A long drive brings Larry Kirwan to formulate "something lively to keep my toe-tapping and brain engaged."
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 seventeenth installment of the series about the group's album "A Funky Ceili," released in 2011.
The previous installment in the series, "Larry Kirwan reflects on Black 47's album 'Bankers and Gangsters'" can be read here.
Below is a note from Larry Kirwan, written May 2020:
I don’t know why, but Black 47 could segue effortlessly through so many different kinds of music, Rock, Folk, Jazz, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jigs, Reels, Classical, Big Band, Middle Eastern... I guess this came from the legion of influences the members brought with them. We were all over the shop and loved to mess around and experiment – no doubt alcohol helped.
Likewise with the lyrics, I was born in Ireland but figuratively came of age on the multicultural Lower East Side of New York City. I’d traveled and read widely and took a little from everything that pleased me. Chris Byrne was an NYPD Detective who played the Uilleann Pipes, grew up in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Donegal, and developed a great interest in Rap and Hip-Hop. We were of the streets and our lyrics were deeply influenced by the wildness of NYC in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a lost world now but you can bring it right back by playing any Black 47 album.
The list of up-tempo Black 47 songs below is anything but comprehensive. It came from a late-night solo drive from Boston to NYC. It’s guaranteed to keep you awake. Drive on - Rock on!
A Funky Céilí Tracklisting
- Funky Céilí (Bridie's Song) (Kirwan) - 4:16
- Maria's Wedding (Kirwan) - 4:08
- The Bells Of Hell (Kirwan) - 4:37
- Losin It (Kirwan) - 3:50
- Paddy's Got A Brand New Reel (Kirwan) - 3:30
- Staten Island Baby (Kirwan) - 3:40
- Different Drummer (Kirwan) - 3:48
- Izzy's Irish Rose (Kirwan) - 5:31
- Oh Maureen (Kirwan) - 4:34
- Bodhráns On The Brain (Kirwan) - 4:02
- Who Killed Bobby Fuller (Kirwan) - 3:30
- Uncle Jim (Kirwan) - 3:42
- Black Rose (Kirwan) - 5:06
- Five Points (Kirwan) - 2:47
- Sadr City (Kirwan) - 3:22
- Czechoslovakia (Kirwan) - 4:43
- Those Saints (Kirwan) - 5:05
- I Got Laid On James Joyce's Grave (Kirwan) - 4:09
- Present: Joseph "Bearclaw" Burcaw, Geoffrey Blythe, Thomas Hamlin, Larry Kirwan, Joseph Mulvanerty, Fred Parcells.
- Past: Chris Byrne, David Conrad, Andrew Goodsight, Kevin Jenkins
- Tracks re-mastered at Righteous Sound, by Brother Stewart Lerman
Staten Island Baby by Black 47 featuring David Johansen:
The below was written by Larry Kirwan in September 2011:
I was driving back to New York City from Boston last winter. It was far too late to be undertaking that distance on your own but my road warrior genes wouldn't hear a word about staying over and leaving early in the morning. Lo and behold, I hadn't even passed Worcester when the sleep began to descend upon me. It was a cold night and I drove with the windows open; the radio was dismal, and every CD seemed to lull me even more towards the great good night.
Coffee helped for a short while and the big trucks nosing up behind put the fear of God in me but nothing would stop this bloody sleepiness! Cursing like a trooper I wished I had Rockpile, the Kilfenora Céilí Band, or some Zydeco or Reggae to hand – something lively to keep my toe-tapping and brain engaged. I wondered what Black 47 CD would do the trick – I didn't have one but just trying to recall which songs were on what albums got me to the exit off the Pike and onto 84 heading south to Hartford.
Then it struck me – what Black 47 songs would make up the best CD to keep a driver awake and aware? And at the same time I remembered a number of voices from down the years saying, "I love playing Black 47 CDs at a party until one of your long sad epics comes on and kills the whole atmosphere." With that I began to note the livelier songs. What a brain racker! As soon as I remembered the songs I'd sing them, arrange them in sequence, figure out what ones ran best into others. I pulled over on to the shoulder, found a piece of paper and a pen, and stormed off again into the night. Oh man, was I freezing from the open windows!
I jotted down the names of the songs as best I could without taking my eyes off the road. How in God's name do people text and drive? Before I knew it though, I had passed Hartford and was blazing on to New Haven. I knew what the first songs should be – Funky Ceili and Maria's Wedding were no-brainers. But nothing else seemed to fit in their wake until I hit on The Bells of Hell featuring Malachy McCourt's incisive voice. Then Losin' It because even with the gale blowing in and my fingers frozen, I was still only seconds from a deep sleep.
So many songs from my past came to mind including one by Major Thinker's, "Seconds Away from Overload" as a truck swerved past me but we'd never recorded it, so to hell with that! Why not go back to Black 47's first day in the studio with Paddy's Got a Brand New Reel. Man, that song still rings with ‘tude and sarcasm!
And then the lights of New Haven were behind me and I was on 95 - Tramps Heartbreak itself - and speeding past Bridgeport with David Jo blowing me out of the water on Staten Island Baby. How many times had the band performed Different Drummer – at least a thousand? Izzy's Irish Rose fit like a glove after Drummer but what then? Oh yeah– the Stones-like chords to Oh Maureen, a song Rod Stewart should have recorded.
Next up, Bodhrans on the Brain, one of our most popular songs in Ireland with the lovely Nora Shanahan ripping into me. Then Who Killed Bobby Fuller – after it became popular I used to get spooky phone calls late at night from the remnants of Bobby's entourage. And on it went until I saw the lights of The Bronx and I was singing Those Saints at the top of my lungs and remembering Johnny Byrne and Big John Murphy and all the friends of Black 47 who hadn't made it this far but would never be forgotten. And before I knew it I was racing down the FDR and bellowing out the words of James Joyce's Grave and I was near home and rejoicing that I'd wake up in my own bed later that morning.
It took more than a month to come up with a title that would encapsulate these various exercises in refined rowdiness but we finally settled on the right one and if you're on a long journey or you want to rip up a party, A Funky Céilí is your man.
What's next for Black 47? Who knows! We formed in October 1989 and thus have played across four decades. Can you believe it! One minute you join a band, twenty-two years later, you look back and wonder what hit you and where did the bloody time go. And all through it we lived with one mantra – "the future's uncertain and the end is always near." And so it goes…
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