Sunday 23 October 2022

Turner & Kirwan of Wexford

 It’s not often you open your mailbox and find a picture of you taken 45 years ago, especially when it’s the cover of an album you’d recorded back in 1977 with your best friend.

It was like receiving a time capsule full to the brim with our attitudes, opinions, musical tastes, and so much more.

The album was Absolutely and Completely by Turner & Kirwan of Wexford.

It was the culmination of years of playing in dives, clubs, pubs, colleges, and even stadiums across the country.

To our surprise – and everyone else’s – Absolutely and Completely almost became a hit.

Back then radio wasn’t as strictly formatted as today. At many stations DJs could actually play what they liked; hence, a number of tracks from the LP became firm favorites on FM Radio.

Even in that bygone age of diversity Turner & Kirwan of Wexford was an unusual band – just two of us with our soundman, Neil Kempfer Stocker on Taurus bass pedals.

Pierce Turner doubled on clavinet and Moog synthesizer, all the while playing a high hat with his left foot. 


I played a heavily effected acoustic/electric guitar and hammered the hell out of a bass drum with my right foot.

We once got banned from New York City’s spacious Town Hall for being too loud, which says as much about our attitude as our volume levels.

Oddly enough, we were also banned from CBGB – an unheard of feat - though we were the first band to play the joint.

It was either feast or famine for T & K of W. Within a month of disembarking at JFK, a Radio City talent scout heard us at the nearby Pig and Whistle, and signed us for a weekly wage that made our eyes pop.

Alas, we never got to match steps with The Rockettes for we were unable to produce the requisite green cards.

Still, New York was our oyster - a paradise where you could rent an apartment in the East Village for 100 bucks a month.

Sure, it was a tad dangerous but who cared – there was so much happening musically, and we savored it all. Punk, Reggae, Folk, and Jazz blasted from club doorways, plus on summer evenings in Central Park you could thrill to Pavarotti and Bernstein.

Up in The Bronx, Durty Nelly’s, The Wagon Wheel, and The Village Pub hosted gigs 7 nights a week, while a couple of miles down the Concourse Grandmaster Flash was creating beats and anthems that would change the world.

It was a great scene and we were in the thick of it, mixing punk and classical riffs to tell stories about lonely priests, and traveling people, always with echoes of Wexford trailing behind.

In the DIY ethic of the times we made our own album. It was rockin’, psychedelic, orchestral folk, and very much us.

We thought we might pick up some random airplay, but lo and behold, WNEW, WLIR, and many other FM stations across the country added our songs.

The beat went on, the crowds got bigger, and our admirers ranged from Pete Seeger to David Bowie, Norman Mailer to Frank Herbert, Frank McCourt to Lester Bangs.

It didn’t hurt when Girl Next Door became the first rock song about lesbianism to get significant airplay – though when, Polydor, our Irish record company, listened to the lyrics, they promptly dumped our LPs into the garbage. The Island of Saints and Scholars apparently wasn’t ready for us.

In the meantime, our manager ordered us up to the Catskills to rehearse a 5-piece band that could capture the sound we’d created in the studio, but when we returned he had moved to the West Coast, and a promised US tour evaporated.

So we formed the new wave Major Thinkers, were signed to a major record deal and became the “next big thing” for a couple of months.

Eventually Pierce and I went our separate ways, and Absolutely and Completely became an LP collector’s item. But we never forgot it and its 1970’s uniqueness.

It’s just been re-released as a limited edition CD with lots of bonus tracks and can be purchased at

Though not for the faint of heart, it captures the spirit of 1970’s New York, and the dreams of two young men who did things their way - absolutely and completely.

Saturday 8 October 2022

A Not So Natural Disaster

 The ospreys were still diving in Long Island Sound in early October.  They’re usually long gone by now; it’s a hell of a journey to South America where many of them spend the winter months.

Then again, they arrived late this year, as did the piping plovers. I began to wonder if both species were victims of the extreme weather so common nowadays.

The egrets were a no show. Oh, there were sightings, but nothing like other years when the marshland would resound with their chatter around dawn.

Why does it matter? I guess I’ve come to rely on them. When all else is in turmoil, these birds provide constancy.

I’ve long ago given up on horseshoe crabs - though they’ve outlasted their dinosaur peer, their numbers in the Sound have dropped precipitously in the last decade.

Some say they’ve become victims of the pharmaceutical companies who use their blood to test the efficacy of various vaccines.

Perhaps, but I think the rise in temperature in local coastal waters has interfered with their mating process. 450 million years of courting come to an end – and on our watch too.

I can attest to the rise in temperature. When I first came to the Sound in 2000, I rarely even dipped a toe in the brine until mid-June and never felt totally comfortable until July 4th.

But for the last five or more years I’ve been taking the plunge in late May; at this rate I’ll soon be hopping in on May Day, fist in the air while humming a couple of bars of James Connolly.

I know what you’re thinking - another tree-hugger railing against rampant capitalism! And don’t you have enough to be worrying about already with the “fake news” daily harassing poor President Trump.

Sure isn’t the man frightened out of his wits with so many lefty lawyers serving suits on him down in Mar-a-Lago. He can’t even show his face in his beloved Trump Towers with bowsies the like of Malachy McCourt and John McDonagh ready to accost him, dare he step outside for a medium-rare cheeseburger.

President Trump makes no bones about it - climate change is a “hoax.” I wish to God he were right – I’d vote for him, and even wear one of his MAGA hats, if he could convince me that the polar caps are not melting to beat the band.

I know, no one you know has ever even seen a polar cap; besides The Jets are still a disaster, and hey, that last trip to the supermarket nearly bankrupted you!

But you do remember Hurricane Sandy, nearly 10 years ago? Sea levels have risen over an inch since then. Might sound like nothing  - until the next big wash comes surging into New York Harbor?

Global warming doesn’t stop just because we don’t give it the time of day. We’re burning fossil fuels like they’re going out of style. This produces large quantities of carbon dioxide that trap heat in the atmosphere leading to extreme and unstable weather.

But shouldn’t we be supporting the coal miners in West Virginia as Senator Manchin says? Of course, but there are only 11,000 left statewide in an industry that bequeathed its employees black lung among other illnesses.  

It would be far more economical in the long run to keep paying these hard working people their regular wage, while retraining them for positions in clean energy industries.

But let’s not be stingy: congratulations to all who helped pass the oddly named Inflation Reduction Bill, for it contained provisions that hopefully will reduce carbon emissions 40% by 2030. But is it too little too late?

The cost of cleaning up our current “natural” disasters is already huge. How many more will surface by 2030?

That’s why it’s important to note local changes and how they’re affecting the environment around us. Awareness may be the first step to both economic and social survival.

In the meantime, there’s much we can do: plant trees, use less heat and air conditioning, walk, bike, ride the subway and buses, reuse and recycle.

But most of all hold your politicians to account. Will they make the tough decisions needed to save the only world we know?

And hey, you Ospreys, shake a wing – it’s a long way to Venezuela and Brazil.