transcendence. That's worth putting up with so much for. It's the greatest (perhaps, the only) consideration of being in one of the world's top-shelf live bands.

And so we decided to do a live album and what better day to do it than St. Patrick's Day. It was ideal. We were doing two shows in Wetlands, so we would record the two of them and make our choices later. We were already involved in recording a studio cd with Stewart Lerman, so he came aboard as producer/recorder. He sat out in a van on Hudson Street and got it all down on tape as we blasted through almost four hours of material The atmosphere inside Wetlands was intense and Live in New York City is - as it was - live in New York City.

And was there was a spirit hovering over the place? I think so. Our old buddy, Johnny Byrne, had been tragically killed the previous summer, after falling from the fire escape of his apartment (my old home) on 197 E. 3rd St. What made the whole thing ironic was that live recording was Johnny's forte. It was a bittersweet occasion for me. Johnny was one of nature's gentlemen. Always lending a helping hand to musicians and, indeed, anyone he came in contact with. He loved creativity and would do anything in his power to further it. Didn't matter if he was a part of the creating (although he lived for that) - just as long as occurred, he was a happy man. We had had a wonderful and reflective time recording Keltic Kids in my home the previous year and things were beginning to look up for him. He had a lot of projects lined up and was ready for the world.

But the lives of musicians and musical technicians spin in a vortex of wildness, exhilaration, depression, alcohol and much substance abuse. It's the rare person who doesn't, at some point, get caught up in the wild side of things. Johnny, in one way, was particularly ill-suited for this life, although he loved and contributed much to the good parts of it. He was very disciplined when working, taking his responsibilities very seriously and keeping many of us grounded. Nor, did he drink as much as the rest of us and was careful to keep away from hard drugs. Unfortunately, he had a limit to the amount of booze he could drink. After three or four pints, the alcohol would take over his brain, and while he would stay sweet, he would become excitable and gradually lose control.

Many times I thought of speaking to him about it but, to my shame, I never did. You think that there'll always be time. But there wasn't. Johnny took his mattress out on the fire escape on a furnace of a night and fell over the railing on to the street below. It was a waste of an exceptional life and I still blame myself for not having the time or the guts to tell him the obvious truth - that he should have given up drinking. You might wonder why I am bringing this up here? Well, moderate and social drinking can be great for the spirit but there are some of us who should stay miles away from it. For musicians, it's a great trap. We, more often than not, get our drinks for free and often abuse this powerful substance. We live our lives surrounded by it and it's a comfort we can turn to when things go wrong - which they often do. But not enough of us look out for each other. We always think there's time. But there often isn't and Johnny is proof of that. I hope this doesn't hurt his family or many friends. But, there are other Johnnys out there and I, for one, was greatly remiss in doing my duty to one of the best friends I'm every likely to have. Look out for those around you, especially the younger ones, and don't live in the regret that some of us are now forced to.

When Live in New York City, was released, it caused a great stir. It was Black 47 on stage in all its ragged glory. Six musicians blazing away in front of their hometown audience, egging them on, pulling them back, exhorting them to jump up and down, but look out for the people around you. It's still a particular favorite in the colleges and is a great document of a night on the town; anytime you want to know what it was like in the New York of the late 90's, put on this cd, close your eyes and you're there, baby!

It was released by my friend, Mitch Cantor of Gadfly Records. Oh no! Another record company? Storm clouds on the horizon at Mercury? By this point, I was well over any trauma in changing record companies. My one concern with a prospective new home is - what's the distribution like? For a national act like Black 47, that's the one necessity! It's important for us that people can buy, or at least order, the cds in stores all over the country - notwithstanding the many beneficial changes that the internet has afforded us all. For to me, if your cds are not available in stores nationwide, you're operating on a purely local basis. That's not to suggest that that's such an awful thing for bands seeking to establish themselves, but I would see it as a disaster for Black 47.

For the un-initiated, record companies can provide you with three main services, if you're lucky and they're doing their job. Distribution, publicity and radio play. Now Black 47, by its very nature, has never had any problem getting publicity; and it appears that not even the Almighty can guarantee you radio play anymore. (A case in point, while at Mercury one day, I was complaining about having to make phone calls to radio stations - the radio promoter merely opened the door and said "listen!" I could hear a strident voice booming down the corridor. "That's that little fuck, Mellencamp, doing exactly what you're doing and batting roughly the same average.")

That leaves just one area of concern - can people buy the bloody CD as effortlessly as they can a Britney Spears or Ricky Martin or whomever the gods are these days? All of our cds are available throughout the country, if spottily in some areas. They sell constantly in every state and none have been deleted. In this day and age of disposable music, that is a particular achievement and thank you, the reader, for helping us achieve that goal.

 

10 Bloody Years
Ten Bloody Years
1 The Patriot Game (Kirwan) - 6:07
2 Free Joe Now (Byrne) - 3:37
3 Our Lady of the Bronx (Kirwan) - 5:39
4 Funky Céilí (Kirwan) - 4:01
5 Maria's Wedding (Kirwan) - 4:08
6 Into the West (Kirwan) - 3:57
7 Big Fellah (Byrne) - 5:54
8 Time to Go (Byrne) - 4:31
9 Bobby Sands MP (Kirwan) - 5:59
10 Green Suede Shoes (Kirwan) - 4:03
11 Walk All The Days (Byrne) - 4:00
12 The Reels - 5:32
13 For What It's Worth (Stills) - 4:22
14 Those Saints (Kirwan)- 4:41

Randall Grass, head of Shanachie Records, heard that Black 47 had a new cd that was available for release and bob's your uncle, fanny's your aunt, we were signed, sealed and delivered in two shakes of the proverbial ram's tail and Trouble in the Land was soon on the streets. Another record company - keep your fingers crossed! It has engendered the best press we've had since the release of Fire of Freedom and continues to sell.

Michael Hill, however, who was head of A&R at Shanachie on our signing, thought that it would be a good idea to reintroduce us to press and radio by doing a compilation of previous cds with a few added rarities. We took songs from all of the afore mentioned cds and included some favorites that are hard to get right now - Into The West, Our Lady of the Bronx and Patriot Game. I think I've written about the other two but Into The West was a song commissioned by EMI to be the title track for the American release of Jim Sheridan's great movie. I based the song on Gabriel Byrne's character of the Father of the two little boys.

To make a long story short, we recorded Into The West and everyone loved the song. Unfortunately, when the movie came to be released in the USA, the marketing department decided it should be aimed at children and our song was deemed to be too much of an adult nature. The song was relegated to about 20 seconds play from a car radio as the boys are hitching to the West of Ireland. Such is Hollywood, such is life. Still, I've always loved the song for its wildness. It was very popular in the old Paddy Reilly's but, unfortunately, we've dropped it, along with many other good songs, on the way. The chords and arrangements to many of our songs are such that if you neglect them for a couple of months, you can really balls them up in performance and since we rarely rehearse.........

It was nice, if a little odd, however, to take a few hours and look back over the band's career of that ten turbulent years and piece together some songs into a coherent whole. To be honest, it was quite difficult. From my point of view, we've never put out anything that doesn't meet a certain standard and, thus, all the songs, to me, are like children - how do you say which ones you prefer - they're all your flesh and blood? In the end, I gave Michael a list of what I considered some essential songs to get some idea of the band's depth and he culled Ten Bloody Years from it. After all, how do you mix the political, with the Irish, with the City, the rock with the reggae, the hip-hop with the noise, the joy with the sadness, the all round craziness and the to-hell-with- commerciality? I couldn't do it. But I think Michael did a very credible job.

In fact, how can you sum up all of the last 11 years into these pages? How do you mix all the memories, the faces, the miles, the journeys, the good times and the bad? It's been one hell of a ride. Chris and I had no idea when we started to drink on that night in Reilly's in 1989 that the band would last this long or have such an effect on so many people. And now, Chris has gone on his own way to do his own thing and I'm sure it will be a great thing too. All I can say for myself is that I've been a very lucky person to have had someone like him and the other guys beside me through the many ups and the downs. There are so many things I remember that I could talk about. One just jumps into mind. It's not the greatest or most significant - but that evening in EMI's offices as we sat listening to Davitt give his belittling speech - "I have no hesitation in dropping bands from my label...." - I caught Chris' eye. The words were unspoken but the thought was clear as a bell - "who the fuck does this guy think he is?" I guess that about sums up the way we looked at the world. And for all Chris' talents, that's the attitude I'll miss.

But life goes on. We have a new piper, Joseph Mulvanerty, who has fitted in like a hand into a glove and brought us new energy, musicianship and a rare humor. We'll probably do a new live album this March and I'm working on songs for the next studio cd which just might be called "Rise Up" if I can ever do Jim Larkin justice - that would square the circle for me and complete a trilogy of songs about the holy trinity of the Revolutionary Irish Socialist movement - Connolly, Markievicz and Larkin.

Then again, there are a lot of Black 47 circles still to be squared, a lot of gigs left to do, a lot of young (and old) minds to be inflamed and a lot of fires to be kindled and left smoldering. Tiochfaidh ar Lá! — Larry Kirwan

 

Trouble in the Land
Trouble in the Land
1 Trouble In The Land (Kirwan) - 4:02
2 Those Saints (Kirwan) - 4:42
3 Delirious (Kirwan) - 4:04
4 Bobby Kennedy (Kirwan) - 4:34
5 Tramps Heartbreak (Kirwan) - 6:44
6 Bodhráns On The Brain (Kirwan) - 4:02
7 I Got Laid On James Joyce's Grave (Kirwan) - 3:32
8 Susan Falls Apart (Kirwan) - 4:38
9 Desperate (Kirwan) - 4:13
10 Fallin' Off The Edge Of America (Kirwan) - 5:22
11 Touched By Fire (Kirwan) - 4:50
12 Blood Is Thicker Than Water (Kirwan) - 4:41

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor, Soprano & Baritone Saxophones
Chris Byrne - Uillean Pipes, Tin Whistle, Bodhrán, Vocals
Andrew Goodsight Bass, Vocals
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Hand Percussion, Trap Drums, Djembe, Vocals
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals, Charts
Stewart Lerman Guitars, Banjo, Percussion
Mike Fazio Atmospherics & Steel Guitar
Larry Nachsin Organ on 'Blood'
David Kumin Organ on 'Delirious' & Digital Editing
Richard Kennedy Guitar
Nora Shanahan Vocals & Bodhrán on 'Bodhráns'
John Redmond Button Accordian
Matt Mancuso Violin
Terry Donnelly Voice on 'Touched By Fire'
Roz Moorehead & Lawrence Clayton Vocals on 'Blood Is Thicker Than Water'
Nico Wormsworth Tour Manager
John Murray Live Sound Engineer/Production Manager
Moore PA Hire Sound Company
Design Steve Newman & Rob Hudak
Band Photos Kevin Noble

And so it came to pass, that lo and behold, the powers-that-be decided that Danny Goldberg should no longer be King of Mercury. To give him his due, he had warned me when we signed that his stay there might be of a somewhat short lived nature. He wasn't kidding. And so we were given a copper handshake some months before his departure which enabled us to go on and record Trouble in the Land. Thank you, Danny. Good luck with your new label. Maybe, we'll join you there someday.

