Sunday 28 February 2010

The Magic of Nick Drake

A friend first pointed it out to me in the 70’s – an appreciation that appeared on the back page of the Village Voice every November. Nothing fancy – just a plain “Nick Drake 1948-1974, thank you for the music.”

Back then very few people had even heard his name. I had - through listening to John Peel play his incandescent songs on BBC Radio. Still, I only possessed one of his albums, the debut, Five Leaves Left. It’s funny, I can remember the cover so well – green bordered with a picture of a willowy young man looking out from an attic window. I had to be in a certain mood to play it – besides there were times when you just wouldn’t want Nick in the room – especially if you thought someone with you wouldn’t appreciate him. If it was someone you were romantically involved with – you especially thought twice about it - supposing they didn’t like Nick, then what? I can summon up that mood and a lot of other old feelings by just thinking of that album cover and the songs within.

Nick Drake’s music was enigmatic – deep and churning but deceptively calm on the surface. It never seems to date, perhaps, because he captured a mood, rather than a time and place.

His other two albums, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon are no less enthralling. They too evoke the same mood. He died in 1974 – a failure, in his own eyes at any rate. He is now best known in the US for a Volkswagen ad but you can hear his influence on so many artists. Many of them are attracted to his essence – none grasp it. All three of his albums sold less than 5000 copies in his lifetime. But obviously each person who bought one treasured it and the mood it identified, then passed on the word. Incredibly, his three albums keep getting better with time.

The memorials eventually stopped. Did the admirer die, move on, move out of New York? I watched the back page of the Voice for a couple of years and then I too moved on. Just another New York oddity that I rarely give thought to, until Saturday mornings on Celtic Crush when I play Nick.

It never seemed like morning music to me back in the day – I rarely listened to it before midnight. But Nick Drake’s songs have become timeless and hourless – much like the man himself.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Stephen Foster

He died at the age of 37 with 38 cents in his pocket - the first professional American songwriter. Some say he was the greatest, although his star has diminished because of his links with minstrelsy.
Despite the often cruel racial stereotyping of African-Americans in minstrel shows, Foster’s songs stand apart for they exude an ineffable ache that makes them timeless.
Of Scots, Irish and English descent, Foster was born to a prosperous, politically connected father who later fell on hard times and spent much of his life bemoaning the fact.
Are the sins of the father visited on his children? It would often appear so. John Stanislaus Joyce was usually but one step ahead of the bailiff; and his son, James, despite his genius, became perhaps the greatest literary scrounger and loan artist – no mean feat.
Foster himself was hardly a stranger to adversity – and creditors. Little wonder that he wrote Hard Times Come Again No More.
Bruce Springsteen often begins shows with this powerful song, Cherish The Ladies does a fine version, and Mavis Staples shows its real roots with her gospel treatment; for young Stephen spent many Sunday mornings with a family servant at the local African-American church outside Pittsburgh.
Yet, Foster is often stigmatized today because of his connection to “blackface.” Oddly enough, some of this genre’s greatest practitioners were Irish, including Dan Emmett, who by “blacking up” his whole band, is credited with creating the first true minstrel show.
Foster’s early songs became an acute source of embarrassment to him and as he matured he sought to humanize his subjects and to reform minstrelsy, the most powerful force in American popular culture in the mid 19th century.
Many off-the-boat Irish were drawn to “blackface” because who wanted to see Paddy Murphy up onstage unless he was being portrayed as the dimwitted, ignorant Simian beloved of Know-Nothing nativist Americans.
Much better to look like Master Jubah, the African-American dancer that the Irish flocked to see in the saloons of New York City’s Five Points.
And so it goes, stereotypes and, indeed, racism are rarely far from the surface in the melting pot.
Foster might have been just another flash-in-the-pan songwriter had his nascent career not been blessed with the telegraph. Like our modern day Internet this invention almost instantly revolutionized communication.
When Oh Susannah was published in 1848 it raced across the wires: the first universal American song. Miners in the Gold Rush of ’49 parodied it in California; there are even reports of it being sung in the bazaars of India.
Loss and a longing for the warmth of the past are ever recurring themes in Foster’s songs. Replace the “de” and “brudder” and “ribber” of Swannee River with their proper spelling and pronunciation, and you have an anthem of loneliness that borders on despair.
Foster was married to Jane McDowell, the “Jeanie with the light brown hair;” they had one daughter Marion but the union was unhappy. There is, in fact, strong reason to believe that he was gay.
In any case, Foster spent the last years of his life in and around the morally permissive Five Points, moving easily through a cross cultural and ethnically mixed world where, amongst others, Irish and African-Americans – known as amalgamationists - intermarried or cohabited.
That all ended on July 13, 1863 during the Draft Riots when the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue was burned down by a white mob, liberally sprinkled with Irish immigrants. Most African-Americans left the Five Points after that awful day and relations between the two peoples have never been the same.
Six months later in a dismal Bowery hotel room Foster lay dying. His family’s verdict was that while alone and feverish he knocked over a washbasin and cut his throat. Others suspect he committed suicide – an artist whose time had passed, a man who could no longer live with his sexuality.
One thing is certain: we can mark the inexorable march of a country – and the division among its peoples – through a study of his songs.
He wrote to the very end. One melody, in particular, is haunting; the words simple but searing, for they sum up his own life and a feeling that many have had at one time or another.
No one to love, no one to love
Why, no one to love?
What have you done in this beautiful world that you're
Sighing of no one to love?

