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 sixteenth installment of the series about the group's album "Bankers and Gangsters," released in 2010.
Below is a note from Larry Kirwan, written May 2020:
After the tumult surrounding the Iraq album, it was a relief to record Bankers and Gangsters in the summer of 2009. But as the album’s title suggests all was not well in the good old US of A. People’s lives had been destroyed due to the greed and avariciousness of the major players in the financial community. But I remember the recording sessions with Brendan Muldowney at The Carriage House, Stamford CT on warm sunny days as being fun and creative. The band was in powerful form and Christine Ohlman (The Beehive Queen), Kathleen Fee of Celtic Cross, and the fabulous Screaming Orphans added a real spark and sparkle to the recordings.
It’s one of our most well-balanced albums with a real feel of summer oozing from it – why wouldn’t it with tracks like Long Hot Summer Comin’ On, That Summer Dress, and Celtic Rocker. It was a joyful album in the midst of the Great Recession and it marked 20 years on the road. What a long strange trip it had been.
Bankers and Gangsters Tracklisting:
- Long Hot Summer Comin' On (Kirwan) - 4:05
- Celtic Rocker (Kirwan) - 5:57
- Bankers and Gangsters (Kirwan) - 4:49
- Izzy's Irish Rose (Kirwan) - 5:31
- Rosemary (Nelson) (Kirwan) - 3:56
- That Summer Dress (Kirwan) - 5:10
- Red Hugh (Kirwan) - 7:14
- Wedding Reel (Kirwan) - 4:51
- One Starry Night (trad) - 5:58
- Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix (Kirwan) - 6:19
- Yeats and Joyce (Kirwan) - 4:57
- The Islands (Kirwan) - 4:34
- Bás in Éireann (Kirwan) - 5:10
- Geoffrey Blythe: Tenor and Soprano Saxophones
- Joseph "Bearclaw" Burcaw: Bass, Vocals
- Thomas Hamlin: Drums
- Larry Kirwan: Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
- Joseph Mulvanerty: Uilleann Pipes, Flute
- Fred Parcells: Trombone, Vocals
- Johnny Mantagnese: Percussion
- Vocals: Tracks 3, 4, 6, 13 Screaming Orphans; track 8 Kathleen Fee; tracks 5, 13 Christine Ohlman
- P2 Tour Manager
- Joey "Knobs" Juntunen: Production Manager and Live Sound
- Tom Schneider: Keeper of the Digital Flame
The below was written by Larry Kirwan in September 2010:
Joe Burcaw joined the band in November 2006. New members always bring a rush of energy, "Bearclaw" especially so. In his own words he had been a fan, so to get onstage and add to the mix was a dream come true. He recorded IRAQ with us but came more into his own on Bankers and Gangsters helping to define the new songs immediately after they were written.
Black 47 has a unique way of rehearsing. For the most part, we don't! I bring the words, melody, and main instrumental line of a new song to soundcheck. Our job then is to stitch these pieces together into a cohesive entity as quickly as possible, run it a couple of times, then perform the "finished" song later that night during the show. That takes a large measure of daring, musicianship, and self-confidence from every member.
The process can be exhilarating or just plain puzzling for the audience, but what we're really trying to do is get from point A to Z without falling on our faces. With that accomplished, it's amazing how improved the song will be by the next performance. Just knowing that you got through it once in front of an audience, seems to breathe life into a song in a way that hours spent in a rehearsal studio won't. From then on each member is able to refine their parts to their own satisfaction but an enormous hurdle has been cleared. All of the songs on Bankers went through that process.
As a writer, the process of creating Bankers was very liberating after IRAQ. That album had a very concentrated worldview whereas Bankers was like an open book. In a way, it was a return to earlier albums like Fire of Freedom or Green Suede Shoes - mixtures of the political and rowdy with a sprinkling of the more introspective. I was particularly interested in adding some comic story songs to our repertoire and took some time to polish The Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix and Izzy's Irish Rose.
Then again, I suppose Izzy is political in its own way – I've always regretted the distance that's opened between Irish and Jewish people. One of the joys in coming to New York was being introduced to the richness of Jewish culture. The two communities have moved apart in the last 60 years, probably because of Israel's policies and no longer having Britain as a common enemy – but I'll never forget the kindness shown me by the American Jewish community. Izzy is a small attempt to bridge a useless gap through the black humor common to both cultures.
