April 12, 2010
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black 47

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online10 08


Posts: 2499

Chris Byrne
Chris was born and raised in Brooklyn. He is first generation Irish, his parents from Donegal and Roscommon. He still lives in the house next door to the one he grew up in. For eleven years, Byrne worked the thin blue line in Hell's Kitchen, during the height of the crack explosion. It was a lively place, not yet gentrified as it is today. Yet Chris played music on the side. First with a group called Beyond the Pale, with Pat McGuire, then, as the band was breaking up, he met Larry Kirwan, who had stopped in to see the gig. Larry and Chris got to talking and Black 47 was born.
"It was phenomenal for me. I never expected it to go where it went. In the beginning, doing Letterman, Leno, Conan O'Brien. It was nothing I ever expected. I probably wasn't prepared for it."

As Larry Kirwan recalls, "I had read an interview with Chris in the Irish Voice about the fact that Irish-American bands should not be looking back so much at Ireland for inspiration. That had totally rang a bell with me. Here we were in the greatest music city in the world and Irish musicians were getting cricks in their necks looking backwards at the Waterboys, etc. in Galway and wherever. But what struck me most were Chris' views on politics and life."

Larry goes on to say "Chris had a great understanding and appreciation of his Irish-American roots. He also understood that Irish-Americans and people from Ireland, while sharing the same roots, had branched apart because of different life experiences."

"In many ways he considered that Irish-Americans were now the preservers of some of the old traditions. At the same time he was a child of the inner city with an appreciation for the rhythms of the city, particularly hip-hop music. So, it was interesting to watch his development and how he reconciled those two different of types traditions. I would call him a pioneer in that regard."

"Seanchai and the Unity Squad stand out because they experiment with different forms, rhymes and rhythms. They also have good songs and, in the end, it's the bands with their own strong repertoire that will last and carve a name for themselves. I've always felt that a band's songs should be as well or better known than the band themselves. Cast your mind over all the groups and singers that are out there. See who passes the test. Without even putting an effort into it, "Fenians" and "Irish Catholic Boy" jumped right into mind when I think of Seanchai and the Unity Squad."

In 1994, inspired by Ireland's success in the World Cup competition, Byrne recorded his song "C'mon Ya Boyz n' Green" under the artist name of Seanchai.

Songwriting has always been a part of Chris. Not something he does but rather, just as natural as breathing.

Byrne states,"It is just formed by looking at things. I feel the need to comment on things I don't see people commenting on, not where I come from anyway. There has been a lot of living in there [too] and I guess it comes from that. I don't write songs that are vicarious; I wouldn't want to write about something that I don't know."

The single was so well received that Chris decided to form another group, with Pat McGuire and Eileen Ivers, called Paddy-A-Go-Go. Paddy-A-Go-Go's gigs included memorable residencies at the famous New York City cradle for Irish bands, Paddy Reilly's Music Bar as well as sold-out shows at Whelan's in Dublin and a performance on RTE's Late Late Show. In 1994 Paddy-A-Go-Go put out their CD, "Keep it Reel." The band lasted until 1996, when Byrne decided to enter the pub business. Byrne joined forces with Patrick Farrelly, the former Irish Voice Editor (now a successful film maker), and opened Rocky Sullivan's Pub.

As Chris' father took sick and he needed to spend time with the family in Staten Island, nearby St. John's University beckoned. Chris had previously done his undergrad work in Political Science at St. John's and he decided to return there to do a graduate degree in Criminal Justice.

Today, Byrne is a professor of Criminal Justice at St. John's University during the day, where his former experience as a New York Police Officer in the Midtown North Precinct comes in handy. Yet, he is, in a way, always in the classroom. From the stage and bar stools of his Rocky Sullivan's Pub, Byrne provides an Irish haven. Yet he also lives up to the task and responsibility of a true seanachie - to preserve and present the unvarnished history and stories of the Irish-American heritage - theæ fabric of our lives, no matter what it may be; glorious, painful, historic or mundane. In addition to great live music, Byrne's Rocky Sullivan's also features Irish language classes and weekly literary readings by such preeminent voices as Roddy Doyle, Pete McCarthy, Pete Hammil and Frank McCourt, among many others. The Literati, the rogues and even the likes of Shane McGowan are all fans. Come one, come all, no matter your musical tastes or your political cup of tea. You'll find friendly conversation, a story, and if the timing a right, a session with the seanchai.

John O'Brien Jr.
Author - "Songs & Stories"
Associate Publisher
Ohio Irish American News



Posts: 1115

Door Kicker wrote:
Check out the band Seanchai at Rocky Sullivan's bar in Red Hook.

The leader of the band, Chris Byrne, was a founding member of B47 and is now fronting Seanchai who I believe are a bit fresher than B47.  Their act has been a bit stale for the last few yrs.

Byrne is also a ret. MTN MOS.

Chris resigned  prior to the 15 minimum for vesting.  He was ratted out for working an off-duty gig (without papers) in a bar......some rat saw a Black 47 flyer with his pic and sent it to iad.  

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