Black 47
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Black 47


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"Bankers & Gangsters Album Review (4 Stars)"

The majority of exciting Celtic rock bands have come from Ireland or Scotland, but the United States has given us some as well -- for example, Milwaukee's Reilly and the New York City-based Black 47. And on Bankers and Gangsters, Black 47 once again demonstrate that their perspective isn't strictly an Irish perspective, but also, an Irish-American perspective. In fact, this 2010 release is full of references to the Big Apple. "Izzy," for example, takes a humorous look at the interaction of Irish immigrants and Jewish immigrants on Manhattan's Lower East Side and uses both Celtic and klezmer elements to make its point. And so many of the gems on this 67-minute CD -- including "Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix" and "That Summer Dress" -- have a way of making one think about N.Y.C. and Ireland at the same time. If you've had a pint or two at Jack Dempsey's on the Lower East Side, but have also strolled along O'Connell Street in Dublin, it's easy to appreciate the Ireland/U.S. connection that is such a big part of Bankers and Gangsters. Black 47, not surprisingly, still have a lot to say about political topics. Tracks like "Red Hugh," "Rosemary (Nelson)," and the title song are overtly political, but 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.

Review by Alex Henderson - All Music Guide

"Black 47 Live Concert Review 2/20/10"

One of New York’s most popular bands is hidden in plain sight. When Black 47 aren’t on the road, or frontman Larry Kirwan isn’t putting on a play (he’s written over ten at last count) or he’s off on a book tour (his new novel Rockin’ the Bronx is a real page-turner – more on that one here soon), the band plays Connolly’s in midtown on Saturday nights.

This week the legendary Irish-American rockers – whose 2008 cd Iraq we picked as best album of the year – are doing a benefit for Haiti on the 24th at Connolly’s at 7 PM with a roots reggae band, a better segue than you might think. This past Saturday’s show was a real revelation. After 20 years on the road, the band might be better than ever. How do you keep a legend fresh?

With new material. Black 47’s forthcoming cd – which you can get at shows now – is titled Bankers and Gangsters. You can’t get much more apropos than that. It’s not all jigs and reels either – the band played a couple for the dance contests, one of them an eerie reverb number like an Irish version of Pipeline or a Link Wray song – but what they most resemble these days is the Boomtown Rats or the Clash. “Songs of freedom,” Kirwan reminded the crowd more than once, and the audience – an impressively polyglot, demographically mixed bunch of drinkers – drank it up.

At this point in their career, Black 47 could phone it in and probably get away with it, but instead they opt for spectacle, again like the Clash. They gave away cds, t-shirts and gave their killer horn section plenty of time centerstage, taking a Stevie Wonder riff to the Emerald Isle and teasing the crowd with a classic Clash intro.

Later soprano sax player Geoffrey Blythe, trombonist Fred Parcells and uilleann piper Joseph Mulvanerty would take a ska jazz interlude with a bunch of classic 50s riffs from Miles Davis et al.

They played a bunch of their signature songs, the defiant, raised-middle-finger emigrant anthem Funky Ceili and the off-kilter, whiskey-fueled hangover-from-hell number 40 Shades of Blue among them, Kirwan with his megawatt grin often reaching into the crowd for a lyric, seeing that pretty much everybody knew them and were only too glad to holler them back.

But it was the new songs that impressed the most: the vividly anticipatory Long Hot Summer Comin’ On, the characteristically anthemic, sardonic title track from the new album, the surreal Lower East Side narrative Izzy’s Irish Rose and the long, even more tongue-in-cheek minor-key ballad Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix.

Kirwan could have picked another old favorite for the first of the encores, but he didn’t, instead going with the bluesy, sarcastic Sadr City, which is basically Kansas City rewritten from the point of view of an American soldier in Iraq who can’t wait to get out.

Anyone who might misguidedly think that political songs can’t galvanize an audience should have seen the fist-raising, Guinness-fueled reaction to that one. They closed with the ridiculously catchy janglerock hit Maria’s Wedding, a still-jealous wedding crasher’s equally belated and useless apology.

After over an hour and a half worth of music, the crowd still wanted more. - Lucid Culture

"Rock 'n Reelers Going For Brogue"

It was St. Patrick’s Day and like most of the sold-out Ritz crowd I wore green, drank way too many pints of Guinness, and had the pleasure of hearing Black 47 again.