But, first off, let me digress a little and bring up a subject that we touched on in the last chapter - The Internet. It has been a true boon to bands like us. In our case, it has allowed the many people who love the band to get our cds internationally. Because of all the publicity that we engendered over the years, many people were aware of the band and had tapes sent to them or picked up cds themselves when visiting the US. And, of course, the cds were released internationally - to a limited degree - during our sojourns at EMI and Mercury. However, we paid a big price for our political views in the UK which is the powerhouse for European distribution of rock music. By contract, both companies released our cds in the UK but quietly deleted them as soon as the first pressing sold out.

However, the seeds were planted - cassette tapes passed from hand to hand - and when all our cds were made available internationally through readily accessed outlets like cdnow.com and amazon.com, our fans returned to us and had, indeed, multiplied in the intervening years. Thus, we have been able to go beyond the multi-nationals who have strangled music for so long. Likewise, with Napster and the ability to download music. Long may this technology live, say I. Daily, I get e-mails from people who have discovered the band through this medium. All I would ask is that you consider buying a cd after you download - which many of you already do.

But back to Trouble in the Land. I had written about 18 songs and we were performing many of them live. A mutual friend introduced me to the great Jack Douglas, producer of John Lennon, Aerosmith, you name it. Jack came down, saw the band, loved it and agreed to produce the next cd. We got on great and were looking forward to working with him but, around this time, our split from Mercury occurred. Our copper handshake didn't enable us to continue working with Jack but we remain friends and, who knows, maybe we'll work together someday. He's a beautiful and talented person - check out his pedigree - and would fit easily into the Black 47 extended family.

Although, I had written a lot of songs for the new CD, I was feeling a bit down at the time. Johnny's death, the illness of family members and some other personal factors were on my mind. When I honestly evaluated my mood and drive, I decided that I wasn't the right individual to solely produce Black 47, at that time. One person jumped immediately to mind. Stewart Lerman! Stewart was a major fan and great appreciator of our music and had wanted to work with the band since before Fire of Freedom. When I broached the subject to him, he jumped at the opportunity and it was agreed that we would co-produce. His energy, enthusiasm and friendship with each band member made this recording one of the most fruitful, delightful and, consequently, less onerous.

Nothing was a problem to Stewart. Being a road musician himself, for many years, he knew the particular stresses a band is under when it must record and play gigs at the same time. His manner was so easy going, humorous and empathetic that each band member gave him superb performances. Having just worked on Live in New York City, he immediately could sense all the strengths and liabilities of the band and could help maximize the former while minimizing the latter. For the first time since working with Ric Ocasek, I felt that I didn't have to be there all the time. I could stay home, on occasion, and let Stewart take the helm. And if something went down in my absence that I didn't like, well it was no big deal to do it again and Stewart didn't get huffy; in fact, he even welcomed the questioning. And so, our producing partnership moved along more than smoothly.

One of the things we gave thought to was my voice. While working on the leisurely Keltic Kids, I had begun to use the lower register again. Ever wonder why all the heavy metal front men sing in the Robert Plant style voice? Simple! They're trying to get over the volume of the band behind them. I had fallen into the same trap with Black 47. We are a loud band on stage. I've always liked to play with that driving rhythm that I first heard John Lennon and Bruce Welch of the Shadows use. And Hammy is no pussy when it comes to hitting the drums; hence, to the discomfiture of John Murray, Jon Carter and others of our great sound techs, Black 47 has always been stage loud and proud.

For songs like Tramps Heartbreak, Fallin' Off the Edge of America, Blood is Thicker Than Water, Susan Falls Apart, etc we decided to drop them a tone or two from the keys they were written in; or begin in a lower octave and let the song slowly build as it progresses. That's probably the big difference of approach on this cd. We also consciously went for a rounder, fuller sound on the instruments. I think this contributed to the feel of Trouble. The playing is still as intense but with more emphasis on the sonic low to mid-levels.

I've always felt that each cd sounds very different. Apart from the fact that each song has a unique story, I think the sounds each producing team garnered from the band are quite individual. Contrast my independent cd to Ric's Fire of Freedom - many of the same songs - but a world of difference in the sonic treatment. I'm not even talking about which I prefer. I like them both and value the differences but the important thing is that there are distinct differences. Listen to them for yourself. Compare the highs and lows of Home of the Brave to the "roundness" of Trouble in the Land. They are so different. And as the French say "Vive la différence"

Anyway, back to Trouble. Things were still nebulous at Mercury when I got in touch with Stewart. We arranged to have him drop by for a few rehearsals, listen to the tunes, make some suggestions and then go in on an afternoon and cut about 15 of them for a demo. Demos be damned, thought I again. Let's, at least, do them in a good 24 track studio. You never know what's going to happen. (In Black 47's case, something always does). And so we went into Baby Monster Studio on good old 14th Street and did 15 tracks in 5 hours.

Forewarned is forearmed! Within days, we were label-less again. We decided to use these recordings as the basis for Trouble in the Land. I re-cut the vocals, we fixed up various instrumentals but the main recording was done in 5 hours. Of course, Stewart and I put in many hours more fine tuning and polishing; we both added a lot of acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards, particularly Hammond organ. Some of the songs were easy to "fix" others, like Susan, almost broke my heart. But, in the end, it's a record I love, although, as with all of them, I'll probably never listen to it again..

With every Black 47 cd, I'm very aware that I'm competing with those that have gone before and I was delighted when so many songs from Trouble became quick favorites at the live gigs. It's always a very scary time for me. The thought of lowering the quality of Black 47's oeuvre is particularly troubling to me. Black 47 songs mean so much to so many people, it would be horrifying to drop the standard. For each song must tell a different story and each arrangement must bring out something new in the musicianship. That's the goal we set and, so far, I think we've held up the standard. Knock on that wood quickly for me as I am now in the midst of writing a new batch!

Some of the songs on Trouble are personal favorites of mine. Particularly, Tramps Heartbreak. After writing the play, Poetry of Stone, about my Grandfather, I took one last draught from that well. As some of you are aware, I was raised by Thomas Hughes. He was a very old man when I went to live with him as a young boy but he gave me so much and I'm deeply indebted to him for my love of history and interest in politics. When it came time to break away from him, as all young people must from a powerful elder, unfortunately I didn't do so in the most graceful manner.

Most sundays we used to visit his friends around the country, traveling in his old blue Morris Minor, (ZR 5486). On our way home, we would often travel down the New Line (an almost straight road from Duncannon to Wexford town, constructed by the British Army at the turn of the century). Because of this unusual straightness, the locals called the road "tramps heartbreak". I've sometimes felt trapped on that same kind of metaphysical road myself. Add that to the regret of breaking with someone you love and you have Tramps Heartbreak.

It's always been important to me that Black 47 progress musically. Now, I know that some of you would prefer that we stick to the Funky Céilí/Rockin' The Bronx pattern - for which we are best known - and I do enjoy that style too. But, the band that doesn't progress doesn't just stay in the same place - it moves backwards. And so, Blood Is Thicker Than Water, allowed us to explore Gospel and R&B; Delirious finally let us do a full ska number; Susan Falls Apart - well, I'm not sure what genre you would call that but it's new for B47; Saints allowed us to mix traditional Irish with traditional New Orleans and Bobby Kennedy let us explore Motown rhythms, especially those of the Temptations. I'm sure there are other influences I'm missing but Trouble in the Land has moved the band on both musically and lyrically. I'm proud that the musicians of Black 47 make that jump so effortlessly and I'm grateful that most of you can accept these changes that are essential to us, as we continue on down our merry, if perilous, way. — Larry Kirwan

Black 47: Trouble In The Land

Black 47 remains one of rock’s inexplicably obscure treasures. From the ambitious Bodhráns on the Brain to the glorious, hope-fueled Touched by Fire to the wickedly satiric I Got Laid on James Joyce’s Grave, Black 47 parties with revolutionary fervor. — USA Today

Socially conscious music that moves your head, heart and hips. Rush out for Trouble in the Land which, like other Black 47 efforts, seems to get a little better with each spin. — New York Post

Angry, mournful, hilarious. Sing along, drink along and be merry. — People Magazine

Black 47 delivers its most dynamic session. Trouble in the Land hits the jugular. — Boston Globe

Black 47 comes out swinging again with a Celtic/ska hoedown - a guinness-thick brew of uilleann pipes, streetwise riddims - a lot of tin-whistled fun. — Entertainment Weekly

Trouble in the Land features more of Kirwan’s superb lyrics as pungently flavorful as an Irish Whiskey. — Los Angeles Times

Songs of substance that alternate between the ragingly political Bobby Kennedy and the achingly personal Susan Falls Apart, the overall feel remains celebratory. These guys still deserve to be huge. — Philadelphia Inquirer

Black 47 is passionate in songwriting, passionate in cause, passionate in performance. Trouble in the Land has all the ingredients of their magical stew. — Florida Sun-Sentinel

Both McCourt and Kirwan are superb writers who describe poverty, injustice and other problems they and their friends have encountered with an entrancing brand of passion and ribald humor, rawness and artfulness. — Albany Times Union

One or rock’s most passionate bands, Black 47 plays Kirwan’s fiery agit-pop howlers with the fury of the early Pogues. This Irish tinted rock (with shadings of ska and reggae) is incendiary. — Chicago Sun Times

A melting pot of styles, blending traditional Irish instruments and melodies with reggae rhythms and hip-hop and funk beats. They’ve become the voice of Irish-Americans. — Washington Post

Take all forms of rebel music, mix it on one album, sometimes, as on 'Those Saints' all in one song. Great restless, ranting rock with horns, pipes, guitars and Bobby Kennedy speeches tapes. — San Jose Mercury News

They’ve raised consciousness, hell and the roof over the last decade and now they raise the bar with the best disc in years. — LA Entertainment Today

New York City’s favorite band....Trouble in the Land stands out as an album that can even make party animals think. — Time Out

