We're back with Black 47's Larry Kirwan. Check with IrishCentral every second Sunday as we cover the history of the iconic band album by album. You can find the whole series here. 

In the coming weeks and months, Kirwan and IrishCentral will look back album by album on the history of Black 47 and their rise to fame. Below is the sixth installment of the series about the creation of "Green Suede Shoes."

But first, an intro from Larry: 

All of these editions of the History of Black 47 were written at the time, usually soon after recording an album – hence the present tense employed sometimes.  

In this case, we’re in the 1995-97 period, shortly after the Home of the Brave album with EMI and right before the creation of Green Suede shoes for Mercury.  

A shout out to our friends, Brian Mór who designed the cover of Green Suede Shoes, and George Kornienko who was with the band through all these blistering years – both have passed away since.  

- Larry Kirwan, 5-15-19

Read the first five installments of this series here:

GREEN SUEDE SHOES

I was sick of the whole idea of co-producing Black 47 albums by this stage. I wanted to get back in the studio and do what the band did best - just play live.

And that's what we did.

Most of the tuning problems that arose recording Home of the Brave just evaporated, and we concentrated on the songs. Some of my favorite Black 47 songs were on this CD - Bobby Sands MP, Change and Vinegar Hill. I wanted to also feature the toughness and character of the band and the natural cohesion that we display on stage and we succeeded. The CD was recorded for a budget of about $20,000, about 7% of the cost of Home of the Brave.

The truth is, that despite any difficulties in recording, I like all of the band's CDs. I'm constantly asked which is my favorite. And I don't have one. To me, they sound very different but I'm equally fond of them all. For, in the end, they are all just collections of songs, stuck together in some way to make a coherent whole. That might sound unromantic but it's the truth.

With Black 47, I've never had the opportunity to think in terms of a concept album, such as Sergeant Pepper (one of my favorites). No, Black 47 CDs are always hammered out song by song; usually, we record more than we need and then winnow the whole thing down to a manageable 12 or 13. Indeed, the CDs may not even contain the best songs - some technical error may have occurred and a song scrapped, never to be re-recorded. For whatever reason, looking back is often painful; anyway, the future is always hammering on the door.

The fact that we continue to play gigs during the recording often leads to a state of fatigue which tends to obscure all objectivity. But that too is the nature of Black 47. Everyone needs the money from gigs to survive, so the question of sequestering ourselves in a studio and arguing out the pros and cons never arises. Perhaps, if that were the case, the CDs would be a bit more polished, but I don't know. We're rough diamonds and so are our recordings; besides, each one seems to pass the test of time. I never listen to our CDs - but I DO hear them on jukeboxes and am always pleased that the song and the passion embedded in it still shine through. Besides, how many people really sit and critique the sound of a bass or a snare drum? A good song endures - while a recording influenced by the fashion of the day often seems ludicrous later on. What constitutes a good song? Well, that's a topic for another time.

Speaking of bass. During this period we picked up the inimitable Andrew Goodsight. Let's go back to a snowy night in Providence, RI. We were playing The Strand - a massive old theater. It's since closed down and was a very impressive, but quite a scary, place.

Providence has always been one of our strongholds. No, it's not the city that's scary. Rhode Island, with its miles of sea line, is one of my favorite states - but the dressing rooms of this club were at least a hundred feet up above the stage. Think about that as you clamber down with a few belts inside you and the strobe lights flashing.

Still, it was a blistering show and the promoters insisted that we take the extra three cases of dressing room Guinness home with us. No problem! However, the weather forecast was ominous - a snowstorm sweeping up I-95. It never occurred to us to stay over. No, with George Kornienko sober and at the wheel, and us with three cases of the hard in the back, we went for it.

Now usually after a gig, we're in great form and whooping it up in the van and this was no exception. Kevin Jenkins, our bass player, was in a rare mood and regaling us with stories of life on the road. Around Lyme, CT. the snow hit and we slowed down. The talk had turned to favorite bands and T Rex was mentioned. We were trying to remember how Mark Bolan met his Maker when all of a sudden Chris shouted, “Look out!” and we were flying around the van, as it hit the intersection, rolled over on its side, straightened up and turned over one more time into the ditch.

Like idiots, we didn't have our belts on and we floated around that van like rag dolls in a surreal rugby scrum. I ended upside down with Kevin's considerable black ass lying astride me. It was a scary few seconds that seemed to go on indefinitely. As we tried to right ourselves, I was sure my neck was broken. We were all bruised and battered as we tried to crawl out. At that moment, a car came slithering round the bend, hit us full on and we were thrown around once again, for good luck.

