Tag Archives: BLACK 47

Black47: the Larry Kirwan interview

April 2002

Black 47 are the original and most original Irish rock band in the US – today, yesterday or tomorrow. Thanks to Larry Kirwan for taking the time to answer my questions.

(S’n’O) The first time I saw Black 47 was back in 92(?) at the “Trip to Tipp” in Semple Stadium, Thurles. If I remember correctly B47 played about 11.30 am and I was there to watch Therapy? (I was a “Heavy Kettler” in those days) who were the next band up. Despite my whiskey induced hangover B47 blew me away musically and lyrically with a sound I’d never heard before. I’ve yet to hear another band that sounds like Black 47. Why is that? What makes Black 47 so unique?

(LK) I remember that show because my voice started to go during James Connolly. I think we had just arrived in the country under a lot of stress. We didn’t have a soundman traveling with us, at the time ,and I had to go an explain to the “house” sound engineer what the band was all about. Which leads to your question. Because he looked at me, his mouth somewhat open ,as I explained the instrumentation – Drum machine, electric guitar, uilleann pipes, African percussion, bass, sax and trombone. Nevertheless, he did an admirable job.

I had actually thought that, with the success of Black 47, there would have been more imitators but the reality is that the sound is unique and the players even more so. They’re not exactly replaceable. Each one comes from a different background of either big band jazz, Stax soul, classical, downtown noise, folk, etc. and each had done stints in improv bands. So, there is a certain fearlessness. As a writer, also, I’ve never been afraid (or perhaps been confident enough in the writing) that I don’t mind the songs being worked on, at an early stage, in front of an audience. Most writers like to have their songs somewhat polished and ready for an audience before they’ll showcase them. Because of Black 47’s schedule, we rarely rehearse; thus as soon as I have a rough arrangement ready, the band tries the songs out onstage, modifies (or even throws away) the arrangement and just goes for it. Then again, the lyrical content is pretty broad, dealing with everything from politics to bawdy humor with gusto and passion. So, there are a lot of contents to the Black 47 sound and, even with this long-winded explanation, I’m probably leaving out some vital elements that listeners would suggest.

(S’n’O) The Irish media have always jumped on the bandwagon of anything Irish that’s making noise in America and Black 47 for years now have been know as “the Irish” rock band and been in every publication from Rolling Stone to Newsweek yet Black 47 are an ignored, unknown quantity in Ireland. What do you attribute that to?

(LK) Oh, politics, undoubtedly. And also, we’ve never fitted in any genre and actually despise the fact that bands should be expected to fit. We’re a genre of one and proud of it. We, actually, did receive quite a lot of press in Ireland around 92 because we were getting such press and word of mouth in NYC. But, we always had a political agenda which was to keep the British problems in the North of Ireland on the front burner. Now, to the politically correct Southern Irish, this was a heresy. They wanted their politics to be the airy U2 type of conviction – that the earth must be saved, and that everyone be kind to each other (views that I share and I think that U2 are a tremendous live band); but ours were much more specific – that habeas corpus be restored to the 6 counties, that the rights of the minority be restored and respected, and that eventually the British should cede security of the “province” to an EU or UN force.

Now, on top of all this, we’ve had two major record deals – one with EMI and the other with Mercury. The Irish representatives of both companies seemed frightened and a bit ashamed of the band’s views – there was a war going on in the North at the time and each company felt very uncomfortable having a band such as Black 47 on their label. They felt that it didn’t make them look good when they would have to go over to London. The British companies weren’t too keen on us either. So, they would release the cds, let them gradually sell out and then not print any more. There you have it. It’s a shame but what were we to do. Drop the politics and become an ugly looking Coors? As Yeats put it, “Was there another Troy for us to burn?” We were and continue to be political. It’s cost a great deal but such is life.

(S’n’O) Larry, would you consider compromising your lyrics/ politics/ activism for the big record label push to success? How important are the politics/ activism to the Black 47 sound?