I don’t need a special occasion to drink Guinness or take in this fantastic band – although I could do without all that green. See, Black 47 is New York’s top local group, a hometown secret that we citizens of Skyscraper Park are gonna have to share with the world next week when they make their major-label debut on SBK Records.

Front by rail-thin songwriter Larry Kirwan, Black 47 has fused rock ‘n roll with traditional Irish reels, jigs and airs, creating something special – arrangements that are musically unique, yoked with lyrics that convey the power and glories in the struggle of life.

Somebody living in Dogtown, USA might not feel that tide of life pulling at them as strongly as one does here, but the themes are universal since carrot-topped Kirwan draws his stories from his own life and history and delivers them with humor, sensitivity and spirited anger.

The show opened with “James Connolly,” a song about the turn of the century Irish union organizer who died for the cause of the labor movement.

From the start of that tune, Kirwan fired the lyrics with vein-bulging passion as he worked a distorted electric guitar riff to the band’s melody. He sang about Connolly’s love of life as he wrestled with his inability to live on his knees at the felt of the “Bosses and their screws.”

With his fist raised above his head and the entire house returning the salute, Kirwan sang “Hold onto your rifles boys / don’t give up your dream.” Yeah, Kirwan is a revolutionary, but thank God there are still a few of ‘em left.

Later in the show, as if Connolly’s ghost reminded him of the struggle happening now at The Post, Kirwan urged the Ritz crowd to help editor Pete Hammill save the paper from its bosses and screws.

As Kirwan had clicked with the fans, so did the band. Everyone in the six-piece group gets high marks for a memorable performance.

Chris Byrne, a NYPD cop who accents the rock with his uileann pipe, was excellent through the evening, but he really hit his stride on “40 Shades of Blue,” a traditional Irish number Kirwan has re-worked.

I’ve always liked the drumming and percussions by Thomas Hamlin. Between his Japanese samurai look (complete with the sideburns and top-knot)_ and the African drum on which he pounds reggae rhythms, he extends a sense of spiritual freedom through drumming that the Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart talks about in his book “Planet Drum.”

The band didn’t play one of my favorite songs, “Desperate,” but did manage to fit in just about everything else. Crowd favorites included “Funky Ceili/Bridie’s Song” and “Maria’s Wedding,” two tunes about Kirwan’s ex-girlfriends.

In “Maria’s Wedding,” as the girl stands on the alter about to marry another guy, drunken Kirwan pleads with her not to go through with it, promising that he’ll leave the band and even get a, a, a…job. In the stuttered pause as Kirwan attempts to say the dirty word – job – the house howled and screamed, “No, don’t do it!”

Larry, I was one of the howlers. I’d never want to see you have to leave the guys in the band and get a, a, a…well, you know.
- New York Post (Dan Aquilante)

"Irish Uprising: Black 47 Rocks With Its Songs of the Old Sod"

Abandon all hope of air conditioning, ye who enter Paddy Reilly’s. The blue-collar pub on Manhattan’s East Side where the Irish American rock brigade, Black 47, holds sway over a sweat – and Guinness – soaked crowd each week is hot as Hades and twice as crowded. Which is fine with Larry Kirwan, the band’s fiery-haired lead singer, who says the wilting heat is good for his voice and the band’s combustion. “Welcome to Reilly’s sweathouse!” he shouts as the group reels into “Maria’s Wedding,” about an Irish lout who disrupts an ex-girlfriend’s nuptials.

Such rousing cautionary tales, sung with beery but impassioned punch by Kirwan, 36, and performed at warp speed with four band mates throbbing an odd assortment of electric guitars, Irish pipes, drums, horns and tin whistles, have earned Black 47 an ecstatic following in New York. The group’s twice-weekly gigs at Reilly’s are among the hottest, hippest tickets in town. Robin Williams, Matt Dillon, Ellen Barkin and Irish hubby Gabriel Byrne, as well as rock icons Neil Young, the Clash’s Joe Strummer and Bob Dylan have all joined the throngs there.

