The Commitments
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The Commitments

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The Commitments might be the most soulful Irish band to play Boston this St. Paddy’s season, but its heart isn’t in Dublin town. It’s in Motown. And Memphis.
The group brings its classic r & b to Cambridge’s Regattabar tomorrow, playing music from the beloved 1991 Alan Parker movie ‘‘The Commitments” at 7:30 (sold out) and 10 (tickets available). Only two members of the original band remain - guitarist Kenneth McCluskey, who played Derek ‘‘The Meatman” Scully, and drummer Dick Massey, who played Billy ‘‘The Animal” Mooney - but Dan Aykroyd has called the touring band ‘‘the best soul review” he’s ever seen.

How big is ‘‘The Commitments” in Ireland? It recently was voted the No. 1 Irish film of all time, and it kick-started an American soul movement. The movie, recently released as a two-DVD 15th anniversary set, has reportedly been seen by 1 billion people worldwide. And the first soundtrack album has sold 12 million. - Boston Herald (Daniel Gewertz)


The art that imitates the life that imitates the art that was the Commitments is just as confusing as it sounds - even for the musicians themselves.

Let's review: A novel about an Irish soul group became a 1991 movie that became a real band - a band that's basically paying tribute to its film version, which was already a tribute to begin with. Weird.

"I'm still trying to figure out that one myself," laughs drummer Dick Massey, who played the role of Billy "the Animal" Mooney, who quit the Commitments in the film, but now runs the real thing. How ironic.

"I'm so close to the woods that I can see the trees," he jokes.

The Commitments has been real a lot longer that it was fiction. Such was the demand for more blue-eyed soul after the 1991 film that the musicians staged a tour - and hired a real singer since the guy in the movie was an actor - and they've been touring ever since, give or take an original member. Massey will be the only one left when the Commitments plays three shows at Sherwood Park's Festival Place this weekend (guitarist Kenneth McCluskey had to leave this tour for a family matter). Two shows are sold out. Some seats remain for the 10:30 p.m. show Saturday night.

If there's any remaining doubt as to the popularity of this band, Massey relates a testimonial. The Commitments was in New York City on Monday to play a Wilson Pickett tribute. Among other soul legends, Ben E. King was there.

Massey recalls, "I introduced myself and he stuck his finger in my chest and said, 'I know who you are. I've been watching you guys from a distance - thank you guys for keeping this music alive.' Every nerve ending in my body tingled. Even saying it again now I get a little thrill up my spine."

There are a couple of strange things about the Commitments that most bands don't experience. One, these musicians aren't trying to do good shows because they want to - they have to. They won't star in a bad sequel, either. Participants of Blues Brothers 2000 take note.

Massey explains, "We don't do bad shows. That's not an arrogant thing to say - we can't do a bad show or we'll shoot ourselves in the foot. They told me before we put the band on the road, 'Look, we spent $80 million making this movie and another $80 million promoting it. If you guys do a bad gig, you're going to screw us.' I promised them we wouldn't do a bad show. It was a bit of lip service for them, I suppose."

That's some kind of pressure.

The second thing is that Massey - a real drummer who played around Dublin before he got the film role - and other serious musicians have devoted their careers to a project that inherently prohibits them from playing their own material. They regularly "stomp up" other tunes from the Motown songbook, but there is no original Commitments music.

"We haven't done anything like that to date," Massey says. "And that's been very intentional. The Commitments wasn't about them writing their own songs. We got blue eyes, we got white skin. I don't know if it was right for us to try to write our own songs, songs that wouldn't stand up to the level of songs that were already there, the Mustang Sallys, the Midnight Hours, the Take Me To the Rivers. That said, we may start to do that.

"I already do some stuff on my own just for sanity. You can't be playing the same songs over and over again, and unfortunately with this show we have to play certain songs every ... single ... f---ing ... night."

As for playing out scenes from the movie on stage, they used to "blow up" McCluskey like he was in the movie - until one show in Nottingham, England.

"We had some pyrotechnics, but the tour manager forgot to tell the theatre," Massey says. "After we set it off, fire engines and police arrived, yelling, 'Where's the guy who got blown up?' It was funny as hell. We didn't get a ticket. We gave them autographs and CDs."

