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 fourth installment of the series about the creation of the Black 47 EP.
But first, an intro from Larry:
It's hard to imagine now what life was like musically back in 1992 when Black 47 EP was released.
Nowadays much of music is about sitting in front of your cell phone or computer and soliciting "likes." Back then it was all about being on stage live in front of an audience and blowing the hell out of whatever room you were in. It was about creating something out of nothing, and with Black 47 it was about doing so with different material every night.
It was about stretching parameters, both within yourself and the songs you were playing. Every night was different. Everyone in the band gave way beyond 100%.
We never cared about what the audiences wanted. In many ways, we were reinventing the punk ideal, but this time with Irish melodies infused with Reggae, Rock, HIp-Hop, and whatever was cruising New York City on those wild nights. We had top class management, a major record deal, growing audiences, and celebrities aplenty acclaiming us, yet cracks were beginning to appear.
But who had time to think of them? There was always booze, camaraderie and, most importantly, music to seal the deal.
I listened to Our Lady of the Bronx recently and was instantly transported back to wild and innocent Decatur Avenue with Ave Maria as a soundtrack. That's what 1992 and Black 47 EP was all about.
Black 47 EP
Our first major mistake was made - one, I might add, that made sense to me, at the time. EMI decided that, since we were such a unique and not easily pigeon-holed band, an EP of four or five songs should be released to introduce the American public and, more importantly, radio stations to our sound.
Since we had a surfeit of recorded tracks, the original idea was that Funky Céilí should be the lead track, supported by others that would not be used on Fire of Freedom. But, as time went on, various people in the company insisted that their favorite tracks be included.
So, eventually, Maria's Wedding (my choice for a first or second single), James Connolly, Black 47 and Our Lady of the Bronx were added. The latter was the only one that would not appear on Fire of Freedom - in retrospect, there should have been more.
But then, EMI was being run by a number of very headstrong people - some of them with years of experience in the business; Murad and Judy were beginners in the world of management, Elliot Roberts was in LA looking after Neil Young and I, for once, stepped to one side to let the record company do its job.
Then again, we were playing four or five nights a week, doing hundreds of interviews, getting our pictures taken for all the big magazines and so on and so forth and so fifth! And is there ever any point in crying over spilled milk?
The EP was released in November 1992 and immediately, to everyone's amazement including mine, Funky Ceili became the most requested song on the then-booming alternative radio format. EMI couldn't keep the EP in stores.
“Fire of Freedom,” because of fights over the content of the cover, would not be ready for release until March 1993. And so for those four months, while people tried to find the EP, Funky Ceili and Maria's Wedding were played off the air.
At this point, we felt like we were at the center of a cyclone. But due to management and record company not being prepared, much of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was wasted.
Of course, it's easy to see all this in hindsight. I definitely had no idea what was happening at the time. Suffice it to say, we were hotter than the hob of hell with no product in the store to boast of. Oh, we did sell the 50,000 of the EP that EMI managed to print up but we would have sold 10 times that amount of a full CD. I mean, who the hell buys EPs? I certainly don't!
But we were having a ball. People were clawing their way into Reilly's and any other venue where we showed our heads. We had no idea that the 3-month window of opportunity was slowly closing in front of us. The reviews were stunning. We were the Second Coming!
"Finally. Music that means something again!" Time Magazine trumpeted and many concurred. Most of the media were enchanted that we continued to play a hole in the wall on Second Avenue.
And we were getting better. There is no question that success improves you immeasurably. Confidence is hard earned but we were playing like demons now. People who had given us the finger a year before were now trying to bribe their way into the gigs.
Then it was March and Fire of Freedom was released. The reviews were magnificent and I assumed that the radio play would soon follow for Maria's Wedding, our second single. But no, the radio said they had already played the hell out of that from the EP, they wanted something different. The Brains Trust at EMI went into overdrive. Every song on the CD was considered and then Rockin' The Bronx was settled on.
These were minor details with us. We were burning up stages, receiving awards, playing Farm Aid before 60,000 people. We were being hugged by Kris Kristofferson and shaking hands with Neil Young and Johnny Cash. The world was our stage. We were on a bus hitting the country.
About 6 months late, I now realize. Ah, but what the hell! We were the toast of Letterman, Leno and O'Brien. Life was a blast! And then I get a call from Pete Ganbarg of EMI. What had I got in the song department? EMI had decided to shelve the single of Rockin' The Bronx (even though it had already been printed) and Black 47 were to get their asses into the studio as quickly as possible and make a new CD.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org with "Black 47" in the subject and we'll include them in Larry Kirwan's collected history.
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