Larry Kirwan discusses how 25 years on the road led to Black 47's new compilation album, "St. Patrick's Day Party"
Editor's Note: In the coming weeks, Larry Kirwan and IrishCentral will look back album by album on the history of Black 47 and their rise to fame. Below is the thirteenth installment of the series about "St. Patrick's Day Party," the band's latest compilation.
Below are Larry Kirwan's words, written March 6, 2020:
One of the ambitions I had during the 25 years on the road with Black 47 was to put together a definitive St. Patrick’s Day collection. No matter where we were on the road, we always returned to New York City for a big St. Patrick’s Night gig. The very first one Chris Byrne and I played as a duo at the very ritzy The Water Club in Manhattan. I don’t really remember it that well as I think we may have played a couple of afternoon gigs in less salubrious settings but I don’t think it went that well. I’m not sure The Water Club was ready for Paddy’s Got A Brand New Reel although even then Funky Ceili had everyone dancing.
Within a year, we were well known in New York and were playing bigger, and more suitable, venues. And so it went for 25 years. The 16 songs I chose for this “new” CD tend to focus on some of the battle-hardened songs that we played regularly. Because we were touring constantly we needed to release new CDs frequently to get media attention, and that led to us recording a lot of songs. Thus we had a really big repertoire of original material. As we rarely rehearsed these songs tended to develop over the years as band members stretched and added to the arrangements. Sometimes too because we hadn’t played a song in a while we’d have forgotten the original arrangement and would have to improvise just to get the song over the line. During the St. Patrick’s Day season we would play many gigs beginning around the first week in February – so by the time we got back to NYC for the big gig – and usually a national television appearance that same night - we were running on fumes – usually alcohol.
There are three live versions of St. Patrick’s Night shows at Wetlands (1998 and 1999) – The Reels, and I Got Laid on James Joyce’s Grave, but take a listen to Those Saints. It’s one of the story songs about the band and what was going on in our lives at that time. The others are Rockin’ The Bronx (included here also) and Green Suede Shoes. I recently played Those Saints on Celtic Crush (my SiriusXM show) and was staggered by the memories.
The years 1996-1997 were traumatic, to say the least. Our former recording engineer, and dear friend, Johnny Byrne was seriously injured in a fall from my apartment fire escape while we were playing the Dublin Ohio Irish Festival.
Another very close friend, Big John Murphy from Co. Wexford, was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident in New Orleans (both passed away soon after) and there was an infamous shooting at our St. Patrick’s Night Gig at The Academy in Times Square. A young policeman was killed and two of our entourage injured.
Around the same time, we were also very lucky to escape death in a serious van crash returning from a gig at The Strand in Providence, RI on Route 95. The band felt the only way to deal with this succession of disasters was to “celebrate” them in a New Orleans fashion with the song Those Saints.
Life on the road can be tough but there was always a celebratory vibe to Black 47. We felt we were representing immigrants from all walks of life who came to the US and survived, or succumbed, to a lot more tragedies than we did. I tried to keep the political content of this CD to a minimum but as I soon realized – to be Irish is to be political. Thanks to all the musicians who played on these tracks and to David Johansen for his amazing contribution to Staten Island Baby! But especially, thanks to all the people who came out to celebrate St. Patrick’s Night with us down the 25 years of our career. These songs are for you.
St. Patrick's Day Party tracklisting
- Funky Ceili (Bridie’s Song)
- Celtic Rocker
- St. Patrick’s Day
- Maria’s Wedding
- Salsa O’Keefe
- Culchie Prince
- Staten Island Baby (with David Johansen)
- The Reels
- James Connolly
- Five Points
- Rockin’ The Bronx
- Johnny Comes A Courtin’
- Izzy’s Irish Rose
- Those Saints
- Paddy’s Got a Brand New Reel
- I Got Laid on James Joyce’s Grave
Those Saints by Black 47
St. Patrick’s Day Party is available in CD form (limited amount) and in download form at Black47.com. You can also download it at iTunes, Amazon, and all streaming platforms.
Have you been to a Black 47 St. Patrick's Day show before? Tell us about it in the comments!
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