Famed Irish folk band The Irish Rovers will bring their half a century touring schedule to an end at the conclude of their current 50th anniversary world tour.
Although not completely retiring from the music business or hanging up their performing boots for good, the group will play at various special events without undertaking any more ambitious touring plans.
The veteran folk band, formed by Irish and Scottish emigrants in Toronto, Canada, in 1963, have previously toured through Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada and as part of their farewell tour stopped off at the CelticFest in Vancouver from March 10 through to March 17.
Visiting all of the cities they’ve enjoyed playing over the years, the band will say their goodbyes to many of their concert-loving fans, as they decide they’re close to reaching the end of the road.
“The years creep up on us,” founding member George Millar told TheProvince.com.
“The bones get tired, the back is sore. We’re only doing six weeks. As you know, rock and roll is a young man’s game.”
“The band has never played better, never sounded better. It’s the actual touring we’re not doing. Not too many bands can say that they still like each other. You have to respect each other, you have to enjoy what you’re doing.”
“This year is ideal for us to finally say one last goodbye to everyone,” Millar continued.
“Nice to be able to share our 50th Anniversary with our old friends. Believe me, there were times I didn’t think we’d make it to 50, so I’ll be damned if we don’t make the most of it.”
Rising to fame with thanks to their self-named weekly Canadian TV show, The Irish Rovers once drew in such massive numbers that they beat out hockey nights in Canada!
But it was always performing live for their fans that the group loved the most, working hard to bring back fans to their concerts who they’d lost to the comfort of their TV screens.
“It took years and years,” Millar said.
“All you want to do is perform; you don’t want to deal with the business. It takes a lot of time; you have to be patient. But there are things you can do.”
And they certainly have a lot to show for all their patience, returning to the small screen for two more TV series and specials with a little more experience behind them, producing over 40 albums in North America, establishing their own record label in 1993 to distribute their records and market their DVDs, and opening the Unicorn pub, named after 1960s hit which started it all off for the group of musicians.
Beginning with the meeting of 16-year old George Millar and 23-year old Jim Ferguson, both recent immigrants, at an Irish function in Toronto in 1963, the group began to tour and released their first album. It was a little song for children, “The Unicorn,” on their second album, however, that would capture the imagination of the Canadian audience and by 1968 The Irish Rovers were named Canada's “Folk Group of the Year.”
Such was their success that Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau (Snr) himself asked them to become Canadian citizens so they could represent the country, despite the fact that much of their original music focuses on the themes of Ireland and immigration.
The folk group would go on to represent Canada at five world Expos - Montreal (1967), Osaka, Japan (1970), Okinawa, Japan (1976), Vancouver (1986), and Brisbane, Australia (1988).
After several shake-ups over the years, the current Rovers - Wilcil McDowell from Larne, Co. Antrim; Sean O’Driscoll from Cork; cousins Ian and George Millar from Ballymena, Co. Antrim; Geoffrey Kelly from Dumfries, Scotland; Fred Graham from Belfast; Morris Crum from Carnlough, Co. Antrim, and Gerry O’Connor from Dundalk, Co. Louth - are not finding it easy to leave it all behind and are still booked right up until 2020 despite their lack of touring.
“This retirement could take a long time,” Millar said. “We’re going to be like Cher: she’s on her fourth farewell tour, this is only our first.”
The Irish Rovers Farewell Tour concluded in British Columbia on March 20. You can find more info on their remaining Canadian dates here.