Wednesday 10 February 2010

A Living Wage

What do you think of the recent uproar about the development of the Kingsbridge Armory? I bring it up for a number of reasons, not the least of which many readers will have strolled past this incongruous edifice on their merry march between The Archway and Durty Nelly’s.
Some too will have staggered out onto the pavement after pulling an all-nighter to the stormy traditional symphonies of Johnny Cronin, Andy McGann and the Joes (Banjo and Accordion) in the legendary Bunratty.
There was nothing quite like ogling this19th Century fortress next to the Jerome Avenue El while one chose between facing the music at home or delaying the pain with breakfast at the nearby Greeks.
Enough of such nostalgia! The bare facts of the dispute concerned the City Council voting down a $310 million refurbishment of the Armory because the developers, Related Companies, refused to guarantee a “living wage” - $10 per hour with benefits or $11.50 without.
The only wage Related placed on the table was the minimum, currently $7.25 per hour.
There would have been up to 1000 workers employed in the reconstruction and one assumes - given that City money was involved - these jobs would have been unionized; although one could be accused of rank optimism given the attendance of Mister Rat outside so many construction sites nowadays.
Still, let’s assume that we are only talking about the proposed 1200 retail and maintenance workers who would have ultimately been employed within the refurbished “Fort Cultimagh,” as a well-oiled Mayoman labeled it one bleary morning.
It’s an interesting case and highlights the new America.
On the one hand, I come from a background where half a loaf beats the hell out of no loaf at all. To that end, I support President Obama’s imperfect Health Insurance Bill, because - as happened with the 1935 Social Security Act - there will be ample chance for improvement down the line.
And so, one part of me feels that 1200 jobs are not to be sniffed at, since the Bronx has at, 13.9%, the highest rate of unemployment in the state.
On the other hand, how in the name of God can you be expected to live in New York City on $7.25 an hour unless you’re working around the clock? For that matter knocking out 40 a week at ten bucks an hour will hardy guarantee you a view of the leafy glades of Riverdale from your balcony; it may even preclude you sipping your Chardonnay in a Hunts Point walk-up.
All irony aside, this case has far reaching implications for New York. We hear a lot about middle class flight, should we also be concerned with an exodus of minimum wage working class?
Apparently not, people are crying out for any kind of work and many thousands were expected to apply for these 1200 jobs regardless of pay.
When I broached the matter at my local saloon, I was chided by a number of people – including the hardworking Mexican bar-back – who insisted that these would make great foundation jobs to be supplemented by, for instance, a late night car service stint.
The consensus, in that watering hole at least, ran against the politicians, unions and community leaders who held out for a living wage – that they were interfering in a time honored American tradition; and that the opportunity to work was far more important than the remuneration.
It’s a tough call as many other cities do enforce “living wage” conditions where public money is involved, and all sides appear content - if not delirious with the situation.
And then you think - the Bronx has given a lot to this city. Perhaps the Yankees and others who have traded on its name would care to lend a hand and kick in the difference between the minimum and living wages.
How about the 140 or more banks that dot the borough - any chance of a buyback, guys? Maybe the masters of the universe down at Goldman Sachs itself would care to guarantee a couple of hundred jobs a year? Or would that be interfering unduly with the American way?
Hey, when all is said and done, there might be room for a new Burattay inside a restored Fort Cultimagh where the ghosts of Cronin, McGann and Banjo Burke could saw and clatter away to their ghostly content.
They might even call one of their heavenly reels, “The Living Wage.”

