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 ninth installment of the series about the recording of "Trouble in the Land." But first, a note from Larry's himself: 

I’ve always measured life in New York City as Pre-9/11 and Post-9/11.  This is the last CD before the event.   

I’m particularly struck by paragraph five where I praise digital outlets.  

Of course, there was no way I could know that the Dot.Com buccaneers would eventually stream music at a very reasonable monthly charge and thus destroy the income of most touring bands.  And so it goes.  

One memory I have of Trouble in the Land is the response from a label that was supposed to release the CD both in Ireland and the UK.  “Are you serious? With a cover like that people would think we’re supporting the IRA.” 

 The odd thing about the title song and the cover is that it was supposed to be a warning against White Nationalism and Racism in the USA.  

 - Larry Kirwan 

Read the first eight installments of this series here:


And so it came to pass, that lo and behold, the powers-that-be decided that Danny Goldberg should no longer be King of Mercury. To give him his due, he had warned me when we signed that his stay there might be of a somewhat short-lived nature. 

He wasn't kidding. And so we were given a copper handshake some months before his departure that enabled us to go on and record “Trouble in the Land.” Thank you, Danny. Good luck with your new label. Maybe, we'll join you there someday.

But, first off, let me digress a little and bring up a subject that we touched on in the last chapter - The Internet. It has been a true boon to bands like us. In our case, it has allowed huge amounts of people who love the band to get our CDs internationally. 

Because of all the publicity that we engendered over the years, many people were aware of the band and had tapes sent to them or picked up CDs themselves when visiting the US. And, of course, the CDs were released internationally - to a limited degree - during our sojourns at EMI and Mercury. 

However, we paid a big price for our political views in the UK which is the powerhouse for European distribution of rock music. By contract, both companies released our CDs in the UK but quietly deleted them as soon as the first pressing sold out.

However, the seeds were planted - cassette tapes passed from hand to hand - and when all our CDs were made available internationally through readily accessed outlets like cdnow.com and amazon.com, our fans returned to us and had, indeed, multiplied in the intervening years. 

Thus, we have been able to go beyond the multi-nationals who have strangled music for so long. Likewise, with Napster and the ability to download music:  Long may this technology live, say I. Daily, I get emails from people who have discovered the band through this medium. All I would ask is that you consider buying a CD after you download - which many of you already do.

But back to “Trouble in the Land!”  I had written about 18 songs and we were performing many of them live. A mutual friend introduced me to the great Jack Douglas, producer of John Lennon, Aerosmith and many more. Jack came down, saw the band, loved it and agreed to produce the next CD. We got on great and were looking forward to working with him but around this time our split from Mercury occurred. Our copper handshake didn't enable us to continue working with Jack but we remain friends and, who knows, maybe we'll work together someday. He's a beautiful and talented person - check out his pedigree - and would fit easily into the Black 47 extended family.

Although I had written a lot of songs for the new CD, I was feeling a bit down at the time. Johnny's death, the illness of family members and some other personal factors were on my mind. When I honestly evaluated my mood and drive, I decided that I wasn't the right individual to solely produce Black 47, at that time. 

One person jumped immediately to mind. Stewart Lerman! 

Stewart was a major fan and great appreciator of our music and had wanted to work with the band since before Fire of Freedom. When I broached the subject to him, he jumped at the opportunity and it was agreed that we would co-produce. His energy, enthusiasm, and friendship with each band member made this recording one of the most fruitful, delightful and, consequently, less onerous.

Nothing was a problem to Stewart. Being a road musician himself, for many years, he knew the particular stresses a band is under when it must record and play gigs at the same time. His manner was so easy going, humorous and empathetic that each band member gave him superb performances. 

Having just worked on “Live in New York City,” he immediately could sense all the strengths and liabilities of the band and could help maximize the former while minimizing the latter. For the first time since working with Ric Ocasek, I felt that I didn't have to be there all the time. I could stay home, on occasion, and let Stewart take the helm. 

And if something went down in my absence that I didn't like, well it was no big deal to do it again and Stewart didn't get huffy; in fact, he even welcomed the questioning. And so, our producing partnership moved along more than smoothly.

One of the things we gave thought to was my voice. While working on the leisurely “Keltic Kids,” I had begun to use the lower register again. Ever wonder why all the heavy metal frontmen sing in the Robert Plant style voice? Simple! They're trying to get over the volume of the band behind them. 

I had fallen into the same trap with Black 47. We are a loud band on stage. I've always liked to play with that driving rhythm that I first heard John Lennon and Bruce Welch of the Shadows use. And Hammy is no pussy when it comes to hitting the drums; hence, to the discomfiture of John Murray, Jon Carter and others of our great sound techs, Black 47 has always been stage loud and proud.