When former Cars driver Ric Ocasek showed up with his supermodel wife, Paulina Porizkova, he offered to produce Black 47’s first full length album. “I didn’t know who Paulina was,” confesses Kirwan. “I couldn’t figure out why everyone was asking for her autograph. Finally I asked, ‘Who’s your friend?’” Once his Paulina consciousness was raised, a deal was struck [and] Fire of Freedom hit the stores. Thanks to a popular MTVideo of one of the band’s bar hits, “Funky Ceili (Bridie’s Song)” – about an Irish cad who flees to the Bronx when the father of his pregnant girlfriend threatens to castrate him – Black 47’s fame spread far beyond Reilly’s.

Last spring, Kirwan’s politically charged lyrics – “James Connolly” is about the martyred Irish socialist; “Black 47” rants against British economic policies that helped cause the Irish potato famine that culminated in 1847 – struck a chord among the John Deere crowd at the Farm Aid concert in Ames, Iowa. “Wherever the economy is not going good,” Kirwan says, “that’s where we do well.”

Probably because Kirwan knows of what he sings. One of five children, he grew up on a small farm in Wexford, on Ireland’s southeast coast. His father was a merchant seaman, and

his mum ran her father’s headstone business which, Kirwan quips, may account for his own restlessness. “I never wanted to stay planted in one place.”

At 19, he joined the Irish immigrant wave to New York. A guitarist, singer, songwriter and budding playwright, Kirwan played with a succession of bands and scored music for several small improvisational and dance theater groups, including one run by choreographer and dancer June Anderson. “We met at a party,” Kirwan says. “She told me she’d like to get a piece of music that would inspire her like Van Morrison does. I was drunk and said ‘Sure, no problem.’” Prolific collaborators ever since, the two married six years ago and now have two children, Jimmy, 5, who appears in the “Funky Ceili” video, and Rory, 3. Last spring, a Soho theater presented a dance piece directed and choreographed by Anderson, with music by Kirwan, during a program that also included the latest of his six plays, Blood, about the Irish uprising of 1916.

Black 47, meanwhile, began as a twosome in 1989 when Kirwan hooked up with Chris Byrne, 30, a Brooklyn-born cop – now on leave from his Hell’s Kitchen beat – who had learned to play Irish folk instruments during summers in the old country with his parents’ families. The quirky mix of Kirwan’s electric guitar and Byrne’s uillean pipes – “a bellows with flute attached,” Kirwan says – disturbed customers at the more traditional Irish pubs in the Bronx where the duo debuted. “The flat our hated us,” says Byrne.

By the time the group began playing Reilly’s in 1990, former Dexy’s Midnight Runners sax player Geoff Blythe, 38, and two Yanks – trombonist and whistler Fred Parcells, 38, and percussionist Thomas (“My girlfriend’s Irish”) Hamlin, 34 – had signed on. Since then, Black 47 has performed at Reilly’s more than 700 times. Though touring will take them out of town this summer, the band intends to keep playing the hothouse where it first flowered. “We always connect with the audience at Reilly’s. There’s this incredible rush,” says Kirwan. “I’d be crushed if it didn’t happen. It’d be like bad sex…if there is such a thing.”
- People Magazine (Steve Dougherty)

"Out of Ireland: A Rocker's Journey to N.Y."

It was early in 1991, and the buzz about Black 47 was building. The band was playing its galvanic mix of rock, rap and Irish music to celebrity-jammed crowds at a cramped Manhattan bar called Paddy Reilly’s.

Among the big-name regulars was former Clash front man Joe Strummer. Watching Black 47 one night, disc jockey Win Scelsa told Strummer what a lot of people thought about his defunct group: “The Clash are the only band that matters.” Strummer just pointed to the stage and said, “No, they’re the only band that matters now.”

Larry Kirwan, Black 47’s singer, songwriter and guitarist, reveals that anecdote in his lively new memoir, Green Suede Shoes: An Irish-American Odyssey (Thunder’s Mouth Press). It’s the story of the rocker-playwright-novelist’s journey from Wexford, Ireland, to New York City, where he now lives, and of his ups and downs in the music business, including the last 15 years with Black 47, which plays World Café Live tomorrow.

Even without exploiting that Strummer quote, Black 47 went on to make an unlikely splash with its populist and political music. (“Finally. Rock ‘n’ roll that means something again,” Time proclaimed about the band and its 1993 major-label debut, Fire of Freedom.) Since then, the band has settled into its current indie niche, but, as made clear by the memoir’s complementary album, Elvis Murphy’s Green Suede Shoes (Gadfly), Black 47 continues to do its fiery best to live up to Strummer’s priceless endorsement.