Friday 5 February 2010



Three final Connolly's Saturday night gigs this season Feb. 13/20/27 at which Bankers and Gangsters CD and T-shirts and Larry Kirwan's novel, Rockin' The Bronx will be available. Tickets on sale night of show or in advance:
Connolly's, 121 W. 45th St. (btwn B'way & th Ave) NYC
(doors open 9pm. Band onstage 10:30pm sharp)

To facilitate those who cannot attend, Bankers and Gangsters CD and T-Shirt are now available at SHOP at while pre-orders are being taken for the autographed Rockin' The Bronx which will be shipped Tuesday 9th Feb. This is to ensure that our newsletter supporters can get CDs and books long before they become available to the general public.

Thanks to all who voted to make Black 47's Trouble in the Land the Top Irish-American Album of the last decade. For full results go to

St. Patrick's Day, March 17, is fast approaching. Don't miss our All Ages 7pm Post-Parade show at BB Kings, 237 W. 42nd. Street, NYC Doors open 5pm.

Just Announced: RELIEF FOR HAITI: ISLAND PEOPLE SUPPORTING ISLAND PEOPLE - An event presented by: Irish American Writers & Artists, Inc.
Feb 24 7pm to 11pm at Connolly's, 121 W. 45th St. NYC
Musicians: Black 47, Senachai and The Unity Squad, Ashley Davis, Morningstar, Dennis McCarthy & John Walsh of Jameson's Revenge
Writers: Column McCann, Malachy McCourt, T.J, English, Michael Patrick MacDonal, Christine Kenneally, Larry Kirwan



In this big, passionate, colourful novel set in 1980-82, the Bronx is burning, Bobby Sands is dying, John Lennon is being stalked, the Reagan Revolution has begun and AIDS is about to be identified. But life goes on in the immigrant bars of Bainbridge Avenue as Sean arrives from Ireland looking for his girlfriend, Mary, and finds a lot more than he bargained for.

In stores Feb. 23, pre-order now at - autographed copies will ship Feb. 9.

Kirwan, Larry. Rockin' the Bronx. Brandon, dist. by Dufour. Feb. 2010. c.384p. ISBN 978-0-86322-418-8. pap. $19.95. F
"Kirwan's second novel (after Liverpool Fantasy) is a tremendous rock 'n' roll saga. He offers writing about the transformative and curative powers of music and performance that is brilliant on its own, but his lovingly rendered portrait of American and Irish social and political realities in the 1980s is both brutal and magical." - J. Greg Matthews, Library Journal



If you're thinking of coming to Ireland with Larry Kirwan between July 7-12, 2010 now is a good time to get in touch with our travel agents Hammond Tours who will answer all your questions. The trip is suitable for all ages and is ideal for those going alone or for the first time. It's also a nice high school/college graduation gift and will take in the historical/literary/political/musical sides of Ireland, oh and perhpas a little partying too. Call John or Michele Hammond at 866-486-8772 for details.
Inquiries to Hammond Tours



"I first met Mike Shinners in Kansas City. Black 47 had a day to kill en route from Denver to Chicago. I received an email from him suggesting a stop in KC.
"Sure," said I. "Just get us a gig."
Lo and behold, not only did he set us up in the Hurricane, a great downtown club, he also handled publicity and much else.
His next email was from Iraq. Turned out our erstwhile promoter was a Lt. Colonel in the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division..."




Join us at for immediate updates on gigs, rare music tracks and videos, PLUS news of Bankers and Gangsters, the new Black 47 CD.



Performing and reading from his new novel, ROCKIN' THE BRONX. Call for reservations.

Feb11 - Glucksman Ireland House, NYU, NY 212-998-3950

Mar 8 - Barnes & Noble (TriBeCa) 97 Warren Street, NYC

Mar 10- Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington, NY

Apr 8 Salt Gastro Pub, 109 Hwy 206, Stanhope, NJ 07874

Apr 9 Record Collector, Bordentown, NJ

Apr 10 An Beal Bocht, 445 W. 238 St., Bronx, NY 10463

Apr 21 St. Bonaventure, NY14778

July 11 Wexford Arts Center, Wexford, Ireland


Feb 13 Connolly's, Manhattan, NY
Feb 19 Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ
Feb 20 Connolly's, Manhattan,NY
Feb 24 Haiti Benefit, Connolly's, NY
Feb 26 The Half Door, Hartford, CT
Feb 27 Connolly's, Manhattan, NY
Mar 5 Tupelo Music Hall, Londonderry, NH
Mar 6 TBA
Mar 11 Toad's Place, New Haven, CT
Mar 12 College of Staten Island, NY
Mar 13 Shamrock Festival, Washington DC
Mar 14 World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA
Mar 16 Showcase Live, Foxborough, MA
Mar 17 The Black Rose, Boston WFNX (morning show)
Mar 17 BB King's, NY, NY (evening show)
Mar 19 St. Bonaventure University, NY
May 28 Blackthorn Resort, E. Durham, NY
May 29 E. Durham Irish Festival, E. Durham, NY
May 29 Blackthorn Resort, E. Durham, NY
July 23 Greater Hartford Irish Festival, Glastonbury, CT