A hip-hop beat, an Irish reel and a reworking of the standard "When the Saints Go Marching In" - the band’s ability to make all those sounds work together is what makes them exciting and much different than the Clash and the Pogues. — Portland Phoenix

Trouble in the Land is an edgy, introspective fascinating look into the band’s creative process. Tramps Heartbreak and Fallin’ Off the Edge of America eloquently convey regret for lost love and the pain of things left unsaid and undone. — Irish Echo

Both political and humorous, Trouble is a wicked blend of Celtic music, ska and roots rock. — Billboard

It’s possible to find funnier moments in rock than I Got Laid on James Joyce’s Grave but you’d have to dig deep. — Newsday

In like a lion and a pissed off one at that, Trouble in the Land re-establishes Larry Kirwan’s reputation as an immigrant with an attitude. The band’s seamless blend of Irish reggae and rock is as powerful as ever. — Philadelphia City Paper

I was once again blown away by the awesome power of this band. The reggae-tinged 'Desperate' was a highlight. This is the band that should be selling out 10 nights in the Garden. — Irish Voice

Black 47's anthemic Trouble in the Land is a drunken potpourri of hip-hop beats, reggae riddims, Springsteen grand choruses and traditional instruments - Bodhrán, tin whistle and uilleann pipes. — Tower Pulse

This is possibly the best album Black 47 has put out ot date. Controversial, always raucous, and definitely great. Startingly offbeat and original. They put on a great show. — V Mag

Chris Byrne pulls no punches even when addressing an obvious hero such as Robert Kennedy. The band’s ability to simultaneously praise and desecrate James Joyce hints at their prodigious talent. — CMJ New Music Report

Larry Kirwan is a serious poet who can write a ballad that wrenches the heart, or a verse that paints a picture of despair, pain or joy. Black 47 fans will be overjoyed with Trouble in the Land. — New Britain Herald

Black 47 has come up with a tune that rivals Maria’s Wedding - one of rock’s great songs - it’s a little ditty with an unprintable title about having sexual intercourse on James Joyce’s grave. — Times Herald Record

Finally something really new to talk about. Balladry is a big surprise - Susan Falls Apart is particularly striking. — New Haven Register

If you have dreadlocks and like to dance jigs, this is the album for you. — Cleveland Plain Dealer

This is Black 47's Pogues-iest, pushiest, most politically persuasive album yet. Makes you wish the public library was open after the bars close. — New Haven Advocate

Trouble in the Land is a great song. Normally, I don’t go for the music-politics mix but you get the sense that Black 47 sings from experience. — El Paso Times

Usually bands use ballads to cool things off a bit. Not Black 47! The troubled love song, Tramps Heartbreak, from the band’s new disc was hot, steamy and striking. — Syracuse Herald Journal

Fueled by its ever-present political passion and a sense of humor to match, Black 47 has chronicled the Irish-American experience in a wonderfully unique fashion that stokes controversial fires as much as it revels in spinning absurdly funny tales. — Stamford Advocate

Trouble in the Land is the latest fiery instalment from a band whose music was made to afflict the comfortable. — Irish Music Connection

A combination of streetwise sass, history and musical inclusiveness. — Sacramento News and Review

If you like variety in music - Irish, rock, reggae, folk, rap, jazz - and you enjoy humor, have a conscience and appreciate quality, then Trouble in the Land is for you. — Irish Edition

A worldly blend that combines Celtic music, reggae and hip-hop with the punkish urgency of the Pogues and the Clash and the rock ‘n roll fervor of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. — Newark Sunday Star Ledger

Bawdy and lecherous, poetic and comical, danceable and political. — Brattleboro Reformer

As Kirwan asserts in Blood is Thicker Than Water, we’ve all met troubles. All you can do is keep the faith and keep on dancing. — Thirsty Ear Magazine

Black 47 pretty much has the market cornered these days on Irish rock, with their lusty and turbulent tales of social unrest, history, politics and the immigrant experience wrapped in a passionate package. — The River Reporter

Black 47 continues to verbalize humanity’s savageness with a plethora of words and not confusion of meaning. Trouble in the Land is another fine batch of politically potent, rollicking songs about fallen heroes, looming threats and the brazenness of the bookish. It’s Van Morrison’s punk album. — Tulsa World

Black 47 is clearly in touch with its Irish ancestry. Yet its blend of musical traditions, politically intense compositions and tongue-in-cheek, somewhat self-deprecating, bar song splendor offers a refreshing twist on traditional Irish rock. — Valley Advocate

A larger Irish vision, a playfulness and a celebration of life’s pleasures - Black 47's music yells out against loss and invisibility. Trouble in the Land is a celebration of meaningful resistance. — Rootsworld Bulletin

Black 47 is irreverent and to the point. The music combines post punk rock, ska and Irish reel. But that’s just the music. Their political lyrics have been the band’s trademark since its inception. — PRI’s The World

Easily the motleyest crew since the Pogues, in Irish music circles, they’re also one of the finest and the most eclectic. Trouble goes down smooth as blended whiskey even as it bolsters whip-smart lyrics and passionate tunesmithery. — Winnipeg Sun

Trouble in the Land easily becomes the band’s finest recording since its 1993 debut, Fire of Freedom. Crisp musicianship and unbridled enthusiasm rule the day and guarantee to have the band’s many fans doing the 'funky Céilí' for years to come. — Glen Falls Post-Star

The band boasts a great horn sound (Fred Parcells blows the bones and Geoffrey Blythe plays the tenor, baritone and soprano sax) absent from most bands today and gives Black 47 a unique sound. Trouble in the Land definitely merits a long listen. — Easton Express-Times

Trouble in the Land is an eclectic effort, ranging from the fiery-but-melodic issue oriented track Bobby Kennedy to the gospel-tinged Blood is Thicker Than Water to the tongue-in-cheek I Got Laid on James Joyce’s Grave. — Asbury Park Press

Larry Kirwan is a true poet of our times. He understands what is really going on, cuts the disguises away and writes songs of truth for all to hear. — Ann Brazen Celtic Beat

 

On Fire
On Fire
1 Big Fellah (Kirwan) - 5:10
2 Those Saints (Kirwan) - 4:35
3 Czechoslovakia (Kirwan) - 4:45
4 Fire of Freedom (Kirwan) - 4:45
5 Bobby Sands MP (Kirwan) - 5:20
6 Rockin' the Bronx (Kirwan) - 5:50
7 American Wake (Kirwan) - 5:40
8 Johnny Byrne's Jig (Kirwan) - 4:20
9 Our Lady of the Bronx (Kirwan) - 5:30 Featuring Betsy Parcells, Soprano vocals
10 I Got Laid on James Joyce's Grave (Kirwan) - 4:10
11 Biko (Gabriel) 5:55

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor, Soprano & Baritone Saxophones
Andrew Goodsight Bass, Vocals
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Percussion
Larry Kirwan Guitar, Lead Vocals
Joseph Mulvanerty Uillean Pipes, Flute, Bodhrán, Tin Whistle, Vocals
John Murray Live Sound Engineer, Production Manager
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals
Nico Wormsworth Tour Manager, MC
Recorded by John Agnello and Stewart Lerman
Mixed by Stewart Lerman
Produced by Stewart Lerman and Larry Kirwan
Mastered by Mark Dann
PA Systems Moore PA Hire
Mobile Recording studios: Goin' Mobile Boston
Design by MattBob
Photographs by Matt Alley

Chris left the band at the end of May 2000. He'd been thinking of leaving for some time but loyally decided to stay until the touring and promotion for Trouble in the Land had run its course. It had been a wild tumultuous ride for both of us – from playing in front of 5 people in the Bronx to sharing the same stage with Johnny Cash, Neil Young and John Mellencamp at Farm Aid before 50,000. It often seemed amazing what we'd done – taken a band from the bars of Bainbridge Avenue to playing Leno, Letterman and O'Brien, while at the same time changing the way people listened to Irish music. We wanted to be the Clancy Brothers of the '90's. In a way we succeeded. Now Chris has his own band, Seanchai and The Unity Squad – and a fine band they are.

There was no downtime; we were back on stage the following weekend. No rehearsals - just get back in the van and get on with it. We worked with a tandem of uilleann pipers for the next months. Our friend, Neil Anderson, the original piper in Seven Nations filled in and was great. Chris' anointed successor, Joseph Mulvanerty, alternated with Neil who was living down South and traveling up for gigs. In the end the gig went to Joseph.

And what a find! A jazz drummer in high school he came late to Irish music. He had a different sensibility than other pipers, more interested in Hendrix and Coltrane than Ennis and O'Flynn. In those days Fred used to stand behind him onstage, and young Joseph immediately caught the trombonist's free jazz vibe - that songs be interpreted through the prism of your mood and the circumstances of the night.

There are no voids in music. With Chris gone, the other players just stepped up to the front both literally and figuratively. Of course we missed Chris, me most of all. For our sets always contained Time To Go and Walk All The Days. Those songs gave me a chance to stand back, concentrate on my guitar playing and add harmonies. It was also a great feeling to step away from the spotlight and ground oneself behind Chris' powerful front man presence. Besides, there wouldn't have been a Black 47 without him. He imbued the band with his sensibility, political integrity and black humor.

In many ways, the music stepped up a notch. None of the other band members was likely to sing a song but there seemed more space for actual playing and improvising. We always had long periods of instrumental fireworks – for I've always believed that if you put a story out there lyrically, then if you encourage the instrumentalists to expound on the lyrics you'll end up with a much more complete experience. For whatever reason, the music in general began to loosen up and become more fluid. You can hear the genesis of this in ON FIRE. We first began performing Johnny Byrne's Jigs some weeks before we recorded the show at Wetlands on St. Patrick's Day 2001.