In a recent phone interview, Kirwan was as philosophical as he is in his book about Black 47’s arc. “I had a good idea it would happen the way it did,” he said. “We were too quirky, too independent…to make it to the really big leagues. Another thing I try to bring out in the book is that there’s two things in entertainment now: There’s music, and there’s celebrity. When it comes down to it, I was a musician first, and a writer.”

As Kirwan writes, “Everyone knew Black 47 was subversive, had a populist agenda, and meant business” with its songs about the conflict in Northern Ireland, economic justice, and civil rights. Like a Celtic Springsteen/E Street, however, the band mixes its serious side with a sense of fun, as exemplified by its first hit, “Funky Ceili.”

The liberating spirit of the music comes through again on the Elvis Murphy album as the sextet, which includes horns and Irish instruments such as uilleann pipes and the bodhran, creates a heroic, roof-raising noise. The songs range from politically charged anthems that touch on current events (“Downtown Baghdad Blues”) and Irish history (“The Day They Set Jim Larkin Free”) to affectionate, humor-streaked stories of pivotal people in Kirwan’s life (“Elvis Murphy,” “Uncle Jim”), to the sweeping story of a love affair doomed by larger forces (“Far Side of the Wall”) and a whimsical twist on the she-left-me pop song (“Girl Next Door,”

which dates to 1977 and was banned from US radio at the time for its lesbian references).

Besides three songs from Kirwan’s 2001 solo album, Kilroy Was Here, there is also “The Bells of Hell,” a raucous tale about a storied Greenwich Village bar of the same name that drew music and literary types. Writers Lester Banks, Nick Tosches and Malachy McCourt are among those mentioned in the song. (McCourt even has a speaking part.)

Kirwan was deep into that crazy, colorful and seminal downtown New York rock scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s, and his book is full of stories about figures such as Bangs and rocker Johnny Thunders, and the street characters who inspired some of the bloody melodramas in Kirwan’s musical repertoire. You also learn that his seemingly wacky 1996 song “Czechoslovakia,” about an arranged marriage plot gone hilariously awry, was based on real events.

As it happened, it was in Czechoslovakia that Kirwan had the epiphany that led him and Black 47 to where they are today. By the mid-‘80s, he had grown disenchanted with rock and had turned to playwriting. (Probably the best-known of his 11 plays and musicals is Liverpool Fantasy, which imagines what would have happened to the Beatles if they hadn’t made it; he later turned it into his first novel.)

Despite his disillusionment, Kirwan agreed to an offer to take a Black 47 precursor on a tour behind the Iron Curtain. During a show in Prague that rallied dissidents against the “corrupt and rotten” communist government, Kirwan’s passion was rekindled. He saw that rock, in the right situation, “still had claws.”

He set out to find “a way of mixing modern popular music and Gaelic sensibility, to allow for the free-flowing expression of the old, uninhibited Irish soul.” But, as related in the early song “Rockin’ the Bronx,” the band was not greeted warmly in the working-class Irish bars of New York’s boroughs, where Black 47 – the name comes from the worst year of the irish potato famine, 1847 – attempted to develop this vision.

The resistance only steeled the band’s resolve. It also helped, as Kirwan wryly notes in the book, that “the saving grace of the Bronx was that there were way too many bars and few too many musicians.”

It’s that same sense of purpose that helps Black 47 remain such a vital and inspiring force. “The evil of banality is the new threat,” Kirwan writes in Green Suede Shoes, flipping the Hannah Arendt quote about Nazism. “And it wouldn’t be worth the hassle if you didn’t feel what you’re doing has some small importance, especially to the young people who look around them and know things can be better.”

And so the band soldiers on. Though it has been referred to as “the house band of New York,” it also hits the road hard with a lineup that has remained unusually stable.

On the phone, Kirwan says the reason for the band’s stability is simple:

“It’s that moment of transcendence you get every night you play. No matter what we do, we’ll hit that white light at some point in the course of the night. And you don’t get that from everything in life. We get it…it’s like magic.”
- Philadelphia Inquirer (Nick Cristiano)

"Celtic Takes to the Street"

They call this small Catskills town the Irish Riviera, New York’s Irish working class has been coming here for at least three generations, vacationing at resorts like Erin’s Melody Hotel, the Clover Motel and Daley’s Irish Lakes. Green plastic shamrocks decorate the pubs and bars. Gift shops sell stuffed leprechauns.

