The VIP balcony was like a CBGB punk pioneer reunion, with rock and roll hall of famers like Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz of Talking Heads catching up with old friends like Richard Hell of the Voidoids, the Stranglers, and Bebe Buell (model and mom to Liv Tyler, one of Steven’s kids).
In the middle of it all was Larry Kirwan and the lads from Black 47, who played a blistering set of old and new songs to honor their old friend.
“Joey Ramone was one of the most gentle men I have ever met,” Kirwan recalls. “He always used to come to the gigs we did at Paddy Reilly’s and was an early supporter of what we did.”
The feeling was mutual. In between a spirited 30-minute set that included the new “Celtic Rocker” from their CD Bankers and Gangsters and “Rockin’ the Bronx,” Kirwan recalled his first Ramones show from the stage.
“I might be the only person in this room that caught their first show ever at CBGB,” he said. “The bartender turned to me with worry that with their black leather jackets they might be fascits. ‘Nah, I said. They look like Jews from Queens!’”
The line got a huge laugh. A political nod in the song “Who Killed Bobby Fuller” prompted me to ask Kirwan what he thought of the Queen’s visit in Ireland last week.
“Having written songs like ‘James Connolly,’ ‘Black 47’ and ‘Bobby Sands MP,’ I was skeptical about the visit,” he says. “Still, I had always been careful to separate the attitude of the British establishment from that of the regular British person in regard to Irish politics and history.
“I'd always admired certain parts of British culture, for instance the music of John Lennon and the novels of Graham Greene. In other words, I blame the establishment for the crimes committed against the Irish people.
“When the leader of that establishment comes over and basically apologizes for its behavior and visits both the Garden of Remembrance and Croke Park, the symbol of Bloody Sunday, I have to break with a lot of old friends and colleagues and say two things – ‘it's about time’ but also ‘well done.’
“Beginning with Tony Blair's apology, I think there's a genuine desire to acknowledge past wrongs and turn the page. It's hard for many of us to forget the past but to my mind there's no point in poisoning the future with such memories.”
Like any road warrior, Kirwan is looking at the next gigs this Memorial Day weekend. He’ll be playing East Durham’s Irish Festival May 27-28 and the venerable Blackthorn Resort, which has literally risen from the ashes after a tragic fire a while back.
Most folks head for the mountains or the shore for the holiday and Black 47 is no exception. They’ll finish their holiday at the world famous Stone Pony in Asbury Park on Sunday May 29.
“We've done a show or two every year at the Stone Pony since 1992, I believe,” he says. “I've always loved the Shore and particular Asbury Park, maybe because it's had its ups and downs, Black 47 always seemed to fit in effortlessly.
“There's something about great rooms -- Tipitina's in New Orleans and Toad's in New Haven spring to mind. The room adds some ineffable quality to your music. Perhaps, it's because so many great bands have played there before you. Whatever it is, there's always a magic in the air when Black 47 hits that Stone Pony stage.”
For more information on the band, log onto www.black47.com