(LK) I didn’t see this question before answering the last one. I think we’ve already demonstrated that we would never compromise. In fact, I’m not even sure I’d know how to. We are political and activist too. But, for those who are not familiar with the band, it’s important to point out that there are also many other sides to our music. Black 47 is a great rollicking rock band who play and live life to the fullest. About 30 to 50% of the songs are political. Many of the other songs deal with life in general. There’s a lot of romance, humor and loss in the songs. Some are about emigrants, many are about New York City and they all deal with redemption (not the established church type) but the feeling that life is important. You may have a rough day or week or year but you still have to get up the next morning and do it again. Black 47 has written a soundtrack for the people who rise to the occasion, day after day.

(S’n’O) Along the same lines what’s the most important, commercial or critical success (or success at all)? Do you feel that you’ve musically achieved what you wanted when you started Black 47?

(LK) I’ve never thought about critics (professional or otherwise). I know when the song is good and when the audience is with you. I don’t need to be told – for better or worse. I’m a professional musician and a professional writer. We’ve had commercial success and, perhaps, will have more of it. But it never affected how I wrote, perform or feel. I’m immensely proud of the band, what it achieves every night, and of the songs I’ve written for Black 47. In the long run, we have a body or work that is top shelf and stands up to anything out there – both musically and lyrically. But then, I don’t tend to look back. That’s for other people to do. The band is vital and goes on making new music. As soon as we stop doing that, then it will be time to call it a day. But, for now, the new songs sound great. We’re always looking to break new ground. And, I’ve always gone along with Jim Morrison’s words as regards creation – “the future’s uncertain and the end is always near.” I felt that 12 years ago when we formed and it’s still in my mind today. We never set out to do anything except make great music and be original. As long as we continue to do that, we’ll stay together. If we don’t…..there are other easier ways to make a living.

(S’n’O) What are your long term goals/ambitions/dreams for Black 47?

(LK) I think that’s summed up in the last question. Tonight’s show in Boston is the most important we’ve ever done. Then Saturday’s show in Connolly’s will supplant that and so on…

(S’n’O) After songs about Connelly, Collins, Sands, RFK and Joyce (well his grave at least). Is there any other historical figure that you’d like to write about?

(LK) Oh, there are many. You just have to find the right setting for them. I took my background as a playwright and wrote about Connolly, Sands, Collins, Countess Markievicz, etc by delving into their personalities (rather like a method actor) and becoming the subject onstage. It was a relatively new concept in rock writing and performing. But each one was treated differently. Finding the way into the heads of these people and then defining them in a different setting is not easy and takes time. I’m presently working on one about James Larkin (Connolly’s superior in the Labor Movement in Ireland) and I’m having a hard time. Two steps forward, one step back. On the solo cd, Kilroy Was Here, I’ve also worked with (in a more elliptical form) James Joyce’s releationship with Norah/Molly and the Spanish poet Garcia Lorca. So, it goes on. I’ve thought of doing a new solo project where I’ll just take a dozen important poltical figures (to me) and deal with their lives. But time is tight.

(S’n’O) Have you found younger fans digging for information about people like Connelly or Collins that they my not have heard of previously? What’s the feedback from the fans like on these people?

(LK) Oh, yeah, that happens all the time. You see, we don’t lecture people on stage. The songs are written in an allegorical manner. They set out the facts and delve into the personalities. Then it’s up to people to take what they want from those ideas. But we’re not like, say, The Clash (whom I adore). We don’t tell people what they should think. Rather, we introduce them to ideas and hope some of the ideas lead them to investigate topics and people in their own way. And that happens all the time. The emails I receive are extraordinary. People come home from a show and write asking a few extra questions; you reply to them. And then you might hear back a year later. The person has done extensive research and now may inform me of things I didn’t know. And so on, like a ball being batted back & forth. It’s a wonderful experience. The songs are also used in hundreds of college and high school courses around the country. And from time to time, I go out and speak in front of classes at the request of professors and teachers. Which can be fun. But there is nothing quite like the high of becoming James Connolly on stage in front of an appreciative crowd, who no doubt, are experiencing the same transformation.

(S’n’O) Finally, after “10 Bloody Years” how much do you think B47 have had a hand in modernizing Irish-America and Irish-American culture?