As usual we didn't rehearse this piece, just tried it one night in Connolly's and it began to bend and shape into what it is today. The idea, though, was to keep it loose and let it do its own thing every night. One of the highlights of the CD is when Fred's sister, Betsy Parcells, joins us on Our Lady of the Bronx and delivers a stunning Ave Maria. Betsy was a professional opera singer with a flourishing career in European opera houses. Her voice still sends chills through me. Betsy, alas, passed away some years back but that powerfully melodic voice brings me back to that wild St. Patrick's night in Wetlands, some months before the club closed. It was to be the last St. Patrick's night of the old era. None of us had the least idea that the world was about to change irrevocably. — Larry Kirwan

BLACK 47: On Fire

New York's favorite Irish-American group returns with another live album. But for all of Black 47's aspirations of being a serious band - they sometimes sound like they want to be the Pogues fronted by Bruce Springsteen - they're a party band that works best when exhorting the crowd, say through the rough Beastie Boys-style rap of "Rockin' The Bronx." There's plenty of emotion in Larry Kirwan's singing, although subtlety isn't exactly his style (nor that of any of the members, really) as he goes over the top as often as possible. That's fine, but when Kirwan gets serious, as on "Bobby Sands MP" or a roar through Peter Gabriel's "Biko," he sounds more cheeky than sincere. Still, if you're in the mood for a few Guinnesses and Jamesons chasers and getting rowdy, Black 47 is exactly the party animal you want around. — Chris Nickson: CMJ New Music Report

 

Kilroy Was Here
Kilroy Was Here
1. Molly (Kirwan) - 6:20
2. The Only Living Boy In New York (Simon) - 3:58
3. Kilroy Was Here (Kirwan) - 7:01
4. History Of Ireland, Part 1 (Kirwan) - 5:30
5. Fatima (Kirwan) - 4:42
6. Life's Like That, Isn't It? (Kirwan) - 7:58
7. Symphony In Blue (Kirwan) - 4:16
8. Girl In The Rain (Kirwan) - 4:34
9. Spanish Moon (Kirwan) - 4:28
10.Walkin' With Her God (Kirwan) - 4:36
11. History Of Ireland (contd) - 2:37

Paul Ossola Double Bass, Electric Bass
Frank Vilardi Drums, Percussion
Dave Tronzo Electric Slide Guitar
Fred Parcells Trombone
Stewart Lerman Hammond T2, Guitar
Larry Kirwan Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Hammond T2
Suzzy Roche Vocals
Rich Viruet Trumpet
Faith Glassman Violin
Lisa Gutkin Violin on 'Spanish Moon'
Mike Fazio Pedal Steel Guitar
Dave Conrad Cello
Malachy McCourt Voice on 'History Of Ireland'
Copernicus Voice on 'Spanish Moon'
Produced by Stewart Lerman and Larry Kirwan
Recorded and mixed by Stewart Lerman
Brass and String arrangements by Fred Parcells

I'd been feeling the need to spread my own wings. I had the playwriting outlet, but this particular urge seemed to call for expression through music, though of a different nature than Black 47. I had been in the habit of going down to Riverrun, a saloon in Tribeca, on Sunday afternoons. After the weekend gigs it was a good setting in which to unwind and relax. The pints went down easily, and while walking home scraps of lyrics and melodies began coming to mind. These felt very different than what I'd been writing for Black 47. Some of them were almost like shards of memory in the form of sounds or rhymes.

Later that night, I'd write them down or sing them into a tape recorder; then forget all about them until the next Sunday when a new sequence would begin. At first, many were connected with growing up in Wexford. Sights and sounds that I remembered, scenes from my boyhood, memories of my Mother and Father when I was a child.

On those walks home, I could hear three instruments: trumpet, violin and double bass. There was even a particular atmosphere that oozed from the plangent arrangements – a melancholy that I'd only heard before in Astor Piazzolla's tangos. On those fall and winter Sundays I collected many individual pieces and began to stitch them together. Sometimes it was difficult to combine cadences, rhymes and rhythms, but I decided to swing with them. There was no need to beat them into shape like pop songs – they would be what they were – pieces of memory latticed together.

The first song had four very divergent verses, and yet there was a gauzy inner schematic that I followed. The first verse was inspired by a vague sexual memory, and yet the verbal images had more to do with a traveler returning to New York City on a foggy 19th Century night. It had a spectral feel and as it unfolded I realized that the song was about a spirit returning to the city and trying to reunite with a loved one. I called it Kilroy Was Here in memory of those words painted on the wall of a laneway back in Wexford. As a boy, I used to stare at them; even then I knew they would have significance for me in the far-off future.

I told Stewart Lerman, the producer/engineer, about these songs and the instruments I was hearing. He was excited at the prospect of doing an album with no thought whatever for commerciality. As was Fred Parcells, Black 47's trombonist. I played him the songs and the main instrumental lines. He notated everything and then wrote out some wonderful arrangements for strings and horns.

Stewart assembled a bunch of players; we jammed like the old jazz combos then recorded the songs live over two long evening sessions. I gave little instruction to the musicians – just the names of two CDs that might provide some signposts: Sketches of Spain by Miles and Astral Weeks by Van. When those sessions were completed we brought in some string and horn players, including Geoff Blythe on saxophones, and added the final pieces of Fred's arrangements.

With the songs finally recorded I felt a great weight lift. It was as though I'd been freed of a certain baggage of memory. I was also glad to turn the recollections of my mother and father into songs. Within months my mother passed away. I was so fortunate to capture my feelings for her before the rosy glow of nostalgia engulfed the actual person.

Kilroy Was Here captures a certain period of my life, what more can you ask for? — Larry Kirwan

Larry Kirwan - Kilroy Was Here

A masterpiece! Kilroy Was Here is a distant cousin of Astral Weeks, with its swirling orchestration that elevates its singer and coaxes him to a new creative peak. This is Black 47 music for grown ups, something to listen to on a Sunday morning after the boys in the band rock your world on a Saturday night. — The Irish Voice

Larry Kirwan's new release is sweepingly historical and quirkily personal by turns, featuring his distinctive, edgy vocals, a wide stylistic and instrumental palette, and a dizzying torrent of words and images. Kirwan's unique perspectives and use of language and the unusual arrangements make for a fascinating, almost cinematic listening experience. — Sing Out!

A superb new solo album. The playwright-composer's storytelling tends to be more intimate and inward with such vivid and tightly focused portraits as 'Molly', 'Fatima', 'Girl in the Rain', and the autobiographical 'Life's Like That, Isn't It?' — Philadelphia Inquirer

 

New York Town
New York Town
1 San Patricio Brigade 5:07
2 New York Town 5:05
3 Orphan of the Storm 4:07
4 Fiona's Song 4:45
5 Staten Island Baby 3:40
6 Mychal 4:51
7 Livin' in America: 11 Years On 6:21
8 Brooklyn Goodbye 4:20
9 Black Rose 5:06
10 Blood Wedding 5:07
11 I Won't Take You Home Again, Kathleen 4:19
12 Fatima 4:28

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor and Soprano Saxophones
Andrew Goodsight Bass, Vocals
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Percussion
Joseph Mulvanerty Uilleann Pipes, Flute, Tin and Low Whistle
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals
Stewart Lerman Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Melodica
Eileen Ivers Fiddle
Jon Gordon Guitar, Mandolin, Keyboards
Vocals Suzzy Roche, Rosanne Cash, David Johansen, Mary Courtney, Rozz Moorehead, Christine Ohlman, Ashley Davis
Production Manager and Live Sound John Murray
Tour Manager P2, Nico Wormsworth
Sound Company Moore PA

And then it happened. One moment I was checking the Mets' score, the next my face was buried in the newspaper. That first plane came over so low, so loud and so fast I thought it was going to come right through the walls. As I raised my head relieved that the sound was receding, I heard the thud.

It was markedly different than the sound of planes crashing in the movies or television. No screech and clang of glass and metal tearing, more like some huge Paddy swinging his sledgehammer down on a concrete pathway; a dull, but awful, thump that I can still summon up.

Like many I ran down to the street but in my neck of the woods the buildings are tall. So, I raced back up to our roof. People were already lined up and gazing the short distance south. The sight was unbelievable, a plane gouged into one of the Trades, thick clouds of smoke belching out, and from that blackness tiny tongues of fire licked the remnants of the collapsed walls. From time to time, little gales of glass would explode outwards and shower the crystal clear sky. Black shapes and forms launched forward then dropped, gathering speed in descent.

And as we gazed in wonder and confusion we couldn't see the second plane colliding from the south, but we felt its impact and, with that, innocence fled. So, the first plane had not been an accident. What was coming next? Then one of the Trades collapsed, swiftly, orderly, in a neat pile downwards. Who were these attackers and how could they achieve so much so effortlessly? Had they already laid explosives in the cellars? At that moment they seemed invincible, for the second tower crumbled in the same orderly manner.

And as we marveled and swore at what had transpired the sky suddenly seemed to explode as two jets came screaming south and banking overhead. Was this more of the same? No, it was the US Air Force. A little late in the day but they sure as hell frightened everyone in my vicinity.

Black 47 returned to Connolly's the following week. The idea was to try and persuade people to come back into the city – to show that life was continuing. I remember one night jaywalking across Times Square – there wasn't a car or taxi to dodge, it was deserted, like a cowboy movie when you see the sagebrush blowing down the empty street.

The audience was composed of first responders: cops, firemen, EMS people, along with the mad, the bored and the lonely. Though the newspapers were full of the names of the victims, many of us didn't know who had survived. Everyone watched the door and you'd feel a collective sigh of relief when someone would enter – at least, he or she was still alive! The gigs were strange – subdued at first, then often close to manic with wild and sudden mood swings; it wasn't unusual for someone to break down crying in the middle of a sentence, or just drink up hurriedly and head off alone into the night.

Life in the band was beyond strange too. We were looked on as ambassadors for New York when playing outside the city. In the tri-state area it wasn't unusual for someone to approach with a photo of a fan and ask that we play his or her favorite song in memory. It was hard when you knew the deceased, even harder when you didn't – to think that someone was so invested in you and you didn't even know their name. That was the atmosphere from which New York Town emerged. The idea was to celebrate New York City – both before and after 9/11; to capture the town that we all knew and to show some of the flames and ashes that each New Yorker had walked through.

Hence there were songs for each borough and often for specific areas and even streets. We asked friends to join us on some of the songs: Livin' in America – 11 Years on with Mary Courtney for Bainbridge Avenue in The Bronx. Staten Island Baby with David Johansen; Brooklyn Goodbye with Suzzy Roche. Fiona's Song (for Sunnyside, Queens) with Rosanne Cash and Eileen Ivers; Blood Wedding for the Lower East Side with Christine Ohlman; I won't Take You Home Again, Kathleen for Rockaway.

And then there were songs for people, Fatima (with Ashley Davis) for the many Muslims who had been killed; San Patricio Brigade for the Latinos who went down, and a couple of songs for individuals. Mychal needs no introduction now. Father Mychal Judge, OFM, was chaplain of the NYFD and a regular at Black 47 shows. In my mind's eye I can still picture where he liked to stand. I think he came to our gigs because he adored being at the center or things, liked being part of a scene. He was a beautiful man, full of life and compassion, with a deep understanding of human frailty. He was the most giving person I ever met and like thousands of New Yorkers I miss him.