All Tour Dates & Full Details


The new CD is now available at SHOP and will be on sale at Black 47 and Larry Kirwan gigs - but not in stores until March 2nd. Word on the street is good - we've been playing many of the songs live over the past year. It's a big sounding, self-produced album, recorded at the Carriage House in Stamford, CT. As ever, it encompasses many styles but is perhaps a bit more rock and horn oriented than more recent CDs. Lyrically it covers much ground and time - from a paranoid Red Hugh O'Donnell in 17th Century Spain to the Irish/Jewish diaspora on the Lower East Side, by way of 1960's Hippie West Cork, through black lace and leather 1970's CBGB's to the dance floor present - with many's the stop in between.

It's too early for reviews but Mike Farragher, music editor of The Irish Voice wrote the following on Facebook: "I love what I hear! It is a dizzying mixture of Irish and American influences, Celtic rebellion, domestic heartache, furious reels....Larry and the Boys have made another winner!!! Celtic Rocker, Wedding Reel, and Izzy's Irish Rose will be welcome additions to the set list. NICE JOB!!!!"

"I just got done spinning it for the first time, and I think it might be the best album Black 47 have ever done. I'll do a full review but for now, let's just say I think it's a great disc!" Gary Hill, Music Street Journal

'Bankers and Gangsters reminds us that while Black 47 are the Lords of Celtic rock they are just as much a great rock band. Again, Kirwan celebrates women with his remembrance of 'Rosemary (Nelson)' and I love how he shapes 'Celtic Rocker' as HER moment of self- discovery through Celtic rock. This is one up-beat set of tracks with stories that, of course, make you think while you are dancing the night away. Cheers!" Louise Dunphy, Celtic Crossings WMUA 91.1 FM, Amherst, MA

Black 47's new CD, Bankers and Gangsters, on United for Opportunity Music The title track is already available online at itunes and other outlets or Lyrics, commentaries and chords can be accessed at


The long anticipated new CD and accompanying T-Shirt are now available at:

as a service to those who have stuck with us through thick and thin. The title track is also available for download on iTunes.


Preorder from:

Autographed copies will ship next week. Published Brandon/Dufour Available in all book stores on Feb. 23rd or at Black 47/Larry Kirwan gigs.

"Angela's Ashes for a new generation," says Thomas Keneally (Schindler's List).

"A sixteen wheeler, power-chord boogie of a book, Joseph O'Connor (Star of the Sea).

"Powerful and evocative. This novel serves as an elegy for a lost time and place - the vibrant and chaotic New York City that thrived in the shadows of the Age of Reagan. It is the kind of book that will stay with you long after you put it down." Thomas Kelly (Empire Rising)

A Bronx tale full of raucous life and unvarnished reality. This is the urban American of the 80s in all its raw squalor and splendor. Every page sparkles with memorable characters and lyrical accuracy. Peter Quinn (Banished Children of Eve)

Get your autographed copy today at our SHOP at for $20.

All 12 Black 47/Larry Kirwan CDs PLUS Black 47's 2 DVDs for $160 or all 12 CDs for $140. Euros, Sterling & other foreign currency orders accepted & shipped promptly. Go to the SHOP at

Also at the SHOP a full selection of T-shirts, hoodies, caps.

Now Available at the SHOP: DIGITAL DOWNLOADS of most of the in-print catalogue of Black 47 / Larry Kirwan Albums.

Want to keep up-to-date on Black 47 Gigs? Go to: and find out what we're playing plus reviews of performances. Bob Silkowitz has gathered set lists from as far back as 1992 (including names of songs we've performed but never recorded, and much other information).

Check out the collected lyrics of BANKERS & GANGSTERS along with commentaries by Larry Kirwan; and the chords and lyrics of all Black 47 songs, and covers performed over the years (often with annotated comments from the rehearsal sessions) at Fred Parcells has collated charts of songs that the rest of us can't even remember playing. Go Freddie with the mean memory!!! Windows 95 forever!!! See the chord charts & lyrics of Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix, Izzy's Irish Rose, Celtic Rocker, Rosemary (Nelson), That Summer Dress, Long Hot Summer, Bankers & Gangsters, etc.