(LK) Of course. But I don’t think of it as modernizing. Rather we reintroduce Irish-Americans and anyone else who cares to their roots, many heroes, and to a way of seeing the world around them. We get people to think and that’s about the best gift we can give anyone.

Good luck with the site. Anyone who wants to write to me can do so at blk47@aol.com or visit http://www.black47.com

There’s Clare! – Black 47, Jackdaw, The Gobshites, IceWagon Flu Rockin’ The Catskills (September 2006)

I looked down just about every bottle of beer that was put in my hand, all the way to the bottom and did not find her anywhere. For three days we looked and she just wasn’t at the bottom of any of my glasses, where could she be?

I did find the Gobshite himself Pete Depressed wandering around all weekend looking to, he couldn’t find her either. We sat and talked it over, he convinced me to start my own band and actually be in it instead of just managing it. I told him I can’t remember lyrics to save my life, he said he was the same way when he got his start, yeah but has no one heard of you can’t teach a old dog new tricks and I’m the oldest dirtiest mangiest mutt out there. So after convincing me I decided that I couldn’t be distracted anymore and move on to the other side of the bar thinking I saw Clare over there. Well when I got to that side of the bar she wasn’t there but my old bag squeezing friend Joe from Black 47 was there hanging out with P2. Himself and I looked down a few bottles for her while we regaled days of old. We still couldn’t find her for the life of us.

Well finally Icewagon Flu got off the stage, and I was sure they would know, but at last after grabbing more bottles and searching down the one they was sure she would be, she once again eluded us. My brother was sure the shooter girls would know and pursued them for the truth rather vigorously, they didn’t know and he paid for his interrogation in the morning for sure, with memory loss, extreme loss of motivate to continue the hunt early, and strange unexplained headaches.

As The Gobshites played I was too distracted to look, as I felt compelled to sing along to there haunting love ballads and sweet classical music. Still riding on the high of such a great energy filled live set from Icewagon Flu, the Shites were able to step it up even one more notch. I’ve always said it’s not really how good the band plays there instruments, but how well they play the crowd, and this weekend showed why these particular bands are the top of the music scene for sure. But I digress, this is a hunt for Clare and I can’t be distracted!

I return to the bar with the indifferent and not to helpful bartenders opened a couple bottles that I might be where I’d find her, but no luck, I’ll just have to keep looking, but wait who’s on now? That old blond haired leprechaun in green shoes just jumped up wailing on his guitar, this could be interesting. All this determined searching for Clare also pulls me towards distraction after continuously being disappointed of not finding her. So I decide to get around me a good group of folks and chat up the dealings of the weekend and listen to that ever popular Black 47 organized noise. Joe was up there squeezing has bag in front of everyone in between swigs from a mystery bottle.

As they start pouring them off stage, I thought the night was just about over as my search and rescue funds were running really low, my brother and I were feeling a little odd as if there was some sort of narcotic like alcohol injected into our veins. It seemed that we were never going to find this mystery woman Clare. We began at that time to say our goodbyes.

Then as if the lighthouse shining through the fog giving us bearings, there she is right up on the stage the Gobshites were just on two hours ago! She was with the Jackdaw guys all night; boy was it worth the wait. They were a great bunch of lads and they even played a song about her that is still stuck in my head. I stayed and said the hell with the search and rescue funds, and drained them rabidly ready to stumble back to the tent, I’m sure we’ll find her again in the morning.

Review by Therover413

Black 47 – BB Kings, NYC ( November 15, 2015)

One Last Jig with Black 47

(New York City) – Twenty five years ago, Larry Kirwan sat in Paddy Reilly’s with Chris Byrne and launched a different kind of Irish band, with a sound that drew in not just Irish music, but funk, soul, punk, reggae, folk, and blues, all tinged with Kirwan’s Irish Republican rebel point of view. It was a formula that attracted thousands to their now legendary gigs at Reilly’s (and later Connolly’s) on Saturday nights, and led them to major label deals, festivals like Farm Aid, appearances on Letterman, Conan and the Tonight Show, and a reputation as “the house band of New York City.” Eventually, Byrne moved on to his own musical projects, Joseph Mulvanerty stepped in on the pipes, and but for a few changes, the band lineup of Kirwan, sax player Geoffrey Blythe, trombone and whistle player Fred Parcells, bass player Joseph “Bearclaw” Burcaw, and drummer Thomas Hamlin has stayed more or less in tact over the last decade.