Labor Day weekend is a busy time for East Durham, and scores of vacationers have turned out to hear the New York City Celt rock ground Black 47 perform at the local open-air Irish Centre.

This is an all-ages show. Older folks – parents and grandparents – remain seated in rows of white plastic chairs. The teenagers and young adults gather in front of the Astroturf-covered stage. They pump their fists in the air as front man Larry Kirwan sings about their Irish martyrs, revolutionaries such as James Connolly, Michael Collins and Bobby Sands,

Other songs depict the experiences of Irish immigrants in America, so it seems almost natural that Black 47’s music is a melting pot of styles, blending traditional Irish instruments and melodies with reggae rhythms and hip-hop and funk beats.

As the band tears through a song called “Funky Ceili,” guys wearing T-shirts that read “American First, Irish Always” hop clumsily, their faces flushed from the exertion and the beer. Two small straight-backed girls, students at the Farrell School of Irish Dance in Albany, NY, perform intricate steps, and the audience cheers loudly. The set is over by 10:00 PM, but Black 47 isn’t done for the night. In a couple of hours, the musicians will play a second show at a local pub before making the two-hour drive back to New York City.

Black 47 has been around for 11 years, and the band doesn’t appear to be slowing down. The six-member ensemble, which takes its name from the worst year of the Irish potato famine (1847), has lived through several highs and lows, reigning as New York’s most beloved bar band for most of the last decade.

The band has been signed by major labels, which released their albums and then dropped them. MTV has aired its videos. At times, the band’s legendary Saturday night gigs at such Manhattan pubs as Paddy O’Reilly’s and Connolly’s have attracted such celebrities as Brooke Shields, Liam Neeson and the Clash’s Joe Strummer.

But Black 47’s New York shows also draw ordinary people – college students and professionals and construction workers and cops. Many o them are children or grandchildren of Irish immigrants who celebrate their heritage through the band’s songs. Others are immigrants themselves, part of the post-1980 wave known as the New Irish.
They are the kind of people who are the subjects of Black 47’s sharply etched and streetwise songs, most of which are written by Kirwan, himself a transplanted Irishman who settled in New York during the ‘80s.

Black 47 has recorded five albums – its latest, “Trouble in the Land,” was released by the respected independent label Shanachie last spring. But the band members earn their living by playing live performances, approximately 150 each year. When they’re not touring; tonight they play the Birchmere in Alexandria.

“People say we’re a bar band, and I don’t mind the term – we’re a band that plays in bars,” says Kirwan, 48. “We play anywhere. We’re a bar band the way the Beatles were a bar band when they started, the way Springsteen was a bar band. You play where people are and you get paid. You get the money and we’ll play on any corner and draw the crowd.”

“We have a following and we make a living off of it and we make the records we want to make. We turn people on to different thoughts. The songs are used in colleges and high schools all over the country. We’re having an impact, and I’m not sure some of these bands out now that are top-40 bands can say that.”

Kirwan founded Black 47 back in 1989 when he teamed up with uilleann pipes player Chris Byrne (who recently left the band). The pair began to test two of Kirwan’s theories about music. The first had to do with finding the right venues for their distinctive Celtic rock sound. “I had this idea to write original songs, and instead of taking them to a place where original music would be played normally, like a rock club, take them to a working-class bar, where people were more used to cover music,” says Kirwan. “If the songs could survive there, then you had great songs.”

If you want to fully understand Kirwan’s second theory, check out the first few notes of “Redemption Song,” Bob Marley’s reggae classic. “That’s an Irish melody,” says Kirwan, whose second hypothesis was that traditional Irish music could be blended successfully with black music genres ranging from New York hip-hop to Jamaican reggae and ska. “Reggae has been really popular in Ireland,” he explains. “When Cromwell defeated the Irish in 1649, he expelled young Irish to work in the Caribbean sugar cane fields. I can hear the Irish accent in the West Indian accent, a lilt in the voice…it’s a sociological link. It isn’t proven or anything, but I can even hear the Irish melodies, traces of Irish songs.”