To my mind, Red Hugh O'Donnell is one of Black 47's premier songs. He had been a boyhood hero but I could never quite nail him in a song. His time and sensibility seemed too distant. Then came the war in Afghanistan. I based Red Hugh's personality somewhat on Ahmad Shah Massoud, the assassinated leader of the Northern Alliance. How strange that a fundamentalist Catholic and Muslim could share so many traits and influences across the centuries. Though very different in structure, this homage to Red Hugh shares some characteristics with the song Too Late To Turn Back from Home of the Brave. Both deal with the paranoia of those living on the edge.
I first heard an old tinker (traveler) man sing a rough version of One Starry Night when I was a boy back in Wexford. It left a deep impression. I always wondered what happened to Molly Bán, the heroine of the song. And so I added a new melodic introduction and a bridge that gave more clues to her fate. Joseph Mulvanerty's Uilleann pipes and Geoffrey Blythe's soprano sax catch all the loneliness and despair of a woman with two lovers in a life beyond her control.
Hammy and Bearclaw really nailed the funk of Rosemary (Nelson) and the title track to the floor. It was a thrill to lay a guitar down on top of their greasy grooves. The whole band had a blast on the caustic Celtic Rocker, a mixture of raucous Kinks and crazy Céilí jam.
I'm especially fond of the last three songs. Yeats & Joyce captures Times Square and all the great nights Black 47 has had there. While, Fred's lovely trombone solo lights up the loss of The Islands. Bás in Éireann (Death in Ireland) is from Transport, the musical that Tom Keneally and I have been writing for many years. The song deals with the Australian-Irish experience and the longing of emigrants to be buried back home.
My sister Anne passed away while we were recording the album. There was a deadline to finish and get it to the record company, and as ever there was a need to have a new CD to tour with over the St. Patrick's Day season. I still deeply regret that I didn't go to the funeral. It all seems so obvious in retrospect but it's rarely so in the thick of things with money pressures and the task of keeping a band in work and together. This album is for you, Anne. — Larry Kirwan
Praise for Black 47: "Bankers and Gangsters"
One of the great things about Black 47 is their ability to get their political points across without coming across as preachy; ultimately, Bankers and Gangsters is a fun album. Black 47 are hardly a bunch of new age Polyannas who see the world through rose-colored glasses -- hell, the band's name was inspired by the horrors of the Irish Potato Famine -- but even when they delve into dark or troubling subject matter, they have a way of encouraging hope rather than despair. With the excellent Bankers and Gangsters, Black 47 remind us that substance and a sense of fun are by no means mutually exclusive. — Alex Henderson AllMusic
Bankers and Gangsters reels and rollicks over the whole stretch of biting, comical, political, immigrant-laced terrain the band has owned for 20 years. They cast a punk-Proustian eye on the heady lost days of late-1970s New York on "Long Hot Summer," then, on "Celtic Rocker," give a sarcastic yet amiable wink to the tatted plastic Molly now moshing in the front row. Still, it's the title track that reigns supreme, with its resplendent backing vocals chiming mock celebration on the chorus: "Bankers and gangsters, soldiers and dancers/All locked together in default harmony." Finally, bankruptcy and malfeasance is fun again! — Matt Marshall Cleveland Scene
Flogging Molly and The Frames are fine, but if you want to do St. Paddy’s Day right this year, then get yourself a copy of Black 47’s righteous new album, Bankers & Gangsters.
