Feb. 19, 2010
Black 47 frontman’s books echo band’s musical themes
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Black 47 frontman’s books echo band’s musical themes

By Jay Lustig/The Star-Ledger

February 19, 2010, 4:45AM

The very busy Black 47, from left: Joe Burcaw, Fred Parcells, Joseph Mulvanerty, Larry Kirwan, Geoffrey Blythe and Thomas Hamlin.

Larry Kirwan isn’t the first musician to write a novel. But rarely has a songwriter/author’s lyrics and prose been so closely connected. His new novel, “Rockin’ the Bronx,” borrows its title from a song by the Celtic-rock sextet he fronts, Black 47, and its central characters from another Black 47 song, “Blind Mary/Her Dear Old Donegal (Sleep Tight in New York City).”

“Blind Mary” is about a young man in Ireland whose girlfriend has moved to the Bronx and is living there under shady and mysterious circumstances; he wants, more than anything, to win her back and bring her home. That’s basically what the novel is about, too.

The book will be published Tuesday, and Black 47’s new album, “Bankers and Gangsters,” comes out March 2. The band also has a heavy concert schedule from Friday, when it performs at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, through its annual St. Patrick’s Day concert at the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill in New York.

Kirwan, who grew up in Ireland but has been living in New York since 1975, says there is some overlap between fans of his music and his books.

“Usually if they’re into the music, they’ll kind of be into the books, too, to find out more about the songs — particularly people who are into the songwriting aspect of it,” he says. “But a Black 47 fan who comes to a gig to whoop it up and get drunk and have a good time might not be interested.”

As literary as Kirwan is, Black 47 is, in many ways, a party band, boisterously blending together elements of punk, hard-rock, traditional Irish music and even hip-hop. The Stone Pony, where it has presented occasional shows for almost two decades, is a favorite venue.

“It’s a thrill to play there,” Kirwan says. “There’s something about older clubs like that. It’s almost like the ghosts are looking down on you. And the sound is good there. You get up onstage and it feels right.”

In addition to his Black 47 gigs, Kirwan — whose other books include the Beatles-inspired novel, “Liverpool Fantasy,” and an evocative memoir, “Green Suede Shoes: An Irish-American Odyssey” — will present occasional “Rock and Read” shows. At these, he will both play solo acoustic versions of Black 47 songs and read from “Rockin’ the Bronx.”

The songs on “Bankers and Gangsters” don’t duplicate the action of the novel. But there are common themes, including the feeling of displacement that immigrants feel, and the lure — as well as the dangers — of the streets of New York.

The novel, he says, “is grounded in New York City. That’s definitely one of my enduring subjects.”

Black 47

Where and when: Friday at 7:30 p.m. with the Filthy 3, Stolen Rhodes and the Fullers, at the Stone Pony, 913 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park; Saturday and Feb. 27 at 10 p.m. at Connolly’s Pub and Restaurant, 121 W. 45th St., New York; March 17 at 7 p.m. at the B.B. King Blues Club and Grill, 237 W. 42nd St., New York

How much: $20 for the Stone Pony; call (732) 502-0600 or visit StonePonyOnline.com. $10 for Connolly’s; call (212) 597-5126 or visit ConnollysPubAndRestaurant.com. $25 in advance, $30 day of show for B.B. King’s; call (212) 997-4144 or visit BBKingBlues.com.

Also: Larry Kirwan will present “Rock and Read” shows at the Salt Gastro Pub in Stanhope, April 8, and the Record Collector in Bordentown, April 9. For information visit Black47.com.

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