Kirwan and Byrne collected other musicians, including former Dexy’s Midnight Runners saxophonist Geoff Blythe, and the group started playing in Irish pubs in Brooklyn and Queens. At first their audiences, expecting typical Irish folk music, tended to greet them with raised middle fingers. “Some of them would say everything from ‘What are you doing with that [black] music?’ to ‘How can you be tampering with such a pure form of Irish Music? Why are you doing this to our culture?’

“I was pretty outraged at their remarks, but it didn’t upset me,” Kirwan says. “The only way music moves forward is by grafting onto other forms of music. If it stays pure, it stays in a museum. And what they’re considering pure Irish music, of course, had influences coming from other places, too.”

Black 47 kept adding influences – Byrne even put together a “rebel hop-hop” offshoot;
Seanchai – and the band built a strong and loyal local following. The group has mastered a rousing and raucous Celtic pub rock style, but its appeal is a little more complex than that.

Mike Farragher, a music writer for the New York-based weekly the Irish Voice, says that Black 47 has developed an entirely new style of music. “They’ve created a unique Irish American sound,” he says. “They really exemplify Irish American music in that the characters that they write [include] the stereotypical Irish barfly, and then they also sing about the lonesome immigrants who are longing for home,” he says. “They’ve become the voice of Irish Americans.”

From the very start, Kirwan’s lyrics were provocative. He writes beer-soaked odes to the Irish workingman, and he celebrates controversial Irish revolutionaries. He subverts Irish stereotypes and, as such song titles as “Paddy’s Got A Brand New Reel” and “Green Suede Shoes” attest, he appropriates whatever comes to mind. Black 47’s albums relate Kirwan’s unflagging love for New York’s cops and homeless drunks, its immigrants from all over the world, its Irish beauties as well as its caramel and brown-skinned ones.

“There are very few political bands out there, ones with a left wing political view. We’ve always been that way, with certain populism and certain openness to different cultures,” Kirwan says. “So I think when an 18- or 19-year old drunk guy comes along, he gets into that because the music is rising him into it, and he’s singing the words. Then when he goes home after, some of the message will stay there.

“Then it’s up to them. They don’t always agree with you in the end, but at least the music opens them up to the thought process.”

The band’s 1994 version of “Danny Boy” is a scathing critique of gay bashing. “In certain circles we might move in, there might be a certain amount of homophobia,” Kirwan says carefully. “Young kids who see Black 47 sticking up for gay rights, they’re gonna have to think, ‘Yeah, maybe I should be that way, too.’ I would say a song like that has had a huge effect.”

Unlike many bands that have been around for years and years, Black 47 continually draws young audiences. “I don’t know why we have this cross-generational thing,” says Kirwan. “There’s so little out there that’s actually making a stand on anything. Maybe when they hear our music, whatever it strands for, it’s saying something, and so it engages them.”

Dowling Almeida, an adjunct professor at New York University, quotes Kirwan’s lyrics in a forthcoming book on Irish immigrants and has supervised several student papers of Black 47. She says the band helps young Irish Americans gain a deeper understanding of their culture. “I think he makes them more aware of something beyond all the emotionalism,” she says. “They start to identify the history of Ireland, and the issues that have confronted the North. It forces them to go back and become more aware of who they are in their own history.”

Theresa Ryan, a 22-year old Black 47 fan from Wappingers, NY, says the band reinforces her cultural identity. “There are things you hear growing up that they put into their music,” she says. “So when you hear them, their songs remind you of that. It’s a remembrance. It’s a revival. It’s storytelling.”
- The Washington Post (Alona Wartofsky)

"Get Your Irish Up! 3/04/2010"

Black 47’s “Bankers and Gangsters,” released this week, is in title a timely echo of the populist anger being felt around the country towards big bailouts for everyone but the everyman. But as longtime New Yorker and lead singer Larry Kirwan will tell you, the tune is not meant to be a divider.

“Our audience is split between a very left wing and a very right wing,” says Kirwan, who brings his Irish-American rock band to College of Staten Island March 12. “We’ve been seen as having liberal beliefs, but we’ve also always cherished the fact that we’ve a lot of working class and civil service fans: cops, firemen, teachers. For us, we were never playing for the converted. If you were making statements about Iraq, you had to back them up every night on stage.”