While other Irish-inclined outfits are content to apply an emerald gloss to their rock or folk leanings, Black 47 takes no prisoner with its stormy mix of Celtic punk, Clash-city rockers, elegiac anthems and incendiary odes. - Bill Forman Colorado Springs Independent
Bankers and Gangsters opens majestically with “Long Hot Summer Comin’ On,” a rock and roll novella about the CBGB scene in the eighties where Kirwan had a ringside seat. The band flexes their formidable musical muscles throughout the disc, most notably on “Izzy’s Irish Rose,” a hilarious tale of interfaith temptations that finds the band juggling both Irish reels with snippets of “Hava Nagila” without missing a beat. The band is capable of whipping up whiplash for the listener as they swerve from rock to reels to reggae in a dizzying mixture of Irish and American influences, Celtic rebellion, domestic heartache and furious reels. Kirwan and the Boys have made another winner! — Mike Farragher Irish Voice/Irishcentral.com
"Another year, yet another excellent album from Black 47! It’s hard to fathom how they can keep it so fresh after twenty years, but they do it. Their previous album Iraq, a vividly thematic soldiers-eye view of the never-ending war, took the #1 spot on our best-of-2008 albums list. This one finds the Irish-American rockers exploring more diverse terrain, a characteristically eclectic mix of Clash-style anthems, a small handful of electrified Celtic dances, a reminiscence of better days in the New York rock scene, snarling sociopolitical commentary and more lighthearted, comedic fare. The title track, a big sardonic Clash-style anthem speaks for the generations disenfranchised by the new Great Depression; likewise, the vivid opening cut, Long Hot Summer Coming On ominously foreshadows a city where all hell’s about to break loose. There’s also a fiery tribute to Rosemary Nelson, the murdered Irish human rights crusader; a cynical number about an Irish music groupie; and a couple of absolutely surreal ones, the first about a Lower East Side romance circa a hundred years ago that isn’t actually as unlikely as it might seem (and on which the band proves perfectly capable of playing a good freilach), the other a long anthem based on the true story where former Jimi Hendrix bassist Noel Redding absconded with tapes of Hendrix’ last live recordings, using them as collateral for a mortgage in Ireland. All of this is catchy, a lot it is funny and you can sometimes dance to it, in other words, typical Black 47." — Lucid Culture
"After their grimly topical 2008 CD Iraq, which emphasized Kirwan's insightful lyrics and fierce political dedication, Bankers and Gangsters brings the Black 47 rhythm and horn sections, and the band's devilish sense of humor, front and center. The result is a great dancing and drinking record, worthy of a band whose live shows are legends of riotous joy and Irish flavored madness. It's a St. Paddy's Day gift to all Celtic dervishes scattered through barrooms and ballrooms everywhere across America.
"Like their earlier roots-rock album Green Suede Shoes, Bankers and Gangsters keeps the reels reelin' and the rock rollin'. It's one wild party, with Kirwan blasting along on his Strat over the melodic cacophony of Geoff Blythe's fearless sax, Fred Parcell's jazzy trombone and Joe Mulvanerty's wild uileann pipes and flutes, with Joe "Bearclaw" Burcaw, the latest recruit to the Black 47 crew, keeping it all grounded and real with his muscular bass playing while Thomas Hamlin's edgy drum style keeps the beats flowing in mysterious, infectious ways.
"That's not to say that Larry Kirwan's witty, thoughtful lyrics are neglected. He's doing some his best writing yet, and he delivers his words with passion and fire. When Kirwan adopts the persona of the half-mad historic Irish war chief "Red Hugh" O'Donnell, you can feel the blood boiling in the legendary fanatic's heart.
"Larry Kirwan always has an eye for the resonance of history and legend in contemporary events. The centerpiece of Black 47's Iraq was "Battle of Fallujah" which conjured eerie suggestions of epic ancient war-poems like The Illiad and The Tain. Here, in the title track he skewers the racketeer financiers who wrecked our economy while he keeps a satiric laughing roar alive and dancing, like a true savage Irish bard, visioning the dark of human greed and summoning the light of human joy. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, as Yeats might say. Indeed, Kirwan summons up the misty Irish spirits of Yeats and James Joyce themselves in a surreal tune named after both literary masters. And he name-checks the likes of Lester Bangs, Jimi Hendrix and other rock n roll saints on "Long Hot Summer" and "The Lost Hendrix Tapes" while the band musically references The Kinks and seminal Irish glam-rockers Horslips on "Celtic Rocker," a hilarious send-up of the musical sub-genre which Black 47, admittedly, helped originate.
"Rosemary (Nelson)" pays well deserved tribute to a brave, self-less lawyer slain during the not-yet-ended Irish Troubles, while "That Summer Dress," "One Starry Night," and "The Islands" nod to the beauty of all women and the sweet pain of love, and seem destined to pull a nostalgic tear from the listener to water a pint of stout and red ale. Then Kirwan returns to lighter fare with "Izzy's Irish Rose," an uptempo venture into that cross-cultural musical territory recently explored delightfully by Mick Moloney on his own fine recent CD If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews. Black 47's unique take on klezmer music is not to be missed.
"The album closes with "Bas in Eireann" (To Die in Ireland), a song from "Transport," the intriguing Irish-Australia emigration- themed musical play which Kirwan has been working on in collaboration with novelist Tom Keneally. Author Kirwan is also releasing his latest novel, "Rockin' the Bronx" this month. It's a tale of music, romantic conflict, late night stands-and Irish inflected rock n roll. Sounds like a Black 47 bash, if ever there was one. — Bill Nevins Roots World
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