Finally, we did get out into the snow. Discombobulated but practical as ever, Fred grabbed a case of Guinness, seeking to hide the evidence, but it was too late. The other two cases were exploding like geysers on good old 95. With cars and trucks careening around the corner, we lit out for the hills.

What a sight! Jenkins looked like an Old Testament Prophet, the snow settling on his dreads. Hammy was searching frantically for his glasses. I met a dazed Fred hiding his case of Guinness up in the woods (I guess it's still there if the thirst ever hits you in CT.).

The troopers were on the scene instantly and we couldn't figure it - later we realized that we'd crashed almost on their front lawn. And yes, one of them was a Black 47 fan, as the song says, and uttered the immortal lines, “it’s a pleasure to meet you, Black 47!”  

The van was wrecked, the windows smashed, glass everywhere.  We were taken into the hospital. My neck wasn't broken, but ribs badly bruised (I felt pain until the following September). And eventually, we took the commuter train home to NYC. What a sight! The six of us, battered, moaning, exhausted and depressed, mingling with the rush hour commuters.

Image: Larry Kirwan.

Image: Larry Kirwan.

The upshot of all this was that Kevin decided that he'd had enough of "the luck of the goddamned Irish. Stick around with you mothers and I'll be history in a year!" He went back to playing with Cyndi Lauper and now leads the band of Enrique Iglesias. He still remains a great friend, a nail-em-to-the-wall bass player and we have a chuckle about "the good old days" when we meet. (I think we remind him of how lucky he is to be alive). And so, enter Mister Goodsight.

We weren't in a mood to rehearse and our next gig was in Atlanta. Andrew joined us there - I don't know how he learned the songs, maybe he didn't - and has been with us ever since. When was that? 1995/96? Oddly enough, on that first night in Hotlanta, coming from a late night party in the cold rain, the van was run into by a car whose driver had fallen asleep. No one was hurt. Welcome aboard, Andrew. Long may you flourish!

Andrew's musical riffs added greatly to Green Suede Shoes. One other remembrance of that recording: listening to Séamus Egan of Solas lifting the title track to another level. Many people wonder about Séamus' musicianship. He's probably the closest thing to a genius that we have on the Irish scene. Check out his playing on any Solas album. I think it's his timing that sets him apart. He can shake a melody around effortlessly within a four-beat bar. Talk about playing in the pocket. Listen to the jaunty spring in his banjo on Green Suede Shoes and his flute on Different Drummer.

The recording of Mo Bhrón was also magical. Mary Martello is a very dear and old friend. She is an exceptional actress, singer, and person. Hers is also the voice on The Big Fellah and Our Lady of the Bronx. I love working with her as she is so fearless. She's never even heard Gaelic being spoken but has an uncanny feel for the sound of words and can always summon up the appropriate passion to bring those words to life. I write out the text phonetically, explain what it's about and then she just lets her voice, musicianship and womanly ways interpret it.

We did that track in one take – Mike Fazio on effected guitar, me playing synthesizer but in reality just trying to stay apace with Mary’s passion. For me, in an odd way, Mo Bhrón sums up all the pain, hope, longing and loss in emigration. I hope you're well, Mary, and still thrilling all those who come in contact with you.

When the recording was finished, I delivered it to our lawyer, Richard Grabel who sent it off post haste to Danny Goldberg at Mercury Records. Now Danny had thought of signing the band when he was with Atlantic and I had always had a good relationship with him. The next day, he called and said that he cried as he listened to Bobby Sands MP; he hadn't cried in some time, and that was a good enough reason to sign anyone. Seemed like a good enough reason to me too. And so, we joined our second major label.

I still like Danny a lot. But being with Mercury Records was no walk in the woods. Danny might have loved Black 47 but most of the other people up there seemed to think that we dropped down fully formed from Alpha Centauri. They just didn't know what to make of the music or what to do with us.

I found this puzzling. Black 47 might be original but, for Christ's sake, the songs have a beginning, middle, and end. It's not like we're Van De Graf Generator (one of my all-time favorites! Where are you now, Peter Hamill, one of "rock's" great songwriters) Of course, at that time, Mercury's hottest act was Hanson and it does take a stretch of the imagination to picture us in their rarified stratosphere.

