Thursday 16 March 2017

Saint Patrick's Wild Stallion In Times Square

I’ve seen many a St. Patrick’s Day – mostly playing in a band atop a large stage, amidst a swirl of action but removed enough so that the forest can be clearly distinguished from the trees.

Where to begin?  I suppose in the metropolis of Wexford where St. Patrick’s Day was at best an insipid dud. With not much else going on in March we’d line up on the Quayside and watch the Confraternity men and Legion of Mary ladies parade by in a murmur of rosaries, accompanied by the local FCA (Army Reserve) who at least marched in time. 

My favorites were the Foresters – they wore green and white Robert Emmet type uniforms, knee-high black leather boots, and plumed hats. 

The lack of alcohol, however, weighed heavily on both marchers and observers, as pubs back then closed for our national feast day.

At my first New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade I felt I had stepped into Caligula’s Rome. Though quite early in the morning the bacchanal was already in full swing – not just booze either, but weed wafted gently by on the cool breezes of Fifth Avenue. Sex, too, was in the air as leggy drum majorettes kicked for the skies and suburban high school kids made out with vigor in fashionable retail doorways.

Later that night in Tomorrow’s Lounge, Bay Ridge, I had one of the best gigs of my life as Turner & Kirwan of Wexford shook the considerable dust off the rafters. In truth we could have played Enya-on-Ambien dirges and the packed house would have roared along with gusto. To top it all we got paid double!

It was then I realized that on St. Patrick’s Night a band mounts a wild stallion. All you have to do is hold on to its mane, dig in the spurs, and off you go with the flow! 

The following year, however in our innocence, Turner & Kirwan played ten 40-minute sets in Manchester, NH and received sweet damn all bonus. Somewhat miffed we invited the friskier looking part of our audience back to a party in a house that had been lent to us. 

I will not bore you with the salacious details; suffice it to say we left Manchester in somewhat of a cloud. So much so that when I returned many years later with Black 47 I had to put forth that the Kirwan playing with the disgraced duo from Wexford had been my Uncle Larry.

There was never a need for such white lies in New York City on March 17th. For one thing, no one would be crazy enough to give Black 47 a loan of their house on that sainted liquid evening.

Not that there weren’t hiccups. One night in a shadowy corridor of the Letterman Show, fatigued and overwhelmed, I thought I had lost my mind when assaulted by a battery of little people dressed as leprechauns who were merely seeking autographs. 

Another year on the Conan O’Brien Show I almost had a heart attack when I forgot a line from our song James Connolly on national TV.

But there were triumphs too. I can still feel the crowd and band meld together into one tightly clenched fist when I hear our Live in New York City CD recorded on St. Patrick’s Day in the late lamented Wetlands club.

I thought I might give the whole thing a break when Black 47 disbanded, but BB King’s on 42nd Street wanted the real rockin’ New York Irish music experience again, so I’m back in the game with a new kick-arse band for a night. 

Cáit O’Riordan of The Pogues and Chris Byrne of Black 47 will join us for some songs. Lia Fail Pipes and Drums from Mercer County will kick off the evening. Pat McGuire, our old comrade from Spéir Mor and Paddy Reilly’s days will team up with Geoff Blythe of Black 47 to do a set; and my son, Rory K, the hip-hop artist, will jam the grooves with Celtic themes like Fresh Off The Boat – dear God how did I beget a rapper – perhaps it’s karma for Uncle Larry’s long-ago wild night in Manchester?

Whatever! See you at BB’s in Times Square when we mount that St. Patrick’s Night wild stallion one more time. Bring your spurs!

Larry Kirwan & Friends, BB King’s, 237 W. 42nd St. NYC  (212)997-4144     
Doors 6pm/Show7pm
Tickets: or at the door

Sunday 12 March 2017

Fanatic Ladies

It’s odd to see yourself in a movie, especially when you have no idea what’s coming next. Such was the case when watching a rough cut of Fanatic Heart recently.

In the course of 25 years with Black 47 I’d acted the clown in a number of MTV videos – hardly a great experience, since that pathetic medium emasculated Rock & Roll and left it the flaccid force it is today.

Still, I’ll be there with my popcorn tomorrow night March 2nd when Fanatic Heart (the Black 47 movie) premieres at Cinépolis Chelsea for Craic Fest’s Gala opening.

The directors, Vic Zimet and Stephanie Silber really captured the arc of the band. It is far from the usual musical puff piece as our only directive when they began filming 17 years ago was to “show it like it is.”

They didn’t stint on that – the passage of time is well commemorated in lined faces and graying hair – but who gives a goddamn considering the alternative? We all got out alive - more than can be said for many around us.

It was interesting to watch from the outside. From my perspective at the center of the cyclone it was all one big swirl of passion, fatigue, dissonance and delight in a continual battle to do exactly what we wanted.

One of the most interesting people interviewed was my sister from another mother, Mary Courtney. She was the woman’s voice on Livin’ in America, one of the band’s signature songs. 

I guess the reason she fit so perfectly is because we all came from the same Bronx music cauldron and shared many political views.

Watching her made me realize how interesting it would have been to feature the other women members of Black 47. What a cast of characters!

I first met Mary Martello while setting Caoineadh Airt Uí’ Laoghaire (The Lament For Art O’Leary) to music for a dance-theatre piece by June Anderson. Mary had never heard the Irish language or the great epic poem and yet she sang as though raised in a Munster Gaeltacht.

I used part of that performance for the intro to Big Fellah, our song about Michael Collins. Kurt Sutter, Sons of Anarchy creator, was so taken with Mary’s vocal he featured the track on the Lochan Mór episode gaining the band a worldwide audience. Mary continues to act and sing in the Philadelphia area.

I don’t know where I met Christine Ohlman. A Rock & Roll legend and singer with the Saturday Night Live Band, she’s often called The Beehive Lady on account of her spectacular bouffant! And what a voice – somewhere between Ronnie Spector and Janis Joplin! Take a listen to her on Black 47’s Blood Wedding where she channels the pain of Carlita, a Lower East Side woman caught in a crime of passion.

Some of you already know Celtic princess, Ashley Davis. I met her on her first night in NYC after a stint as sean-nós singer in a Michael Flatley extravaganza. A collector of rare songs when she’s not writing her own classics, her solo career is booming and, to top it all, she had the good fortune to marry a Bronx boy. She adds her haunting voice to Fatima, a young Muslim woman with a decision to make, on Black 47’s New York Town album.

Nora Shanahan showed up at our recording studio after a night on the town. She was one of the singers in New York’s great lost band, The Táin. Totally distinctive, she reminded me of a peroxide punked-out Bridie Gallagher. She was accompanied that morning by an entourage as well oiled as herself. But, man, when she lit into Bodhráns on the Brain, the room lit up. 

Bodharns is a rip-roaring fare-thee-well-sucker song about an Irish girl ditching her cool New York boyfriend for an “auld alcoholic bodhhrán maker.” I still laugh whenever I hear Norah ripping me apart and am delighted she found happiness back home in Ireland.

There were other ladies - just as distinguished - who sang with Black 47, God bless them. Perhaps they’ll show up at Cinépolis Chelsea tomorrow night. If not, see you there.