They never did Stonehenge again - speaking of another fictitious band (Spinal Tap) that tried, but ultimately failed to become real. The joke just didn't translate well. The Commitments - whose love of American soul music is no joke - is unique in its field. - Edmonton Sun (Mike Ross)


The internationally-known band The Commitments, who were nominated for an Oscar for their 1991 movie of the same name, stopped by Irish Joe's Cafe for breakfast Tuesday while on their way to a gig in Maryland.

Commitments drummer Dick Massey said the band, fresh off a five-day run of performances in both Pennsylvania and New York, was on its way to Annapolis for a Tuesday night show when it stopped by the Café.

Irish Joe's owner Michelle Long, who met the band after they performed at the Colonial Theatre two years ago, said she was excited to have them at the Café.

"They're always very warm and very friendly," she said. "I went to see them last week at the Keswick (Theatre in Glenside.) I told them to stop by for breakfast, and here they are. It's so exciting to have them here."

Massey, who was an original cast member in the movie, said Irish Joe's Café serves one of the best breakfasts in Philadelphia.
"We had a day off," said Massey. "We're friends with Michelle, and she invited us to breakfast."
The Commitments, whose music has been described as the Soul of Ireland's musical working class, spent Monday night at Kildare's Irish Pub in King of Prussia. Kildare's owner Dave Magrogan, a friend of the band members, said they are great people.

"I haven't seen them for six or eight months, but they come back and it's like I just saw them last week," said Magrogan. "We pick up where we left off, had a few pints and had a good time."

After playing in Annapolis, the band will head north where they will play shows, including a St. Patrick's Day Show in Niagara Falls.
The largest show in this area, Massey said, will be a Tribute to Wilson Pickett at B.B. King's in New York.

"The Commitments" was recently rated the top movie in Ireland, and is number 33 on the British Film Industry's "Top 100 Films of All Time" list.

Based on a novel penned by Roddy Doyle, "The Commitments" details the ups and downs of "The world's hardest working band." In 1991, the novel became a movie, and, on the heels of that, the band began touring. After going on hiatus for nearly two years, they regrouped and began touring once again.
After playing in New York, Massey and guitarist Ken McCluskey, original cast members of the movie, along with vocalists Joe Walsh, Claire Malone and Karen Coleman, plus bassist Darren Hanley, Serge Stavlia who plays tenor saxophone, keyboardist Darragh O'Kelly and Danny Healy on the trumpet, will go on to the Midwest and Canada before returning to home in Dublin, Ireland. - Phoenixville News (Karin Williams)


They're just a cover band, honoring the soul greats with a U.S. tour that stops Sunday at Bodles in Chester. They pound out Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally" and Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools," Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" and Al Green's "Take Me to the River." They're rough, lively and fun - very like the characters they represent.

Lots of bands have inspired movies and books about them, but rarely does a book and a movie spawn its own band. That's part of the charm of the Commitments, a group whose origin was in the mind of Irish author Roddy Doyle. The Commitments moved from novel to the big screen and finally gained an identity of their own as a real, flesh-and-blood band honoring the royalty of soul.

Let's follow that path with a look at the personality of the book and movie adaptation and a chat with original cast member and touring band leader Kenneth McCluskey (aka Derek "The Meatman" Scully).

Page to screen

In 1987, Roddy Doyle published his first novel, "The Commitments," the story of a working-class band from Dublin, Ireland. Four years later, director Alan Parker followed it up with a movie, launching the fictional band into instant cult status.

The book is a fun, fast read that chronicles the formation of the Commitments, who call themselves "The World's Hardest Working Band," on a mission to bring soul music to Dublin. It's dirty, rough, rude and hysterical - exactly as you'd imagine the band to be.

The movie, released by 20th Century Fox in 1991, mostly stays true to the book, varying in small ways, especially in its toned-down swearing. While the book bursts with the F-bomb and other foul language, the movie keeps it lighter, presumably for ratings reasons. And while the novel barely skims band manager Jimmy Rabbitte's personal life, the movie delves into the wacky Rabbitte family. (Oh, and Robert Arkins, the actor playing Jimmy? A babe.)