Currently celebrating its 20th birthday, Black 47 is a thoroughly a New York City creation — a group of able musicians from distinctly varied backgrounds unafraid to mix Celtic musical traditions with hard rock, reggae and more. They’ve played NYC’s bars and beyond for years, touring with critically acclaimed records like 1993’s “Fire of Freedom” and those that received attention for bringing up sore subjects, like 2008’s “Iraq.” The new album’s title track, which features a big, bold horn section, is a perfect example of how Kirwan and the band makes their particular musical concoction.

“I wanted to do something on the subject that would be up at the same time,” says Kirwan. “You could get morose about it or preachy about it, but I often go with the Yeats saying that ‘poetry should be as cold and passionate as the dawn.’ What he meant is it should be balanced, so if you’ve got a real serious subject sometimes the best way to deal with it is in a lighter way, and vice versa.”

Black 47 has plenty of lesser Irish rock peers (i.e. imitations), and the music market hasn’t always treated them kindly, but the group’s big-tent creative philosophy keeps their fans coming back, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. The lead man himself has his own Sirius Satellite Radio show, “Celtic Crush,” and he’s just released a novel named for a Black 47 song, “Rockin The Bronx,” which details the culture shock of an Irish immigrant arriving in New York in the 1980s.

So, does Kirwan engage in any regular Irish traditions this time of year, and how does he feel about being considered an Irish rock band despite his own varied compositions?

“We give up drinking,” he chuckles, answering the first question with a joke. “It’s kind of like Irish season gets longer and longer, you know? As much as you can, you hitch your wagon to it. I suppose we get put in the same camp with bands like Flogging Molly and and Dropkick Murphys, but you know, those are great bands. I don’t mind being put in with them at all.” - Staten Island Advance

"Celtic rockers still doing it their way 3/12/2010"

Celtic rockers still doing it their way

By Nick Cristiano, Inquirer Staff Writer

For 20 years now, Black 47 has been delivering its own brawny and bracing brand of Celtic rock. With a song called "Celtic Rocker" on its new album, the New York band takes an affectionately humorous poke at the musical style it has helped to popularize.

"Like rock music itself, Celtic rock has tended to get cliched," Larry Kirwan, Black 47's Ireland-born front man - and host of Celtic Crush on Sirius and XM satellite radio - says over the phone from his Manhattan home. "With Black 47, because we have the horns and we have a rhythm section that's very sophisticated and into different styles of music, I can call out, say, 'Dave Brubeck' or 'Miles Davis' or 'Led Zeppelin' or 'the Kinks' or whatever. It doesn't have to just be a cliched band."

Bankers and Gangsters offers more evidence of that. After 2008's Iraq, a powerful grunt's-eye view of the desert war, the new album presents a more familiar mix of Kirwan-penned material, distinguished by his gift for cinematic storytelling and an ability to shift nimbly between heavy and light subject matter. There are New York street tales, stories of Irish historical figures, outlandish adventures, and ballads steeped in sadness and loss.

"There's always something to write about," Kirwan says. "With this [album], I focused on writing songs that highlight the musicians, especially the horns and the uilleann pipes."

A playwright and novelist as well as a rocker, Kirwan is also promoting a just-published novel, Rockin' the Bronx. The title comes from an early Black 47 song, but the plot springs from another one, "Sleep Tight in New York City," about a young Irish musician who travels to the Bronx seeking an old flame. It's set in the early '80s, in a neighborhood uneasily transitioning from Irish to Latino. As with Black 47's music, Rockin' the Bronx has a headlong momentum and street-level immediacy, teeming with drama, romance, and politics.

"I really wanted to examine the whole life up there, the immigrant scene, and New York City itself in those watershed years," says Kirwan, who, like the novel's protagonist, Sean, played music in the neighborhood's Irish bars.

The exceedingly prolific front man is also working on a couple of musicals. But, 20 years and more than 2,300 shows down the road, Black 47 remains an adventure for him: Excitement still surrounds each gig, and magic can be found onstage.

"I guess it's because we've always done what we've felt like doing onstage and off. We've always taken our moods onstage. You didn't have to smile if you didn't want to. . . .

"The idea was to work out whatever you're going through onstage," he says with a laugh. "And that seems to have worked out."