Last Saturday, they put their final coda on it and played their last show at BB King’s in Times Square, and fans and friends from all over came out of the woodwork to send them off. The two and a half hour show featured all of their biggest hits, some fan favorites, and guest appearances for nearly every song. It was an Irish wake for a band that, up until the very end, made every show a scorcher.

The room was absolutely packed. The night kicked off right at 8 with “Green Suede Shoes,” and the band didn’t look back from there. Kirwan was in rare form, telling stories about the early days, relating the inspiration for some of the band’s most popular songs, and beaming with pride as his son Rory joined them on stage for the toasting rap in Fire of Freedom. Other guests like Mary Courtney (“Livin’ in America”) and Christine Ohlman (“Blood Wedding”) added a special touch to the evening. The highlight, for this writer, was seeing Byrne join them one last time for “Walk All the Days.”

As you’d expect, all the big hits were aired out – “Big Fellah,” “Rockin’ the Bronx,” “Fanatic Heart,” “40 Shades of Blue,” and a particularly stirring version of “James Connolly” that had nearly every fist in the room raised. They ended their regular set with “Funky Ceili,” before coming back out for an encore of “Maria’s Wedding,” a medley of “Gloria/I Fought the Law (with Byrne once again coming out to join in, along with longtime tour manager P2, superfan Tom Marlow, and former bass player Rob Graziano),” and an impromptu a capella version of “Happy Trails,” Van Halen style, with Burcaw providing the “bum-bah-dee-dah” a la David Lee Roth; Mulvanerty, Graziano and P2 doing the harmonizing.

While it was bittersweet to think that this was the last time we’d all be together for a Black 47 show, there were very few tears at the end of the night. We all knew we’d been part of an amazing ride with one of the best live bands in rock ‘n’ roll. There’s no doubt they’ll be missed, but as cliché as it sounds, the musical legacy they’ve left behind will be around for a very long time. As the song goes, “That’s the story so far of Black 47.”

One Last Jig with Black 47

(New York City) – Twenty five years ago, Larry Kirwan sat in Paddy Reilly’s with Chris Byrne and launched a different kind of Irish band, with a sound that drew in not just Irish music, but funk, soul, punk, reggae, folk, and blues, all tinged with Kirwan’s Irish Republican rebel point of view. It was a formula that attracted thousands to their now legendary gigs at Reilly’s (and later Connolly’s) on Saturday nights, and led them to major label deals, festivals like Farm Aid, appearances on Letterman, Conan and the Tonight Show, and a reputation as “the house band of New York City.” Eventually, Byrne moved on to his own musical projects, Joseph Mulvanerty stepped in on the pipes, and but for a few changes, the band lineup of Kirwan, sax player Geoffrey Blythe, trombone and whistle player Fred Parcells, bass player Joseph “Bearclaw” Burcaw, and drummer Thomas Hamlin has stayed more or less in tact over the last decade.

Last Saturday, they put their final coda on it and played their last show at BB King’s in Times Square, and fans and friends from all over came out of the woodwork to send them off. The two and a half hour show featured all of their biggest hits, some fan favorites, and guest appearances for nearly every song. It was an Irish wake for a band that, up until the very end, made every show a scorcher.

The room was absolutely packed. The night kicked off right at 8 with “Green Suede Shoes,” and the band didn’t look back from there. Kirwan was in rare form, telling stories about the early days, relating the inspiration for some of the band’s most popular songs, and beaming with pride as his son Rory joined them on stage for the toasting rap in Fire of Freedom. Other guests like Mary Courtney (“Livin’ in America”) and Christine Ohlman (“Blood Wedding”) added a special touch to the evening. The highlight, for this writer, was seeing Byrne join them one last time for “Walk All the Days.”

