Montgomery News
October 6, 2010
Celtic rock-and-rollers Black 47 set to shake 23 East


Celtic rock-and-rollers Black 47 set to shake 23 East



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It’s a rollicking politicking party when Black 47’s in the house. The Celtic rock band brings its rambunctious melodies and thoughtful lyrics to the 23 East in Ardmore Oct. 8. The show is part of the 23 East Friday Night Concerts series that began last week (the venue aims to celebrate the historic venue’s roots while continuing the legacy of introducing new and upcoming acts to all generations of music fans).

Black 47 isn’t new to music, but may be new to some audiences. In 20 years, the group has released 13 albums on major and indie labels. Its provocative album “Iraq” was hailed by Rolling Stone as “an important document, more a prayer than a protest.” Its 14th and latest release is “Bankers and Gangsters.” The band melds rock, reggae, hip-hop, folk, Irish traditional, jazz and blues with politics, commentary and storytelling, covering topics from the Northern Ireland conflict to civil rights and urban unrest in contemporary New York and more.

The “Iraq” album was serious, and though their latest has deep roots, it’s more fun.

“This time it was more about creating a balance between the joyous and the thoughtful,” said founder Larry Kirwan.

The song “Bankers & Gangsters” laments the current economic situation: “Bankers and gangsters, soldiers and dancers, all locked together in default harmony, with the financial chancers, and all manner of high rolling romancers livin’ out this American tragedy.”

And in “The Islands,” Kirwan talks of loss and things left behind: “I am a tourist in my hometown, an acquaintance once a friend, since I turned my back on you and the islands.”

“Without even knowing it, you take people for granted and feel they’ll always be there,” he said, “and then one day they’re not and you come face to face with the worst three words in the world — ‘it’s too late.’ And, of course, it is.”

Even with the heavy topics and lyrics, there are melodic and uplifting sounds to make people want to move. That’s the band’s Celtic sSoul colliding with rock ’n’ rRoll, said lead singer/guitarist Kirwan, who’s originally from Ireland.

The band, named for the worst year of the Irish potato famine, also features Geoff Blythe (saxophones) from the U.K., Fred Parcells (trombone and pennywhistle) from Detroit, Thomas Hamlin (drums/percussion) from Queens, Joseph Mulvanerty (uilleann pipes and various flutes) from the Bronx, and Joe “Bearclaw” Burcaw (bass) from Connecticut.

When they formed, they wanted to play music with an edge. They wanted “specifically to take a body of songs that might reference history, politics, human rights, real life and put soul and excitement into those topics,” Kirwan said.

And though the songs can focus on political and other possibly controversial topics, Kirwan wants people to enjoy it. If the band can get them to think about some things, too, that’s a bonus.

“I can’t say I really want people to get anything out of the music except to enjoy it and perhaps to think a little,” he said. “In a culture that prides itself on dumbing down, the latter aspiration is almost subversive and revolutionary.”

In addition to being a musician, Kirwan most recently published the book “Rockin’ the Bronx,” an immigrant tough-love story set in 1980-1982, around the time of the deaths of John Lennon and Bobby Sands. He has written 11 plays and musicals, and his novel, “Liverpool Fantasy,” an alternate history of the Beatles, received critical acclaim and has been translated into Spanish, Greek and Japanese.

His memoir, “Green Suede Shoes,” was published in the U.S. and U.K. He has recorded two solo albums, “Kilroy Was Here” and “Keltic Kids.” He also hosts “Celtic Crush” for SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and writes a weekly column for the nationally distributed Irish Echo newspaper.

He’s forever on the lookout for the next experience.

“I’m always excited about the next word, note, thought, drink,” he said.

Anyone who’s seen the band before won’t see the same show again. They’ve never repeated a set in the more than 2,200 gigs they’ve played. When in Ardmore, anything’s possible.

“We hope to bring some excitement, joy and value for money,” Kirwan said. “Hopefully, everyone will leave with a smile on their faces and hopefully a new thought in their heads.”

Black 47 will perform at 23 East, 23 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore, PA 19003, Friday, Oct. 8, 9 p.m. Tickets: $15 in advance, $18 at the door. For ages 21 and older.
Info: 866-468-7619 or


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