Black 47 (2004)

CELT IN A TWISTInterview Transcript

BLACK 47

album cover

New York Town (Gadfly Records)

As only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you'll live through the night.
Dorothy Parker (1893 - 1967) US author, poet, journalist, humorist
In "Esquire," (New York), Nov 1964.

Celt In A Twist:  Larry Kirwan, author, playwright, and Irish expatriate, has led Black 47 for 15 years.  The name Black 47 refers to 1847, the blackest year of the potato famine.  Did you choose that melancholy nomenclature because your songs often reflect the dark side of the Irish diaspora?

Larry Kirwan:  I don’t see Black 47 as being melancholy in the least.  To me it’s pretty akin to the Jewish saying “Never again”.  It’s more like a battle cry to me.  But yeah, we choose it because of what it meant and right from the get go we intended to reflect the political side of Irish music as well.  As the social and drinking side of it which seems to be the biggest part of it. 

CIAT:  I checked out your web site black47.com and discovered the latest Irish news.  Most ex-Irish musicians shy away from the political and yet you seem to embrace it, how is that?

Well, to me your political one way or the other.  By staying away from it, that’s making a political statement.  Too, But I was raised in a political background.  To me there’s a whole political dimension.  To the side of being Irish and to leave that out is just leaving out an important part of our culture.  To ignore 900 years of irish history especially if you‘re singing traditional songs or songs with a traditional background seems like you’re leaving a hole in the whole experience.

CIAT: I invite our listeners to check out the web site and the provenance of the musicians in Black 47.  Geoffrey Blythe played with the Fixx, Elvis Costello, and Dexy’s Midnight Runners.  Tell us a little bit more about the rest of the band. 

Larry Kirwan: Everyone came from a different background.  Fred Parcells came from a big band jazz latin background playing trombone.  I met him down on the lower east side where we used to play in improv bands.  Thomas Hamlin the drummer and I played in a new wave band that was kind of big in New York in the mid eighties called Major Thinkers.  He had kind of gotten out of music for a while and had veered towards African music. So when black 47 started it was just natural he would just get in there with the djembes and things like that.  Lately he’s been more of a trap drummer, but his influence would be African. Joseph Mulvanerty is a piper, various whistle players and bodhran player.  He oddly enough had a jazz background playing drums in high school jazz band.  And Andrew Goodsight the bass player has a really broad backghround in everything from Dylan to heavy metal.  Everyone brings a different experience to the band.

CIAT:  New York Town is the name of the newest CD.  How is it different from your previous work

Larry Kirwan: I couldn‘t even begin to say.  I thing the only difference would be that it’s devoted to one subject albeit that the subject is very huge in that New York has so many stories and so many different types of music.  But it was really an attempt to capture New York before 9-11, what it was like, and to show it after 9-11, what it is like now.  Really, what I was trying to do was to model it a little bit on what Dubliners, the book of short stories by James Joyce was.  If you read Dubliners you can get a picture of Dublin around the turn of the 20th century.  And I wanted to show New York because this is a particularly turbulent time here at the turn of the 21st century. 

CIAT: On the new CD, David Johansen a.k.a. Buster Pointdexter, sings "Staten Island Baby".  Was he the choice for this song because his old band was the Staten Island Boys?

Larry Kirwan: Actually the song came about because I wanted to write something for Hammie the drummer who is very much into big band drummers like Krupa and people like that so I wanted to do something for him. And of course the brass players were able to play in that style instantly and were very familiar with the Glenn Miller swing style.  And then when we were choosing different people to sing on the CD there was really only one person we could get to do it because David is like the king of Staten Island.  He also has this huge breadth of musical vocabulary.  And I just knew he’d fit in with the Black 47 way of doing things also.  You know, he’d make a perfect lead singer for the band (laughs).  Might as well shoot meself. 

CIAT: Roseanne Cash sings "Fiona's Song,".  She’s also an author, like yourself.  Do you find that you attract more complex personalities rather than those fun loving drink and fight celts?

Larry Kirwan: (laughs) I think we have a lot of fun loving drink and fight celts follow us, too. I think that the people we’d asked are attracted to the songs as well as the music.  To me I always have a problem with Celtic rock in general.  And I’m not running it down because we’re associated with it.  But I heard Fairport Convention. I heard Steeleye Span.  I heard Horselips.  And they did it for Celtic rock of that nature in the late 60s right up until the beginning of the eighties as it were.  So speeding up fiddle tunes and putting a back beat or a polka beat behind them just doesn’t do it for me because I’ve heard it so much.  But interweaving it with stories and bringing it up to the present.  Bringing it into what people are feeling now.  That’s what attracted me to Irish music or attracted me to what to do with it.

CIAT: As well as leading "the house band for New York City," you’ve written plays, a fantasy novel, Liverpool Fantasy, and even a children’s album, Keltic Kids.  What’s next for Larry Kirwan.

Larry Kirwan: (laughs) I’m going to get a good job and get out of this business.  I’m in the middle of a novel about the Bronx and the music scene that I came out of up there in the mid-eighties.  It’s an immigration novel called “Rockin’ the Bronx.”  I’m also putting together a book of the lyrics of Black 47 with a corresponding story for each one.  It’s kind of autobiographical that is.  And I’m working on another musical project that I’ll get to you when it comes out, I think you’ll like it.  But I don’t like to talk about that until it’s ready because it sometimes jinxes it, and somebody reads this three years down the road they say “How come you didn’t do that thing”

CIAT: Thanks For Doing This Larry.

Larry Kirwan: And if anyone wants to know more about the band, just go to black47.com and we’ll take you in if you’ve got no other band that you like.

Larry Kirwan was interviewed by Celt In A Twist host, Patricia Fraser.