Orphan of the Storm may be my favorite song from the CD. It has an odd story. Most of the songs just flowed forth; it was like a damn bursting as I didn't really write anything in that first long year. I was working on one last song but I couldn't quite nail it. We had already booked the recording studio and had scheduled a final rehearsal for later that evening. In frustration I lay down on the couch and dozed off.

I awoke with the intro of Orphan ricocheting around my brain. I felt bitter and had no idea why. I played the intro on the piano in the key of E and immediately a verse and chorus suggested themselves with full chording. I instinctively knew the title and as soon as I put it on paper, I experienced a strange anguish. The words came tumbling out – there was little editing. Even the complicated bridge with its odd chording flowed freely. I'd often heard of automatic writing but had never experienced anything like it. Perhaps, it was just the stress and an overwrought imagination, but I always had the feeling I was telling someone else's story. — Larry Kirwan

Black 47: New York Town

Black 47, New York Town (***1/2) Too long relegated to the fringes, this Irish-American band belongs to the diminishing ranks of rock acts that balance serious sonic thump with intelligent social commentary. The title track, featuring singer Suzzy Roche, raises questions about the causes of 9/11 as powerfully as anything on Bruce Springsteen's The Rising. Guest Mary Courtney is the beleaguered wife and mother on Livin' in America - 11 Years On, a riveting saga of strength and melancholy. Black 47's ire reaches back to the Mexican-American War in San Patricio Brigade, about the U.S. Army's Irish deserters who fled a dead end of poverty and discrimination to fight for the enemy. Poetic yet unambiguous, Town's provocative themes and unsentimental stories give Black 47's music both purpose and passion. — Edna Gundersen USA Today

Black 47 New York Town (****) Larry Kirwan and his Irish rock band use musical voicings ranging from folk to rock to hip-hop to craft this literate and lilting love letter to the city they now call home. Joined by guests including Rosanne Cash, David Johansen and Suzzy Roche, they pay tribute not only to a city that never sleeps but to a metropolis that has spent a fair share of sleepless nights since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Kirwan and company craft their most engaging, engrossing recording to date, a bracking musical experience that is also insightful and intelligent. — Jeff Wisser Chicago Sun Times

New York Town celebrates the Irish-American experience in inimitable fashion. — The New Yorker

With New York Town, Larry Kirwan and his enduring Irish-rock outfit have drafted an engaging and heartfelt love letter to their adopted hometown that certainly unfolds under that shadow of Sept. 11, but never brings it front and center… Kirwan's singular, evocative vocals are augmented by a large cast of guest stars in place of its raucous background rests a more assured, more literate band. — Billboard

New York Town s a virtual tour of the five boroughs, packed with colorful characters and larger-than-life emotion. — Newark Star Ledger

New York Town is an insider's love poem to New York City, compressing 160 years and five boroughs into a series of musical sketches. It's a world full of broken heart and hard times, long nights and short lives, of women chasing dragons with razors in their garters, with flashes of Latin and satin…New York Town consequently, is a great Irish-eyed view of the Big Apple – sordid, romantic, and sober only in hindsight. — Phoenix New Times

With cinematic sweep, this one ranges across all five boroughs and beyond… from Irish history sagas to heartbreaking domestic dramas with his usual keen eye and down-to-earth literary flair, while maintaining a touch for the lighthearted. — Philadelphia Inquirer

 

Elvis Murphy
Elvis Murphy
1 Far Side of the Wall - 4:40
2 Downtown Baghdad Blues - 4:05
3 The Bells of Hell - 4:37
4 Girl Next Door - 2:19
5 Elvis Murphy - 3:58
6 The Day They Set Jim Larkin Free - 4:52
7 Uncle Jim - 3:42
8 Into the West - 4:25
9 Liverpool Fantasy - 2:46
10 History of Ireland, Part 1 - 7:52
11 Kilroy Was Here - 7:03
12 Life's Like That, Isn't It? - 8:05

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor and Soprano Saxophones
Andrew Goodsight Bass, Guitar, Vocals
Thomas Hamlin Drums, Vocals Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
Joseph Mulvanerty Uilleann Pipes, Flute, Bodhrán, Vocals
Fred Parcells Trombone, Tin Whistle, Vocals
Mike Fazio Treated Guitar
Mick Moloney Banjo
Produced by Stewart Lerman and Larry Kirwan
Recorded and mixed by Stewart Lerman at Water Music Recorders
Engineered by Ted Young
Mastered by Mark Dann
Cover design and layout David Riedy
Photo of Selskar Abbey, Wexford Caroline Ironside
Interior photos of the band Peter Mitev, www.pierrot-art.com
Production Manager and Live Sound John Murray
Tour Manager P2
Sound Company Moore PA

The Elvis Murphy CD was planned as a companion to my book Green Suede Shoes – An Irish-American Odyssey. But the music business demands that you release a new CD whenever you have a yearning for publicity, and especially if you intend touring. For a band like Black 47 that often plays up to 50 weeks of the year we were in constant need of new releases.

The memoir, Green Suede Shoes, was song based. I had been wrestling with a new novel but was having problems with its structure. The publishers wanted a follow up to Liverpool Fantasy as it had sold well. Finally, impatient with the delay, they suggested taking some of the Black 47 narrative songs and writing stories around them. I had no notion of writing a memoir but within a couple of songs, it became obvious that's what was happening. As the work progressed there was a need for new songs to fill in the narrative gaps; hence, Far Side of the Wall, Bells of Hell, Uncle Jim and The Day They Set Jim Larkin Free.

The Girl Next Door had been a popular Turner & Kirwan of Wexford song that always seemed like it would suit Black 47. Into The West was one of my favorites from the early days of the band. It had been commissioned as the title song for the American release of the Jim Sheridan movie. At the last minute it got bumped for a gentler theme that would appeal to children – or so the record company said. Whatever! Black 47 fans have always loved the song – so we re-recorded it.

Liverpool Fantasy was the title song from my play of the same name. It's life as John Lennon sees it - never having left Liverpool (hey, at least he's alive). The Lennon character sings it in the play. I guess I'm probably the only one to ever put words in John Lennon's mouth!

The album is rounded off by three songs from Kilroy Was Here, History of Ireland Part 1, Kilroy itself, and maybe one of my favorite self-composed songs, Life's Like That, Isn't it?

It was somewhat of a bleak time. Both my parents had passed on. However, for the most part the album is driving and rocky, an obvious attempt to emulate WB Yeats' dictum on balance - "poetry should be as cold and passionate as the dawn." There's some really fine horn/pipes and rhythm section playing curried by a general abandonment.

Two things were unfolding during this period, we were under intense pressure live from performing Downtown Baghdad Blues. There was a feeling in the country that any kind of dissent against the war was unpatriotic and we were taking great heat while rock music was generally mute on the subject, particularly in the early years. To my mind, we were the only band out there hammering home the message nightly that the war was a huge mistake and would have grave repercussions for the country.

The other was that our comrade and bass player, Andrew Goodsight was contemplating leaving the band and moving out of New York. Andrew was a very popular member who had stepped into the breach way back when Kevin Jenkins left. A multi-talented musician and all round character, he left an indelible mark on Black 47 through his musicianship and stage presence.

I recall very little of the recording sessions but I have a number of luminous memories of walking towards Broadway with Hammy after rehearsals. The nights were dark and blustery and we laughed a lot remembering friends from Major Thinker days and characters from the downtown scene over the previous decades. Perhaps that's why I always get a warm Autumn feeling whenever I hear a track from this album. — Larry Kirwan

Black 47: Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes

Good news for those planning to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with Irish-American rockers Black 47 at the Middle East on Sunday. The New York band's new album is the catchiest, most accessible thing it has made in ages. It is not as insular and literary as 2004's "New York Town," even though it's the companion album to bandleader Larry Kirwan's new memoir, "Green Suede Shoes." It's first and foremost a collection of excellent songs. 'Far Side of the Wall' is a melodic hymn to "bleary days," "blazin' years" and "breakin' through" - like a Springsteen lyric, but with pipes as well as sax and Stratocaster. 'Downtown Baghdad Blues' is a gritty soldier's lament that dares to rhyme "land of Giuliani" with "Ayatollah Sistani." 'Elvis Murphy' tells of young Larry's rock 'n' roll awakening. And the potent 'Liverpool Fantasy' imagines the thoughts that might have boiled in John Lennon's brain if he'd never made it out of the old neighborhood (the subject of Kirwan's 2003 novel of the same name). The album is drenched in Kirwan's obsessions: New York, politics, Ireland's struggles, the immigrant experience, boozing, rock as liberation. His passionate bray does put off some. But for those who love this scrappy band, the new album is an excellent early St. Pat's present. — Joel Brown Boston Herald

Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes is Irish music that can lift the roof beams with guitars nad saxes – but can also break your heart with the personal histories the songs evoke — Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel

Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes – Black 47 continues to do its fiery best to live up to Joe Strummers's priceless endorsement. — Philadelphia Inquirer

 

Bittersweet Sixteen
Bittersweet Sixteen
1 Home of the Brave 3:26
2 Funky Ceili 4:15
3 For What It's Worth 4:08
4 My Love Is in New York 4:22
5 Downtown Baghdad Blues 4:02
6 Southside Chicago Waltz 4:11
7 Big Fellah 5:47
8 Bobby Sands, MP 5:33
9 Road to Ruin 4:49
10 Voodoo City 5:23
11 Staten Island Baby 3:40
12 Losin' It 4:17
13 Danny Boy 5:22
14 Patriot Game 5:02
15 Forty Deuce 7:49
16 Joe Hill's Last Will 1:21

All songs arranged by past and present members of Black 47 which include
Saxophones/Clarinet: Geoffrey Blythe
Pipes, Bodhrán Whistles: Chris Byrne, Joseph Mulvanerty
Bass/Vocals: David Conrad, Andrew Goodsight, Kevin Jenkins
Drums & Percussion: Thomas Hamlin
Guitar/Vocals/Percussion & Programming: Larry Kirwan
Trombone/Whistles/Vocals Fred Parcells
Guest Musicians Tony DeMarco, Mike Fazio, Jon Gordon, Eileen Ivers, David Johansen, Stewart Lerman, Joanie Madden, Roz Moorehead, Paul Ossola, Rev. Ian Paisley
Production Manager and Live Sound Johnny Byrne, Jon Carter, Tom Gartland, John Murray
Tour Manager Nico Wormsworth, P2
Compiled and edited by Stewart Lerman
Mastered by Mark Dann
Cover painting/design by Gina Minichino
Layout/Design by Mitch Cantor
Sound Company Moore PA

Dedicated to Elizabeth (Betsy) Parcells 1951-2005, sister and comrade, and our friends safe home and those still serving in Iraq with HHC, 42nd Aviation Brigade.