***ANYONE who would like to be part of The BLACK 47 Street Team: to put up posters, fliers and get the word out - in return for free admission to gigs and meeting the band, drop a line to:

***Black 47 is looking for some good people to sell our merch during gigs on the road. If you'd like to help out and be part of our team, drop a line to


Check out Larry Kirwan's controversial weekly column on politics, music, literature and life page 5, Irish Echo


Sirius XM

Every Saturday 7-10amET Tuesday 11pm ET show added

Celtic Crush, hosted by Larry Kirwan, can be heard on Saturdays from 7-10am ET at The Spectrum, Ch. 18 on Sirius, Ch. 45 on XM and Ch. 832 DIRECTV and can now be also heard on Tuesdays at 11pm ET

Celtic Crush is available throughout all of the US and Canada. It features music from the 8 Celtic nations and their related cultures.
Hear Larry interview Swell Season, Dolores Riordan, Lisa Hannigan, Hothouse Flowers, Ray Davies, Sinead O'Connor, Steve Earle, Dropkick Murphys Moya Brennan, Flogging Molly, Richard Thompson, LĂșnasa, Bell X1, Damien Dempsey, etc.

Check out the Celtic Crush playlists on Facebook at
siriusxmthespectrum or write to for the Celtic Crush newsletter and playlists.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

The Politics of No

The politics of NO is sweeping the nation. Run for cover - you ain’t seen nothing yet.
So you think Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts is sending a message to Washington? Fuggedaboutit, in the end money talks and you know exactly what walks. Whenever I want to check out what’s actually happening in this country I look at three barometers: the DOW, NASDAQ, and S&P.
When it became obvious that Mr. Brown would pull off a major upset, guess what? Health Insurance stocks rocketed. And when President Obama, in macho response, finally decided to adopt some of Paul Volker’s regulations on the banking business, stocks tumbled.
Right about then the real news hit the doorstep – the Supreme Court removed certain legal limits to corporate spending in elections.
Whatever about Tea Parties and pitchfork marches on DC, the last thing this country needs right now is more money influencing the political process.
There’s so much of it floating around the halls of Congress now it’s beyond time for a law that requires elected officials to make public the amount donated by each corporation, union or individual with a vested interest in a particular piece of legislation.
It’s hard to even blame the two political parties. What are they supposed to do - refuse to stick their hand in the honey pot when their opponent has fuller pockets than a bookie after a long shot wins the Derby?
That being said, what’s at stake is the very nature and effectiveness of our democracy. The country is close to ungovernable, vital issues are perennially put on the long finger. With this Supreme Court decision and the politics of NO aligning for a perfect storm, things do not bode well for the home of the brave, not to mention the land of the free.
In the midst of all the current brouhaha we should not lose sight of a couple of matters. Health insurance reform is desperately needed. Premiums are going through the roof, coverage can be denied, the uninsured are driving up cost, and US businesses cannot compete with foreign companies whose governments do provide public health care.
While Barack Obama may have been gloriously naive in hiring clubby insiders like Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Sommers, let’s not lose sight of the fact that it was the previous administration that drove up deficits and initiated the rescue of the banking system.
Tax breaks for the rich and the war in Iraq fueled those deficits but what sane person could deny that the Bush administration was correct in rescuing the banking system from its excesses. What was the choice? Have the whole house of cards collapse?
True, the Obama administration rescued the motor industry. But take a trip to the wastelands of Michigan and Northern Ohio; then tell me pulling the plug was an option.
As regards creating jobs? Any way you look at it that will take time. Decent-paying manufacturing positions have been disappearing for over three decades. Like it or not, we’ve morphed into a lower paying service economy dependent on consumer spending. No president can change that culture overnight.
One quick way to both save and create jobs would be to pump federal money into near-bankrupt state budgets; but that would raise both the deficit and the sound level. Oddly enough, it would probably help those now protesting loudest.
Many hard working people are about to sacrifice their homes because they’ve lost their jobs. That’s a frightful situation. Others will forfeit their houses because they invested too late in an expanding bubble or didn’t read the fine print in their mortgage agreements. That’s sad too, although some would trumpet “caveat emptor.”
I have my own anger issues with this president for thrusting us even deeper into the morass of a civil war in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai may not be much of a president but he knows well how to game a system and he will ensure that his country remain a fiscal anvil around our necks until the cows come home.
I have nothing against anger, it’s fine when informed and focused on finding solutions; otherwise as the Bard declared, it’s just so much more “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
The politics of No fueled by big money will breed a lot of such bluster. But when it all blows over, guess who’ll be the losers? This is not a time for ranting and raving but for calm deliberation, a firm backbone, and steady enactment of sane and logical solutions.