Back then too, I didn't know the nitty-gritty of what was going on inside the label. Danny had also dropped down out of the sky and been made boss only months before. He brought along a lot of his own people and there was wholesale resentment within. The things you learn in retrospect!

Still, it was a major label with great international distribution and we were heard all around the world, particularly in Australia where we got major play.  We got great reviews, but the radio was getting even tighter in the US. Still, Green Suede Shoes was huge with our fans and brought us many new ones, the title track made a big impact on college radio, songs like Bobby Sands MP added to the legend and as the guy says "That's the story so far of Black 47.”

But it wasn't. The story went on. Rip-roaring gigs and a whole new crowd. I don't know why we picked up so many new young fans. We definitely weren't getting any younger ourselves. But there they were coming to see us at shows all over the country.

Was it because the CDs were lying around people's houses and kids were picking them up and discovering their own favorite songs? The kid who was 12 when Funky Céilí came out was now 16 or 17 and turning on his and her friends to the band. Or was it because there was just nothing much else out there of significance?

I don't know but around 1996-97 our audiences changed. As often happens, your original following grows up, gets married, still is into the band but with the first child coming along, can't get out to gigs anymore. Chris Byrne and I had laughed about becoming the voice of the New Irish in America but now we were, without any effort, fast becoming the voice of young Irish America. We were invited to all their colleges, Notre Dame, BC, Manhattan, Iona, Holy Cross, etc and we continue to play for them. They are our base and when they go home to their towns and cities all over the country, they bring their CDs with them and spread the word about the band that was rocking their college dorms.

Round about this time, we did the infamous St. Patrick's Day gig at The Academy on 43rd St. in Manhattan. St. Patrick's Days are usually a blur for us. We play non-stop for a month beforehand and then are hit with the amazing wild energy of the day itself. I've often equated it to being on the back of a wild stallion. You go with it or else get thrown off. Many bands have to stoop to trotting out the usual blend of fast Irish songs, just to stay abreast of things.

Luckily for us, songs like Funky Céilí, Rockin' The Bronx, Livin' in America, etc have become synonymous with St. Patrick's Day in the US. That gig at the Academy was particularly good. Some nights you just have it and nothing can go wrong. Other nights you're swimming upstream, waiting for "the moment" to come. (It comes eventually at a Black 47 gig, but now and then you have to fight like a dog for it - often a mistake - better to relax and trust in the songs, they never let us down).

It was the encore, the lights were flashing, the crowd was going crazy, the dance floor pulsing and we were doing Maria's Wedding. Suddenly, there was a strange smell - rather like too many firecrackers going off at once. I never heard the sound, although others say they did. Someone came out on stage and said something to me. I just smiled back. Then another person ran out, looking very worried. You have to remember that this is something that often happens when the crowd gets going and the mosh pit is erupting. Management, promoters, owners always seem to want to throw their weight around. But, from my perspective, once we hit that stage, we are the ones in control. The show goes on, no matter what, and no one but us is going to stop it!

Finally, Josh Cheuse came out. Now he is a close friend - he designed the covers of Home of the Brave and many of The Clash albums - and someone I trust. He looked shocked and had blood all over his clothes. At that point, I knew something had gone terribly wrong but the audience was still jumping around to the song. He said there had been a shooting on the balcony right next to him and I definitely became fearful. Ever since the British gutter press had pronounced us "the musical wing of the IRA," we had been wary of some kind of attack.

But, to my dismay, I could see that the side-exit doors of the Academy were not, as yet, open. I knew that if we stopped playing suddenly there would be a rush for the small front door – and that would have been catastrophic on that particular packed night. I told Josh that we couldn't leave the stage until the management opened the side doors. And so we played on for another couple of exceedingly long minutes.

Now everything looked ominous - particularly the balcony - and the smell of cordite was cutting right through the fumes of Guinness. Eventually, after the side doors were opened the lights came up. We finished the song, in an orderly manner, and people filed out onto the street unaware of the drama that had just happened above them. It was some minutes later before we found out that an off-duty member of the NYPD had accidentally shot himself, and that members of our families had been wounded in the shooting.

— Larry Kirwan

Do you have any photos of going to see Black 47 or any memories of their shows that you'd like to share with us? Send them to editors@irishcentral.com with "Black 47" in the subject and we'll include them in Larry Kirwan's collected history. 

Read the first five installments of this series here:

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Black 47 playing live. Larry Kirwan