The road goes ever on, as Tolkien said, more and more gigs. We've always been a popular grass roots band with bases of support throughout the country. To keep that support current, however, it behooves you to get in the van and show that you still merit attention. Add to that the fact that any Saturday night we weren't on the road we played Connolly's in New York City. To my mind it was overplay but since gigs provide the main financial income of the band members, the more gigs the merrier. To add fuel to the fire, each February and March we perenially play an extensive St. Patrick's Day season and there's a constant need for publicity to make it work.

That led to the release of Bittersweet Sixteen in 2006! We were also being hit by new fans demanding, "give me a sample from across your whole career!" Around about this time I was doing an interview with Vin Scelsa, our long time radio-host supporter. He presented me with a tape of an in-studio performance that we had done for him back in 1993 right before we recorded Home of the Brave. The quality was amazing; the band was on fire as it always is when performing new songs. Voodoo City, Losin' It, Road To Ruin, and Danny Boy were among the tracks we lifted from that performance for Bittersweet Sixteen.

A few years previously EMI, in its wisdom, had deleted Home of the Brave. So, on Bittersweet we were now able to let people hear some great versions of songs from that album with their original arrangements.

We began the CD with the song Home of the Brave from our first recording. We had been together less than three months at the time. We included our arrangement of Dominic Behan's Patriot Game from the same session. I've never seen the point in recording someone else's song if you don't add to it – talk about an addition, the accusatory declaiming of various Irish Taoiseachs (prime ministers) over the instrumental coda is pretty strong meat by anyone's standards!

I always liked our cover of Steven Stills, For What It's Worth. I had a feeling that the song would really suit the band. I had recently come upon the last testament of Joe Hill, written on the wall of his prison cell the night the night before he was executed in Salt Lake City. His words were in my mind while in the studio and the melody suggested itself as we were sequencing the songs, and so we added Joe Hill's Last Will as a final cut. Talk about bittersweet!

During that session we recorded Southside Chicago Waltz with our old friend and ex-Major Thinker Paul Ossola on double bass. The song was written for a fan of the band who had come to see us every year on Memorial Day in Chicago's Gaelic Park. He was a young boy when we first met him and had become a marine in response to 9/11. He wrote to me frequently from Iraq and the Waltz was an attempt to tell his story as best I could. He's in Afghanistan as we speak and, as ever, we wish him and the other troops overseas the very best. — Larry Kirwan

Black 47: Bittersweet Sixteen

One or rock's most passionate bands, Black 47 plays Kirwan's fiery agit-pop howlers with the fury of the early Pogues. This Irish tinted rock (with shadings of ska and reggae) is incendiary. — Chicago Sun Times

Both political and humorous...a wicked blend of Celtic music, ska and roots rock. — Billboard

Bittersweet Sixteen – Black 47, New York's most politically aware irish rockers write first-rate songs for those of the second and third generation. Not a Riverdancer in sight! — NY Daily News

 

Iraq
Iraq
1. Stars and Stripes (Kirwan) - 5:11
2. Downtown Baghdad Blues (Kirwan) - 4:47
3. Sadr City (Kirwan) - 3:21
4. Sunrise on Brooklyn (Kirwan) - 3:15
5. No Better Friend... (Kirwan) - 1:08
6. Ballad of Cindy Sheehan (Kirwan) - 3:45
7. The Last One to Die (Kirwan) - 4:30
8. The Fighting 69th (Kirwan) - :37
9. Battle of Fallujah (Kirwan) - 5:15
10. Ramadi (Kirwan) - 3:47
11. Southside Chicago Waltz (Kirwan) - 4:50
12. Whatever... (Kirwan) - 1:37

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor and Soprano Saxophones
Joseph "Bearclaw" Burcaw Bass, Vocals
Thomas Hamlin Drums
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
Joseph Mulvanerty Uilleann Pipes, Flute
Fred Parcells Trombone, Vocals
Mike Fazio Atmospheric Guitar
P2 Tour Manager and general enabler
Joey "Knobs" Juntunen Production Manager and Live Sound
Jordan Valentine Graphic Design
William Bitters Sound fx/Audio Research
Special Thanks to ejaz215 for Masjid Haram call to prayer in 'The Last One To Die'

I had little doubt that President Bush intended to invade Iraq, although there was always the hope that cooler heads would prevail. So why did it all seem so traumatic when the decision was sealed on St. Patrick's Day 2003? I guess there was added bitterness because 9/11 was being used as a pretext and, to my mind, people like Fr. Mychal Judge would have been very opposed to any kind of unnecessary war far from home.

The problems began early that night at our big gig in Tribeca's Knitting Factory. In response to the news that the US was about to begin bombing we did a version of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" – I wish to God we'd recorded it, for I've forgotten the arrangement though I added a counter melody and additional words. Scuffles broke out in the packed house, some people left in outrage over anyone criticizing foreign policy in a time of war. And so it began.

By the time IRAQ was released in 2008 almost five years had passed and they were five of the toughest in the band's history. Black 47 is blessed with strong right and left wings amid its following. Many fans are interested in politics because of our stance on the situation in the North of Ireland. Thus, unlike most politically inclined bands, we rarely play to the converted.

The first three and half years of the conflict were a nightmare. From early on we were playing Downtown Baghdad Blues and South Side Chicago Waltz. I can still see the fingers in the air as people walked out; still remember the threats, phone calls, emails, letters, and all the other instances of anger and disgust, and for what? Disagreeing with a ruinous foreign policy that has cost so many dead and maimed, and left in its wake a fiscally damaged country.

We lost many gigs and supporters in the first years of the war but that's as it should be. At least we made a public stand and provided cover for others who shared our views. The saddest part was when people would write saying, "thank you for making this stand, I can't do so because…." They'd lose their jobs, friends, even families; and this in the home of the brave, land of the free?

By the fall of 2006 things were changing, if subtly. The barstool patriots and wannabe Marines were still outraged but the country in general was beginning to understand that the war was a waste in so many ways. The one real validation and consolation for the band was that no member of the US Forces ever criticized the songs. In fact they loved the CD when it finally came out. After all, we were writing about them. It was their letters that inspired the various songs. We were telling their story.

If you play IRAQ now it will propel you straight back to a particular juncture in the nation's history. It was written in time of war and the very production evokes conflict. There's practically no reverb, all is dry, upfront, in your face, there's a sense of displacement and vague hints of distortion everywhere. The recording sessions were tense; no one was particularly happy but songs like Ramadi, Stars and Stripes and Battle of Fallujah resonate now just as much as they did when we recorded them out in Don Fury's Studio in Coney Island that crazy summer of 2007. — Larry Kirwan

Black 47: Iraq

More a prayer than a protest… — David Fricke Rolling Stone

The Iraq War has inspired quite a few songs, but you'd be hard pressed to hear a musical portrait of it as vivid and detailed as Black 47's IRAQ. From Sadr City to Battle of Fallujah, the inveterate troupe approaches the defining struggle of our age from all sides. What's surprising is that it took a band of Irish expats to do it. — Doug Wallen Hartford Courant

A fire-breathing, clench-fisted, rabble-rousing spirit fuels both Celtic traditional music and punk rock. So combining the two styles makes for quite the incendiary device, in the explosive work of New York's Black 47 on IRAQ as seen through the eyes of th US troops on the battlefront. Downtown Baghdad Blues and stars and stripes are rick examples of culture co-mingling. — Philadelphia Daily News

Our pick for best album of 2008, this rivals anything the Clash ever did. Black 47 frontman Larry Kirwan is also a novelist and playwright, with a terrific ear for dialogue. The album succeeds as well as it does as an antiwar statement because it simply recounts the daily stress of combat as seen through the eyes of the American soldiers there… Kirwan doesn't preach: he lets their anxiety and dread speak for itself. Over catchy, anthemic, Celtic- or blues-tinged rock, Kirwan offers an eyewitness view of the war that the corporate media types "embedded" with the soldiers were never allowed to depict: the guy from Brooklyn who finds himself shocked by the natural beauty of the Iraqi desert; the embittered, cynical GI who can't wait to get home to watch his beloved San Diego Padres; a heartwrenching account of Cindy Sheehan's transformation from war supporter to iconic antiwar activist following the death of her son; and finally, the savage Battle of Fallujah, whose narrator leaves no doubt that "If there's a draft you know damn well yourself this war would be over by dawn…your tax dollars can go to building it all back over again." What Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys was to 1985, what Wallace '48 by the Hangdogs was to 2002, Iraq by Black 47 was to 2008: an important historical work that also happened to have some good tunes. — Lucid Culture

 

Bankers and Gansters
Bankers and Gansters
1. Long Hot Summer Comin' On (Kirwan) - 4:05
2.Celtic Rocker (Kirwan) - 5:57
3. Bankers and Gangsters (Kirwan) - 4:49
4. Izzy's Irish Rose (Kirwan) - 5:31
5. Rosemary (Nelson) (Kirwan) - 3:56
6. That Summer Dress (Kirwan) - 5:10
7. Red Hugh (Kirwan) - 7:14
8. Wedding Reel (Kirwan) - 4:51
9. One Starry Night (trad) - 5:58
10. Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix (Kirwan) - 6:19
11. Yeats and Joyce (Kirwan) - 4:57
12. The Islands (Kirwan) - 4:34
13. Bás in Éireann (Kirwan) - 5:10

Geoffrey Blythe Tenor and Soprano Saxophones
Joseph "Bearclaw" Burcaw Bass, Vocals
Thomas Hamlin Drums
Larry Kirwan Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
Joseph Mulvanerty Uilleann Pipes, Flute
Fred Parcells Trombone, Vocals
Johnny Mantagnese Percussion
Vocals Tracks 3, 4, 6, 13 Screaming Orphans; track 8 Kathleen Fee; tracks 5, 13 Christine Ohlman
P2 Tour Manager
Joey "Knobs" Juntunen Production Manager and Live Sound
Tom Schneider Keeper of the Digital Flame

Joe Burcaw joined the band in November 2006. New members always bring a rush of energy, "Bearclaw" especially so. In his own words he had been a fan so to get onstage and add to the mix was a dream come true. He recorded IRAQ with us but came more into his own on Bankers and Gangsters helping to define the new songs immediately after they were written.

Black 47 has a unique way of rehearsing. For the most part, we don't! I bring the words, melody and main instrumental line of a new song to sound check. Our job then is to stitch these pieces together into a cohesive entity as quickly as possible, run it a couple of times, then perform the "finished" song later that night during the show. That takes a large measure of daring, musicianship and self-confidence from every member.

