Black 47 have certainly revolutionized Irish American rock with their political anthems, but I’ve always liked the more playful side of the band.
A Funky Ceili gathers 18 party songs from all stages of their raucous career ranging from MTV favorites “Maria's Wedding” and “Funky Ceili” to such hidden gems as “Oh Maureen” and the autobiographical “Uncle Jim.”
"Fans have long been demanding an all out party album but the idea took hold when, driving home from Boston, I couldn’t find a CD to keep me awake but thought of over 30 Black 47 songs that could do the trick,” explains lead singer Larry Kirwan. “And so -- A Funky Ceili."
It seems commonplace now to see Irish bands mix American music, but back in the early 1990s, the notion was akin to blasphemy.
Black 47's legendary musical eclecticism is featured with the punk of “I Got Laid on James Joyce's Grave,” the Klezmer of “Izzy's Irish Rose,” the swing of “Staten Island Baby,” the New Orleans Dixie-stomp of “Those Saints,” the tex-mex of “Bobby Fuller,” and the urban blues of “Sadr City.” Only a stellar band could shift gears like this!
I spoke with Kirwan about the memories brought on by this collection. Here’s how it went:
Why a party album?
Fans asked for it, plain and simple. I would always get this feedback that an album would be played at a party and then there would be a serious political song that would halt the good times (laughs).
This takes you from the beginning of the career right up through the present. I know you’re not someone who typically looks back, but in the case of a retrospective album, that’s exactly what you do. Did anything surprise you or jump out at you?
“Paddy’s Got a Brand New Reel” is off the first cassette we did. I hadn’t heard it in years.
We formed in 1989 and we recorded it that Christmas. I was knocked out at how original it sounded. We were original right from the start.
It still kinda jumps out at you -- a weird sound. The big hip-hop sound, overdriven guitar, kick drum programming and the pipes all coming together. Talking about the Bronx. It really sounded great.
That whole combination of our sound was nicknamed the “kick of death” by our sound guy at the time. I kinda fell in love with the track all over again.
I was wondering how I got that sound and then I remembered I stole Keith Richards’s amp! We were using a studio he was in. He was recording with the Xpensive Winos. I was having trouble getting a sound and I just borrowed his amp!
I was struck by how diverse your sound is. You hear it in the set list and you really hear it on this collection.
How did you pick what songs went into this collection?
It is amazing how many different styles of music we attempted. Hearing all these fast songs, there’s everything from swing on “SI Baby” to reggae of “Black Rose.”
As far as the mix, I tried to balance the familiar like “Funky Ceili” with some things you wouldn’t have known, like “Bells of Hell” from Elvis Murphy’s Green Suede Shoes. It just had this really chaotic feeling that reflected how that bar was. It came out exactly how it was -- drunk and stoned.
Last time we spoke was just before Bankers and Gangsters came out. How did fans like that album?
People thought it was one of the best albums we did. It was one of those classic Black 47 albums with different emotions.
Before that was IRAQ, which was a real high for me because the troops over there really loved it. It validated what we were doing because at the time, we got a lot of heat for it. When we have a soldier telling me “this is how it was,” it is extremely gratifying.
I remember producing this trying to record the feel of war...the coming and the going, the tension. With Bankers, you just let your brain go anywhere and try to go back to the Black 47 black humor side of the band. Fans loved it.
It was pretty thrilling to hear you play those great songs live. I loved Bankers myself. The band was as good as I’ve ever heard them.
Everyone in the band, without exception, is a truly great player. The strongest person of the night is the one that we all follow, so there is this virtuosity and taking chances and going out on a limb.
When one of us falls on our face, backing yourself out and creating new music is almost more interesting! We don’t care...everyone falls on their face at one point.
I read somewhere that Prince docked his band’s pay when they missed a note. You seem to encourage it! I think I’d be the one paying up more than anyone! I’d go broke if I instituted this. The Patti Smith Band reminded me on it. Some of the stuff they come up with is amazing.
Holding down the chords is a real challenge sometimes because the harmonies and counter melodies that are going on behind you -- sometimes there are five leads behind you.
Are the set lists reflective of the party mood on the album?
We are definitely designing set lists that are more uptempo. I write out a set before I start.
There’s so many songs we haven’t played live ever. It would be interesting to see this band play “Reel” now.
How is your Sirius Celtic Crush radio show?
It’s fantastic! The merger was great for us. I am wondering if XM (channel 18 on Sirius and 47 on XM) had more music lovers. Sirius was so focused on Howard Stern. It really doubled 7-10 a.m. Saturday morning and 11 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday nights. I get a huge amount of letters from new fans finding us on the new Sirius iPhone app.
Any new books?
The Heart Has a Mind of Its Own was a play that I did a while back that took place post-September 11. I am working on the book version of it.
Black 47 is playing Connolly’s Klub 45 on Saturday, February 19, and BB King’s Times Square on St. Patrick’s night. Check out www.black47.com.