The novel itself reads like a screenplay already written in the Dublin brogue, with Doyle dropping letters for accent accuracy and stuffing it with local slang.

For example, here's an argument between band manager Jimmy Rabbitte and drummer Billy "The Animal" Mooney about drugs. Read it with a few rolled R's and you're bound to sound at least a little Irish.

"It's oney hash."

"The tip o' the f***in' iceberg, Billy. Dublin's f***ed up with drugs. Drugs aren't soul."

"Wha' abou' drinkin'?"

"That's different," said Jimmy.

"That's okay. The workin' class have always had their few scoops."

And, of course, in both the movie and the book, it's all about the music. In the movie, soul classics are always playing, even when the band isn't. And in the book, the songs are interspersed with the band's actions.

It's hard to say which is better, the movie or the book.

But both are a rapid crack - or, in non-Dublinese, awesome fun.

Screen to stage

Boasting two (sometimes three) original cast members, the lineup has rotated during the years, but the band has been together for 16 years, playing more than 100 gigs each year across the globe, from the U.S. and Europe to South America.

While most bands work for years to make it big, these guys had it made from the beginning - but they weren't sure if they wanted that.

After the movie was released, the actors, who played their own instruments in the movie, went on a worldwide media tour, then took a break for several years.

But everybody kept asking when they'd get back together, and finally, a few of the original band members and some new members decided to do a quick tour, as the Commitments.

"We said we'd go back for a week," laughs Kenneth McCluskey, who played Derek "The Meatman" Scully in the movie. "But people kept saying, 'Come back next week,' and eventually we'd just never go home."

So they kept playing. And 16 years later, McCluskey still rocks the guitar for the Commitments.

"The movie was made in 1990, which was a long time ago," McCluskey says. "Bands are lucky if they stay together for about six months, ya know?"

Dick Massey, who played Billy "The Animal" Mooney - the drummer - in the film, is the only other original face from the movie. But, McCluskey says, everyone else still fits in.

"They have the same personality, same spark," he explains. "When they get on stage, they enjoy the music. That's the whole thing with the Commitments, to connect with people and enjoy the music."

And, of course, being a Dubliner helps.

"But if I said that was a requirement, people would probably say we were biased," McCluskey says, laughing.

And while some wonder if the success of this cover band is only runoff from the movie's cult following, McCluskey says it's more than that.

"We stick to the cover songs, and we do that for a simple reason," he says. "The whole Commitments thing - the lesson - was you don't have to write original songs to be an original artist.

"The whole idea of the Commitments was about the music and the - Times Herald Record (Elissa Englund)


Discography

The Commitments (1991)
The Commitments - Volume II (1992)

Photos

Bio

Relive all the soul classics from The Commitments movie live in concert, featuring original Commitments stars Kenneth McCluskey (Derek “The Meatman” Scully) and Dick Massey (Billy “The Animal” Mooney) Plus musicians from their multimillion selling albums.

Following a worldwide media tour in 1991 to promote the global success of the Alan Parker film of Roddy Doyle's acclaimed novel, the band went their separate ways. During the promotion, there were so many requests for the band to tour, that by 1993, The Commitments had been reborn as a real, working band, playing their special “Dublin Soul”. They have toured the world ever since & on many special occasions, their co-stars from the movie including Michael Aherne, Robert Arkins & Johnny Murphy perform with the band.

The Commitments play to sold-out audiences worldwide and have performed in front of hundreds of thousands of fans at major outdoor festivals & concert venues throughout the UK & Europe. he band is working with Twentieth Century Fox to promote the new DVD of The Commitments movie. Digitally re-mastered & presented in anamorphic widescreen with 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound, The Commitments Collector’s Edition DVD is jammed with never-before-available bonus features including commentary from Director Alan Parker, making of featurettes, “The Commitments: Looking Back” retrospective, two new songs, music videos, & more.

Their live concerts feature all the great soul classics from the film & multi-million selling soundtrack & live albums: Mustang Sally, Try A Little Tenderness, Mr. Pitiful, Destination Anywhere, Chain Of Fools, Take Me To The River, In The Midnight Hour & many more!