The process can be exhilarating or just plain puzzling for the audience, but what we're really trying to do is get from point A to Z without falling on our faces. With that accomplished it's amazing how improved the song will be by the next performance. Just knowing that you got through it once in front of an audience, seems to breathe life into a song in a way that hours spent in a rehearsal studio won't. From then on each member is able to refine their parts to their own satisfaction but an enormous hurdle has been cleared. All of the songs on Bankers went through that process.

As a writer the process of creating Bankers was very liberating after IRAQ. That album had a very concentrated worldview whereas Bankers was like an open book. In a way it was a return to earlier albums like Fire of Freedom or Green Suede Shoes - mixtures of the political and rowdy with a sprinkling of the more introspective. I was particularly interested in adding some comic story songs to our repertoire and took some time to polish The Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix and Izzy's Irish Rose.

Then again, I suppose Izzy is political in its own way – I've always regretted the distance that's opened between Irish and Jewish people. One of the joys in coming to New York was being introduced to the richness of Jewish culture. The two communities have moved apart in the last 60 years, probably because of Israel's policies and no longer having Britain as a common enemy – but I'll never forget the kindness shown me by the American Jewish community. Izzy is a small attempt to bridge a useless gap through the black humor common to both cultures.

To my mind Red Hugh O'Donnell is one of Black 47's premier songs. He had been a boyhood hero but I could never quite nail him in a song. His time and sensibility seemed too distant. Then came the war in Afghanistan. I based Red Hugh's personality somewhat on Ahmad Shah Massoud, the assassinated leader of the Northern Alliance. How strange that a fundamentalist Catholic and Muslim could share so many traits and influences across the centuries. Though very different in structure, this homage to Red Hugh shares some characteristics with Too Late To Turn Back from Home of the Brave. Both deal with the paranoia of those living on the edge.

I first heard an old tinker (traveler) man sing a rough version of One Starry Night when I was a boy back in Wexford. It left a deep impression. I always wondered what happened to Molly Bán, the heroine of the song. And so I added a new melodic introduction and a bridge that gave more clues to her fate. Joseph Mulvanerty's uilleann pipes and Geoffrey Blythe's soprano sax catch all the loneliness and despair of a woman with two lovers in a life beyond her control.

Hammy and Bearclaw really nailed the funk of Rosemary (Nelson) and the title track to the floor. It was a thrill to lay a guitar down on top of their greasy grooves. The whole band had a blast on the caustic Celtic Rocker, a mixture of raucous Kinks and crazy Céilí jam.

I'm especially fond of the last three songs. Yeats & Joyce captures Times Square and all the great nights Black 47 has had there. While, Fred's lovely trombone solo lights up the loss of The Islands. Bás in Éireann (Death in Ireland) is from Transport, the musical that Tom Keneally and I have been writing for many years. The song deals with the Australian-Irish experience and the longing of emigrants to be buried back home.

My sister Anne passed away while we were recording the album. There was a deadline to finish and get it to the record company, and as ever there was a need to have a new CD to tour with over the St. Patrick's Day season. I still regret that I didn't go to the funeral. It all seems so obvious in retrospect but it's rarely so in the thick of things. This album is for you, Anne. — Larry Kirwan

Black 47: Bankers and Gangsters

One of the great things about Black 47 is their ability to get their political points across without coming across as preachy; ultimately, Bankers and Gangsters is a fun album. Black 47 are hardly a bunch of new age Polyannas who see the world through rose-colored glasses -- hell, the band's name was inspired by the horrors of the Irish Potato Famine -- but even when they delve into dark or troubling subject matter, they have a way of encouraging hope rather than despair. With the excellent Bankers and Gangsters, Black 47 remind us that substance and a sense of fun are by no means mutually exclusive. — Alex Henderson AllMusic

Bankers and Gangsters reels and rollicks over the whole stretch of biting, comical, political, immigrant-laced terrain the band has owned for 20 years. They cast a punk-Proustian eye on the heady lost days of late-1970s New York on "Long Hot Summer," then, on "Celtic Rocker," give a sarcastic yet amiable wink to the tatted plastic Molly now moshing in the front row. Still, it's the title track that reigns supreme, with its resplendent backing vocals chiming mock celebration on the chorus: "Bankers and gangsters, soldiers and dancers/All locked together in default harmony." Finally, bankruptcy and malfeasance is fun again! — Matt Marshall Cleveland Scene

Flogging Molly and The Frames are fine, but if you want to do St. Paddy’s Day right this year, then get yourself a copy of Black 47’s righteous new album, Bankers & Gangsters.
While other Irish-inclined outfits are content to apply an emerald gloss to their rock or folk leanings, Black 47 takes no prisoner with its stormy mix of Celtic punk, Clash-city rockers, elegiac anthems and incendiary odes. - Bill Forman Colorado Springs Independent

Bankers and Gangsters opens majestically with “Long Hot Summer Comin’ On,” a rock and roll novella about the CBGB scene in the eighties where Kirwan had a ringside seat. The band flexes their formidable musical muscles throughout the disc, most notably on “Izzy’s Irish Rose,” a hilarious tale of interfaith temptations that finds the band juggling both Irish reels with snippets of “Hava Nagila” without missing a beat. The band is capable of whipping up whiplash for the listener as they swerve from rock to reels to reggae in a dizzying mixture of Irish and American influences, Celtic rebellion, domestic heartache and furious reels. Kirwan and the Boys have made another winner! — Mike Farragher Irish Voice/Irishcentral.com

Another year, yet another excellent album from Black 47! It’s hard to fathom how they can keep it so fresh after twenty years, but they do it. Their previous album Iraq, a vividly thematic soldiers-eye view of the never-ending war, took the #1 spot on our best-of-2008 albums list. This one finds the Irish-American rockers exploring more diverse terrain, a characteristically eclectic mix of Clash-style anthems, a small handful of electrified Celtic dances, a reminiscence of better days in the New York rock scene, snarling sociopolitical commentary and more lighthearted, comedic fare. The title track, a big sardonic Clash-style anthem speaks for the generations disenfranchised by the new Great Depression; likewise, the vivid opening cut, Long Hot Summer Coming On ominously foreshadows a city where all hell’s about to break loose. There’s also a fiery tribute to Rosemary Nelson, the murdered Irish human rights crusader; a cynical number about an Irish music groupie; and a couple of absolutely surreal ones, the first about a Lower East Side romance circa a hundred years ago that isn’t actually as unlikely as it might seem (and on which the band proves perfectly capable of playing a good freilach), the other a long anthem based on the true story where former Jimi Hendrix bassist Noel Redding absconded with tapes of Hendrix’ last live recordings, using them as collateral for a mortgage in Ireland. All of this is catchy, a lot it is funny and you can sometimes dance to it, in other words, typical Black 47. — Lucid Culture

After their grimly topical 2008 CD Iraq, which emphasized Kirwan's insightful lyrics and fierce political dedication, Bankers and Gangsters brings the Black 47 rhythm and horn sections, and the band's devilish sense of humor, front and center. The result is a great dancing and drinking record, worthy of a band whose live shows are legends of riotous joy and Irish flavored madness. It's a St. Paddy's Day gift to all Celtic dervishes scattered through barrooms and ballrooms everywhere across America.
Like their earlier roots-rock album Green Suede Shoes, Bankers and Gangsters keeps the reels reelin' and the rock rollin'. It's one wild party, with Kirwan blasting along on his Strat over the melodic cacophony of Geoff Blythe's fearless sax, Fred Parcell's jazzy trombone and Joe Mulvanerty's wild uileann pipes and flutes, with Joe "Bearclaw" Burcaw, the latest recruit to the Black 47 crew, keeping it all grounded and real with his muscular bass playing while Thomas Hamlin's edgy drum style keeps the beats flowing in mysterious, infectious ways.
That's not to say that Larry Kirwan's witty, thoughtful lyrics are neglected. He's doing some his best writing yet, and he delivers his words with passion and fire. When Kirwan adopts the persona of the half-mad historic Irish war chief "Red Hugh" O'Donnell, you can feel the blood boiling in the legendary fanatic's heart.
Larry Kirwan always has an eye for the resonance of history and legend in contemporary events. The centerpiece of Black 47's Iraq was "Battle of Fallujah" which conjured eerie suggestions of epic ancient war-poems like The Illiad and The Tain. Here, in the title track he skewers the racketeer financiers who wrecked our economy while he keeps a satiric laughing roar alive and dancing, like a true savage Irish bard, visioning the dark of human greed and summoning the light of human joy. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, as Yeats might say. Indeed, Kirwan summons up the misty Irish spirits of Yeats and James Joyce themselves in a surreal tune named after both literary masters. And he name checks the likes of Lester Bangs, Jimi Hendrix and other rock n roll saints on "Long Hot Summer" and "The Lost Hendrix Tapes" while the band musically references The Kinks and seminal Irish glam-rockers Horslips on "Celtic Rocker," a hilarious send up of the musical sub genre which Black 47, admittedly, helped originate.
"Rosemary (Nelson)" pays well deserved tribute to a brave, self-less lawyer slain during the not-yet-ended Irish Troubles, while "That Summer Dress" , "One Starry Night" and "The Islands" nod to the beauty of all women and the sweet pain of love, and seem destined to pull a nostalgic tear from the listener to water a pint of stout and red ale. Then Kirwan returns to lighter fare with "Izzy's Irish Rose," an uptempo venture into that cross-cultural musical territory recently explored delightfully by Mick Moloney on his own fine recent CD If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews. Black 47's unique take on klezmer music is not to be missed.
The album closes with "Bas in Eireann" (To Die in Ireland), a song from "Transport," the intriguing Irish-Australia emigration- themed musical play which Kirwan has been working on in collaboration with novelist Tom Keneally. Author Kirwan is also releasing his latest novel, "Rockin' the Bronx" this month. It's a tale of music, romantic conflict, late night stands-and Irish inflected rock n roll. Sounds like a Black 47 bash, if ever there was one. — Bill Nevins Roots World

 

A Funky Ceili
A Funky Céilí
1. Funky Céilí (Bridie's Song) (Kirwan) - 4:16
2. Maria's Wedding (Kirwan) - 4:08
3. The Bells Of Hell (Kirwan) - 4:37
4. Losin It (Kirwan) - 3:50
5. Paddy's Got A Brand New Reel (Kirwan) - 3:30
6. Staten Island Baby (Kirwan) - 3:40
7. Different Drummer (Kirwan) - 3:48
8. Izzy's Irish Rose (Kirwan) - 5:31
9. Oh Maureen (Kirwan) - 4:34
10. Bodhráns On The Brain (Kirwan) - 4:02
11. Who Killed Bobby Fuller (Kirwan) - 3:30
12. Uncle Jim (Kirwan) - 3:42
13. Black Rose (Kirwan) - 5:06
14. Five Points (Kirwan) - 2:47
15. Sadr City (Kirwan) - 3:22
16. Czechoslovakia (Kirwan) - 4:43
17. Those Saints (Kirwan) - 5:05
18. I Got Laid On James Joyce's Grave (Kirwan) - 4:09

Present: Joseph "Bearclaw" Burcaw, Geoffrey Blythe, Thomas Hamlin, Larry Kirwan, Joseph Mulvanerty, Fred Parcells.
Past: Chris Byrne, David Conrad, Andrew Goodsight, Kevin Jenkins
Tracks re-mastered at Righteous Sound, by Brother Stewart Lerman

I was driving back to New York City from Boston last winter. It was far too late to be undertaking that distance on your own but my road warrior genes wouldn't hear a word about staying over and leaving early in the morning. Lo and behold, I hadn't even passed Worcester when the sleep began to descend upon me. It was a cold night and I drove with the windows open; the radio was dismal, and every CD seemed to lull me even more towards the great good night.