As you’d expect, all the big hits were aired out – “Big Fellah,” “Rockin’ the Bronx,” “Fanatic Heart,” “40 Shades of Blue,” and a particularly stirring version of “James Connolly” that had nearly every fist in the room raised. They ended their regular set with “Funky Ceili,” before coming back out for an encore of “Maria’s Wedding,” a medley of “Gloria/I Fought the Law (with Byrne once again coming out to join in, along with longtime tour manager P2, superfan Tom Marlow, and former bass player Rob Graziano),” and an impromptu a capella version of “Happy Trails,” Van Halen style, with Burcaw providing the “bum-bah-dee-dah” a la David Lee Roth; Mulvanerty, Graziano and P2 doing the harmonizing.

While it was bittersweet to think that this was the last time we’d all be together for a Black 47 show, there were very few tears at the end of the night. We all knew we’d been part of an amazing ride with one of the best live bands in rock ‘n’ roll. There’s no doubt they’ll be missed, but as cliché as it sounds, the musical legacy they’ve left behind will be around for a very long time. As the song goes, “That’s the story so far of Black 47.”

Review & photos John Curtin

Review & photos John Curtin

Black 47: Rise Up – The Political Songs

October 11, 2014

I didn’t actually need to listen to Rise Up to review it as I know every song on this 15 track complication almost by heart. I did listen as it would be unethical to review an album without listening to it and any excuse to listen to Black 47 is a good one. As you may be aware Black 47 are winding down after a twenty five year run and Rise Up is a parting review of how good this band can be. The 15 tracks are Black 47 at their historical and political finest that run the gauntlet of Irish freedom (The Big Fellah and Bobby Sands MP), to socialist heroes (James Connelly & Jim Larkin), historical (Black 47 and San Patricio Brigade) and the more contemporary (Stars and Stripes, Downtown Baghdad Blues & US of A 2014), taken from right across the bands career from the cassette only EP (Patriot Games – the Dominic “brother of Brendan” Behan classic) through their final album Last Call. My count has Black 47 with 50 or 60 political songs under their belt so I’m surprised Rise Up isn’t at least a double album or box set. I’m sure longtime fans may be wondering their personal favorite is (what no Land of de Valera?) though never the less it’s a great representation of the band and what they are (or were come November) and still more informative, entertaining and affordable then taking a political history class at NYU.

Black 47: Last Call

April 1, 2014

Sadden that Last Call will be the final album by NYC Irish-rock legends Black 47. If you don’t know it already the band are calling it a day and disbanding this coming November on the 25th anniversary of the bands first gig. Nothing like calling it on your own terms.

Happy that Last Call is a very fine album. It’s got all that makes Black 47 so special – the irrestiable mix of Celtic, Latin and Jazz and the sounds of the five boroughs stitched together on top of a rock’n’roll steel frame. Larry’s lyrics takes us from the hedonistic days of old Culchie Prince and Dublin Days to the US of A of 2014 with often an uncompromising (and sometime unpopular) political stance – Let The People In.

Favorites – The Night The Showbands Died (about the Miami Show Band massacre), the laid back Salsa O’Keefe and the epic Ballad of Brendan Behan.

Thanks guys for all the music and the shows over the years. You’ll be missed.

Larry Kirwan’s Celtic Invasion

April 28, 2013

I’ve said this before have experience putting together compilation albums – it’s not easy. It isn’t a job of slapping a few ol’ track on a disk and pressing. The music and the tracks have to flow and complement each other, so hats off to Black 47’s Larry Kirwan for a fine job. The idea of this compilation is to showcase various bands that Larry has featured on his Celtic Crush show on Sirius XM radio. The comp has a nice mix of Celtic tinged acts – most more radio friendly then the stuff we do at Shite’n’Onions. We have some big mainstream names like Hothouse FlowersRunrig and The Waterboys with a phenomenal live version of “Savage Earth”. There is Black 47 themselves with Uncle Jim, Shite’n’Onions fav’s Blaggards (no The) with an almost metal version of “The Irish Rover” and a classic blast from the past in Pat McGuire’s, “You’re So Beautiful”. The rest of the album is given to showcase some fine less established banks like BarleyjuiceCeltic Cross, Peatbog Faeries, Garrahan’s Ghost’s and Shilelagh Law.