Thursday, 3 February 2011

Kerner and Turwin of Where?

There are not many artists of whom you can say, “I know him better than any man!” But such is the case with Pierce Turner. We grew up in the same small town, wrote songs and joined our first band together, emigrated to the US, and adopted the most difficult-to-enunciate name in showbiz history - Turner & Kirwan of Wexford.

Well, brain surgeons, cops and district attorneys usually made a fair fist of it but most people landed somewhere in the vicinity of Kerner & Turwin of Where?

Though we could sing, write, play, produce and entertain with the best of them, we never gave a moment’s thought to commerciality. In fact, the very concept often drive us to drink – in our case, Southern Comfort, what was good enough for Janis Joplin was fine by us.

We had other failings but I won’t get into them in a god-fearing, family newspaper. They were all incidental anyway - music was everything to us, we lived and breathed it. “Making it” was way down the list, all that mattered was originality and that we didn’t sell out.

What an odd concept “selling out” seems now when practically every musician would give their eye teeth to have a song placed in a toilet paper ad.

Then again, we grew up in a time when rock music was transforming the world, not merely reflecting it. Amazingly, it never occurred to us that things would change.

Pierce himself has barely changed at all since the day he left Wexford to join the Arrows Showband. How would I describe him? Well, think of a cross between Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the Italian tenor, Mario Lanza, spiced with a pinch of The Beatles and a couple grains of the Holy Family Confraternity Brass Band.

And that description barely does him justice. That’s because he’s an original - such a rarity, nowadays. I can’t remember the last time I heard a song where I couldn’t immediately identify its influences.

That by no means makes current popular music bad – in fact, nothing sounds bad anymore – your Great-Aunt Statia could knock off a decent sounding track. Originality is a whole different ball of wax though.

And Turner’s got that in spades. Listen to his song, Wicklow Hills. I must have played guitar on it five hundred times and I still don’t totally understand its simple brilliance.

In fact, if I hadn’t grown up with the guy and knew the sheer diversity of his influences, I wouldn’t have a clue how to peg him.

But we both came from Wexford, a town where Grand Opera and Rock & Roll fit hand in glove. Where messenger boys whistled Verdi or Gilbert & Sullivan melodies as they pedaled down the Main Street then donned pink socks and drainpipe trousers and jived to Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent tunes at the Town Hall.

It was a time when the BBC and RTE segued effortlessly between Beethoven and the Beatles without either of them having to roll over. Taste was broad, everyone had it in bucketfuls and it all ricocheted around the brains of young musicians, awaiting only a spark.

That spark will sure as hell ignite at Percy’s Tavern, 210 Avenue A and 13th Street in the East Village this Friday evening Feb 4th when Pierce explodes on stage.

Word on the street is that Percy’s is something new in the Irish saloon/restaurant field. Whatever it is, I know it will be well managed because owner, Dubliner Larry Watson, ran the door at Paddy Reilly’s during the Black 47 go-go days.

Anyone who could keep that riotous scene from going through the roof should be organizing the exit from Afghanistan. Instead he’ll be down on Avenue A maintaining order when Pierce hits the boards.

Get there early and nab yourself a table but don’t leave your fancy Rolex next to your French fries for Pierce will likely be kicking up his brogues and dancing on your silverware.

But what’s a Rolex between friends, it will be worth the price of finally seeing something pure and original in an age of knock-offs and hand-me-downs!


  1. I was priviledged enough in my teens to witness the T&KoW spectal at The Bells of Hell and yes, as eloquintly as Larry writes, every word is true!

    Warren, NY

  2. Larry ,you forgot to mention that Kerner and Turwin also recorded one of the best albums of the era. The sadly neglected "Absolutely and Completely "


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