Coffee helped for a short while and the big trucks nosing up behind put the fear of God in me but nothing would stop this bloody sleepiness! Cursing like a trooper I wished I had Rockpile, the Kilfenora Céilí Band or some Zydeco to hand – something lively to keep my toe tapping and brain engaged. I wondered what Black 47 CD would do the trick – I didn't have one but just trying to recall which songs were on what albums got me to the exit off the Pike and onto 84 heading south to Hartford.

Then it struck me – what Black 47 songs would make up the best CD to keep a driver awake and aware? And at the same time I remembered a number of voices from down the years saying, "I love playing Black 47 CDs at a party until one of your long sad epics comes on and kills the whole atmosphere." With that I began to note the livelier songs. What a brain racker! As soon as I remembered the songs I'd sing them, arrange them in sequence, figure out what ones ran best into others. I pulled over on to the shoulder, found a piece of paper and a pen, and stormed off again into the night. Oh man, was I freezing from the open windows!

I jotted down the names of the songs as best I could without taking my eyes off the road. How in God's name do people text and drive? Before I knew it though, I had passed Hartford and was blazing on to New Haven. I knew what the first songs should be – Funky Ceili and Maria's Wedding were no-brainers. But nothing else seemed to fit in their wake until I hit on The Bells of Hell featuring Malachy McCourt's incisive voice. Then Losin' It because even with the gale blowing in and my fingers frozen, I was still only seconds from a deep sleep.

So many songs from my past came to mind including one by Major Thinker's, "Seconds Away from Overload" as a truck swerved past me but we'd never recorded it, so to hell with that! Why not go back to Black 47's first day in the studio with Paddy's Got a Brand New Reel. Man, that song still rings with ‘tude and sarcasm!

And then the lights of New Haven were behind me and I was on 95 - Tramps Heartbreak itself - and speeding past Bridgeport with David Jo blowing me out of the water on Staten Island Baby. How many times had the band performed Different Drummer – at least a thousand? Izzy's Irish Rose fit like a glove after Drummer but what then? Oh yeah– the Stones-like chords to Oh Maureen, a song Rod Stewart should have recorded.

Next up, Bodhrans on the Brain, one of our most popular songs in Ireland with the lovely Nora Shanahan ripping into me. Then Who Killed Bobby Fuller – after it became popular I used to get spooky phone calls late at night from the remnants of Bobby's entourage. And on it went until I saw the lights of the Bronx and I was singing Those Saints at the top of my lungs and remembering Johnny Byrne and Big John Murphy and all the friends of Black 47 who hadn't made it this far but would never be forgotten. And before I knew it I was racing down the FDR and bellowing out the words of James Joyce's Grave and I was near home and rejoicing that I'd wake up in my own bed later that morning.

It took more than a month to come up with a title that would encapsulate these various exercises in refined rowdiness but we finally settled on the right one and if you're on a long journey or you want to rip up a party, A Funky Céilí is your man.

What's next for Black 47? Who knows! We formed in October 1989 and thus have played across four decades. Can you believe it! One minute you join a band, twenty-two years later, you look back and wonder what hit you and where did the bloody time go. And all through it we lived with one mantra – "the future's uncertain and the end is always near." And so it goes…
— Larry Kirwan

 

Larry Kirwan's Celtic Invasion
Larry Kirwan's Celtic Invasion
1. "Weekend Irish" (Barleyjuice) 3:36
2. "Clash of the Ash" (Runrig) 3:15
3. "Uncle Jim" (Black 47) 3:41
4. "You’re So Beautiful" (Pat McGuire) 4:11
5. "Savage Earth Heart (Live from Glastonbury)" (The Waterboys) 7:45
6. "Buile Mo Chroí (The Beat of My Heart)" (John Spillane) 3:22
7. "22" (Celtic Cross) 4:15
8. "Wacko King Hako" (Peatbog Faeries) 5:51
9. "Irish Rover" (Blaggards) 3:22
10. "Sullivan’s Lake (The Flood)" (Garrahan’s Ghost) 2:18
11. "Meet Me on McLean" (Shilelagh Law) 4:00
12. "Sí Do Mhaimeo Í" (Hothouse Flowers) 6:36

Fat Cats, Cheap Suits, & Celtic Invasion

The music “biz” is hitting new lows – and that’s saying something. Where once fat men in cheap suits up on 57th Street ripped you off with a smile, now faceless young dot.com warriors “lease” your songs and pay fractions of a cent when one is played.

Still, you can sit around lamenting that you didn’t major in computer programming rather than Stratocasters, or you can find other ways of getting paid for making music.

While having a drink with Jon Birgé of Valley-Entertainment we hit upon an alternative: get a great song from each of a dozen fine acts and put out a compilation CD?

Ideally, the artists should be from the same field but have a different artistic sensibility. Since I seem to know every Irish-American band along with their maiden aunts, my gig was to choose the material – Jon to market the CD.

We set a couple of ground rules: bands would get a small advance and a royalty on each CD sold. The bands could also buy the CDs at wholesale cost and mark up accordingly.

Thus each band would be paid a royalty for every CD the eleven other bands sold, along with a first-class introduction to eleven other fan bases. In other words, the more you sell the more you make; the more anyone else sells, the more you make too! And if one song were to take off, then all twelve acts would be in the gravy.

The trick was to enlist the most interesting bands, and choose songs that would not only gel together but appeal to a wide audience. Hosting Celtic Crush on SiriusXM for almost eight years has given me some insight into the latter. I pride myself on finding great songs that have been overlooked in our teeming musical meat market.

It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science. You just have to wade through an ocean of refined mediocrity to find a track that both sparks your interest and contains that ineffable something that will move a mass audience.

Thus I chose a number of overlooked local classics like “You’re So Beautiful” by Pat McGuire, “McClean Avenue” by Shilelagh Law, “22” by Celtic Cross, “Weekend Irish” by Barleyjuice, and “Sullivan’s Lake” by Garrahan’s Ghost.

To bring in a wider Celtic influence I included two Scottish gems: “Clash of the Ash” by Runrig, the best band you never heard of, and “Wacko King Hako” by Peatbog Faeries who put grooves under bagpipes that have to be heard to be believed.

I needed a couple of names for marquee value: Mike Scott gave me a brilliant unreleased version of a Waterboys classic, as did Hothouse Flowers. I tossed in the zany “Uncle Jim” by Black 47, which tells of Fr. Jim Hughes quixotic mission to East Belfast to convert the Rev. Ian Paisley.

The CD is called Celtic Invasion and also contains “The Irish Rover” by Blaggards, the kings of Houston, and “Buile Mo Chroí” by John Spillane, the bard of Cork City. Officially released last week, Celtic Invasion has been picking up radio play all over the country and selling like cold pints in August. You can get a free download of my “intimate” thoughts on each band at www.celtic-invasion and if such ravings pique your fancy you can purchase the music in digital or CD form – no “leasing” necessary!

Will this idea succeed? I haven’t a clue, but it’s one hell of a compilation that crackles from first beat to last and will shake the dust from the ceiling at any gathering – St. Patrick’s Day or otherwise.

It’s already a success – Your Man Up In Pearl River says it’s the hottest thing since fried bread - and if it breaks even financially then we’ll round up another dozen acts and give them the same opportunity to beat the dot.com leasers!

And if it fails, well we tried to make a difference, and at the very worst I might still have a career ahead of me as a fat cat in a cheap suit up on 57th Street.
— Larry Kirwan

Valley Entertainment

Larry Kirwan has been carrying the flag for Celtic rock music since the founding of Black 47 in 1989. The expatriate Irishman lives in New York City where he has been hosting Celtic Crush on SiriusXM since 2005. Kirwan, also a respected writer, has published three books and writes a column for The Irish Echo - the USA's most widely read Irish-American newspaper.

Larry Kirwan's Celtic Invasion features a dozen of his favorite bands and most requested rock tracks from his SiriusXM show Celtic Crush. The album includes legends like The Waterboys, Runrig and Black 47 (just to name a few) with popular U.S. touring groups Blaggards, Barleyjuice, Garrahan's Ghost and Shilelagh Law.

Don't forget to check out Larry's Introduction! Hear his deeper thoughts (and quite a few stories) about all the bands featured on "Celtic Invasion". You can listen to this 25 minute introduction through the preview player below or download it for free!

"This is an album with a mission: to bring together some of the best Celtic rock that Larry Kirwan has heard, and it succeeds magificently. It features some great eclecticism within that focus, and the variety adds to the appeal." — Michael Thompson, Denver Celtic Music Examiner

"...you've got a fresh Celtic compilation that will impress all of your party guests this St. Patrick's Day Season" — Liz Noonan, Irish Echo

"Rock fans will eat this collection up and others will, if they open their mind to it, find fun they would have normally missed. Nice to find a CD that makes you open your eyes and reconsider your preconceived notions." — Irish American News

"This collection crackles with energy, rocking from stem to stern." — Mike Farragher, Irish Voice

"It’s nice to know the Celtic Invasion, sometimes savage; sometimes introspective continues to open new fronts through open ears." — World Beat Canada

"It is hard to single out which is better. Every band excels through its own style. And this is a compilation of the creme de la creme of Celtic rock. It’s like riding the kaleidoscope of sounds where everything sparks up and it is hard single out one color from the other." — Baxter Labatos, The Celtic Music Fan