- Philadelphia Inquirer


Bankers & Gangsters (2010)
Iraq (2008)
Bittersweet Sixteen (2006)
Elvis Murphy's Green Suede Shoes (2005)
New York Town (2004)
On Fire (2001)
Trouble in the Land (2000)
Ten Bloody Years (1999)
Live In New York City (1998)
Green Suede Shoes (1996)
Home of the Brave (1994)
Fire of Freedom (1993)
Black 47 EP (1992)
Black 47 (1991)
Home of the Brave / Live in London (1989)



If anyone is left standing, it’ll be Black 47. The band is celebrating an astonishing 20 years of rocking the world with the Celtic-influenced genre it pioneered, not to mention their championing of various political and social issues. Known for its partying as much as its politics, Black 47 has released thirteen albums on major and indie labels, toured the world and blown the genre of Celtic rock wide open for many a band to follow.

Now, two years after the release of their provocative album, IRAQ, hailed by Rolling Stone as “an important document, more a prayer than a protest,” Black 47 returns with its 14th release, Bankers and Gangsters. The band employs its distinctive ever-broadening mélange of New York styles - rock, reggae, hip-hop, folk, Irish traditional, downtown noise, jazz and blues – on this celebratory eclectic mix highlighted by some top-shelf storytelling. The new songs range from the rocking socio-political commentary of “Long Hot Summer” and “Bankers and Gangsters” through humorous scenarios like “Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix” and “Izzy’s Irish Rose” to the classic pop songwriting and romantic nostalgia of “Yeats & Joyce” and “That Summer Dress.”

“This time it was more about creating a balance between the joyous and the thoughtful,” said Larry Kirwan. “Really focusing on the rhythm section and coming up with innovative arrangements for the brass and pipes. After immersing myself in IRAQ it was a blast to catch the humor in the old Lower East Side friction between Jewish and Irish in Izzy, or the plight of a wily Yank who seeks to steal the long lost tapes of Jimi Hendrix from the sex-starved ladies of West Cork – a true story, I might add. It was also nice to tip the cap to old friends like Hilly Kristal, Lester Bangs and Staten Island Danny in Long Hot Summer."

As ever Black 47 has its finger on the pulse of the country with a title track commenting on the ongoing financial crisis that employs the band’s trademark black humor. Bound to be a party favorite, “Celtic Rocker” combines Irish Reels and Kinks power chords in the coming of age saga of a lady addicted to the burgeoning Celtic Rock sub-culture. Nor does Kirwan stint on Irish politics and history. “Rosemary (Nelson),” “Red Hugh” and “Bás In Éireann” resurrect righteous figures including Civil Rights lawyer Nelson murdered in 1999. Kirwan’s talent for storytelling is evident on “Red Hugh,” a tale of intrigue and paranoia. “Oddly enough, I was only able to nail the song when I noticed the similarities between O’Donnell and Ahmad Shah Massoud, the assassinated leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance.”

Slated for release March 2, 2010 on United For Opportunity, Bankers and Gangsters comes on the heels of the February 23 publishing date for Kirwan’s new novel “Rockin’ The Bronx,” an immigrant tough-love story set in 1980-82, circa the deaths of John Lennon and Bobby Sands. Black 47 will be touring through 2010 with a heavy concentration on March for the album release and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

ABOUT BLACK 47: Taking their name from the worst year of the Irish Potato Famine, Black 47 burst onto the American scene in 1993 with its single, Funky Céilí from the CD, Fire of Freedom. The band’s signature eclectic sound, socio-political lyrics and off-the-wall live shows paved the way for other Irish influenced bands such as Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys. The band’s songs have long been used in political science and history courses in hundreds of high schools and colleges throughout the US.

Black 47 is led by Larry Kirwan (guitar/vocals). He has written ten plays and musicals produced in the US and Europe; five published under the title Mad Angels. Kirwan’s novel, Liverpool Fantasy, an alternate history of the Beatles, received much critical acclaim and has been translated into Spanish, Greek and Japanese. His memoir, Green Suede Shoes, was published in both the US and UK. He has recorded two solo albums, Kilroy Was Here and Keltic Kids. He hosts the popular Celtic Crush for SiriusXM Satellite Radio, and writes a controversial weekly column for the nationally distributed Irish Echo newspaper.