For songs like Tramps Heartbreak, Fallin' Off the Edge of America, Blood is Thicker Than Water, Susan Falls Apart, etc. we decided to drop them a tone or two from the keys they were written in, or begin in a lower octave and let the song slowly build as it progresses. That's probably the big difference of approach on this CD. We also consciously went for a rounder, fuller sound on the instruments. I think this contributed to the feel of Trouble. The playing is still as intense but with more emphasis on the sonic low to mid-levels.

I've always felt that each CD sounds very different. Apart from the fact that each song has a unique story, I think the sounds each producing team garnered from the band are quite individual. Contrast my Independent CD to Ric's “Fire of Freedom” - many of the same songs - but a world of difference in the sonic treatment. I'm not even talking about which I prefer. I like them both and value the differences but the important thing is that there are distinct differences. Listen to them for yourself. Compare the highs and lows of “Home of the Brave” to the "roundness" of “Trouble in the Land.” They are so different. And as the French say "Vive la difference!”

Anyway, back to Trouble. Things were still nebulous at Mercury when I got in touch with Stewart. We arranged to have him drop by for a few rehearsals, listen to the tunes, make some suggestions and then go in on an afternoon and cut about 15 of them for a demo. Demos be damned, thought I again. Let's at least do them in a good 24-track studio. You never know what's going to happen. (In Black 47's case, something always does). And so we went into Baby Monster Studio on good old 14th Street and did 15 tracks in five hours.

Black 47 on stage at Farm Aid in 1993. Image: Larry Kirwan.

Black 47 on stage at Farm Aid in 1993. Image: Larry Kirwan.

Forewarned is forearmed! Within days, we were label-less again. We decided to use these recordings as the basis for “Trouble in the Land.” I re-cut the vocals, we fixed up various instrumentals but the main recording was done in five hours.

Of course, Stewart and I put in many hours more fine-tuning and polishing; we both added a lot of acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards, particularly the Hammond organ. Some of the songs were easy to "fix" others, like Susan, almost broke my heart. But, in the end, it's a record I love, although, as with all of them, I'll probably never listen to it again.

With every Black 47 CD, I'm very aware that I'm competing with those that have gone before and I was delighted when so many songs from Trouble became quick favorites at the live gigs. It's always a very scary time for me. The thought of lowering the quality of Black 47's oeuvre is particularly troubling to me. Black 47 songs mean so much to so many people, it would be horrifying to drop the standard. For each song must tell a different story and each arrangement must bring out something new in the musicianship. That's the goal we set and, so far, I think we've held up the standard. Knock on that wood quickly for me as I am now in the midst of writing a new batch!

Some of the songs on Trouble are personal favorites of mine, particularly, Tramps Heartbreak. After writing the play, Poetry of Stone, about my Grandfather, I took one last draught from that well. As some of you are aware, I was raised by Thomas Hughes. He was a very old man when I went to live with him as a young boy but he gave me so much and I'm deeply indebted to him for my love of history and interest in politics. When it came time to break away from him, as all young people must from a powerful elder, unfortunately, I didn't do so in the most graceful manner.

Most Sundays we used to visit his friends around the country, traveling in his old blue Morris Minor, (ZR 5486). On our way home, we would often travel down the New Line (an almost straight road from Duncannon to Wexford town, constructed by the British Army at the turn of the century). Because of this unusual straightness, the locals called the road "tramp’s heartbreak." I've sometimes felt trapped on that same kind of metaphysical road myself. Add that to the regret of breaking up with someone you love and you have Tramp’s Heartbreak.

It's always been important to me that Black 47 progress musically. Now, I know that some of you would prefer that we stick to the Funky Céilí/Rockin' The Bronx pattern - for which we are best known - and I do enjoy that style too. 

But, the band that doesn't progress doesn't just stay in the same place - it moves backward. And so, Blood Is Thicker Than Water, allowed us to explore Gospel and R&B; Delirious finally let us do a full ska number; Susan Falls Apart - well, I'm not sure what genre you would call that but it's new for B47; Saints allowed us to mix traditional Irish with traditional New Orleans and Bobby Kennedy let us explore Motown rhythms, especially those of the Temptations. 

I'm sure there are other influences I'm missing but “Trouble in the Land” has moved the band on both musically and lyrically. I'm proud that the musicians of Black 47 make that jump so effortlessly and I'm grateful that most of you can accept these changes that are essential to us, as we continue on down our merry, if perilous, way. 

— 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 eight installments of this series here:

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