The Highland Rovers Band
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The Highland Rovers Band

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"Review by Celtic Beat"

The Highland Rovers
Knights at the Castle

This a CD recorded live at the Blackrock Castle. I liked among the early cuts, a fast paced "Will Ye Go Lassie Go." I liked "Good Ale" which really expresses what The Highland Rovers forte is - drinking songs and rebel songs. Likewise "The Moonshiner" (cut 6) is fine, and it is an example of what The Highland Rovers do best, but they have promise of doing so much more too.

I applaud The Highland Rovers for "Streets of New York" with it's pathos (definitely in the Wake of September 11) about the sad and bittersweet immigrant experience, and particularly in reference to cops. This is not an easy song to perform, particularly in the middle of a group of upbeat drinking songs and defiant rebel songs. Here it is most effectively done. Despite many drawbacks.

The Pop song "Tomorrow might be just Another Day" is very strong. I noticed in their live performance that The Highland Rovers are bringing more of these kind of instrumentals into their traditional songs. This could promise great things, if these two musical strains are combined. "All for One" and "Freedom" are also strong.

"Until You Smile Again" (cut 16-17) has a great opening instrumental which illustrates the great potential of The Highland Rovers. The vocals also point to great potential. Hopefully musically The Highland Rovers are exploring new worlds.

I look forward to what this band will produce in the future.


- Volume 9, #9B


New Haven Register
Saturday, August 18, 2001

Shelton - The famed Irish band Black 47 won't return for a fifth annual post-game Irish Night Concert at Shea Stadium in New York this year.

But it's absence will catapult a local Irish group - thick with Shelton and New Haven roots - into the elite Irish music scene.

The Fairfield-based Highland Rovers Band will close a three-band Irish Night Concert at Shea Stadium Aug. 25 after the Mets play the San Francisco Giants at 7:10 p.m.

It's one of a series of team sponsored International Weekends that include Italian, Greek, Salsa, African American, Jewish Heritage, Asian and Irish nights. There were about 40,000 tickets sold by Thursday, Mets officials said.

The Highland Rovers Band identifies itself as a Fairfield band, but three out of four members are from Shelton, Derby and New Haven.

James Cyr, a volunteer fire-fighter for the White Hills Fire Company, is a Shelton resident, and guitarist and lead vocalist Billy Donaldson moved from Shelton to Derby a year ago. Drummer Jon Ciottone is a lawyer in New Haven. Manager Michael Madden is a detective sergeant with the Shelton Police Department.

Vocalist Tom Portera, who also plays bass, acoustic and electric guitars and keyboards, is a Fairfield resident and founder of the band. Portera's roots and the band's early days playing the Fairfield Irish Festival gave them a Fairfield identity.

The Highland Rovers Band is capitalizing on its trademark: three part harmonies.

"That is not common among any other Irish band that we know of," Madden said. "Irish music is known for singing in unison or being largely instrumental."

Portera said the band has no need to increase practice time to prepare for the Shea appearance.

"We're really going to get 20 minutes to a half hour (at Shea), so it's got to be the tightest and hardest. It's going to have to be high energy, a lot of harmonies," Portera said.

Portera said the band plans to play both traditional and original songs.

Cyr, a mandolin player, said, "I'm trying not to be too scared. I just say to myself, 'You know what you're doing. You wouldn't be here if you didn't.'"

Cyr, who is a groundskeeper at Mount Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, said he's been a Met's fan all his life.

"I've been to Shea many times, but I never thought I would be a professional musician (there). This is great, " he said, adding that his wife Judy and 5-year-old son Ryan will attend.

Mets Group Sales Manager Mark Phillips said Mets officials decided to try something different this year after Black 47 backed out.

"Rather than one group, we tried getting three different groups, " he said." (The Highland Rovers Band) sent us their press package and we were obviously impressed by it."

The McCabes and the Andy Cooney Band, both of New York, will open the show.

- Tara Stapleton

"Irish Eyes are Bleary Eyed for Shelton Band's TV Gig"

New Haven Register, March 17, 2004

At 3 a.m. Tuesday, the Shelton-based Highland Rovers band geared up to head to New York City for a gig on ESPN2’s morning show, "Cold Pizza."

Most people were still in bed, but heck, on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, what’s a little lack of shut-eye for one of Greater New Haven’s increasingly successful Irish rock bands?

"For most rock and roll bands, they look forward to the summer where they can play the outdoor shows. But for an Irish rock band, our time of year is from February right up to St. Patrick’s Day.

We get booked at least a year in advance for some of these shows, if not two or three years," said vocalist Al Natale of Newtown.

The Rovers has many local gigs under its belt and numerous more booked. On Sunday, for instance, a show at the Playwright in New Haven was sold out.

"The Highland Rovers are great. They have so much energy and just keep getting better every time I see them," said longtime fan Cheryl Morrill of Stratford.

Having already performed in venues from Elks halls to area clubs, the five musicians, road crew and manager shrugged off the early hour and lack of sleep Tuesday for the chance at widespread exposure on the internationally broadcast television show. The band is on the verge of something big with its new CD, "Unusual Days," set to be released soon. "Unusual Days" is a 13-track disc with 11 original songs. Originally scheduled for a February debut, production delays extended the release. The CD will be released on the Ramblin’ Records label, though the group does not have a distribution contract and thus is considered an unsigned band.

The band’s management operation is in Shelton.

The current tour, new music and CD mark a new era for the band, which has welcomed three new musicians in the past two years, and seen the departure of two members.

The Rovers say they’ve been heavily influenced by another high-energy Irish band, the Saw Doctors from Ireland, which is touring the United States. At a performance in New Haven Monday at Toad’s Place, the Saw Doctors, like the Rovers, got the crowd going through a more than two-hour performance.

The tour is slated to wrap up in late fall after hitting six states and Ireland. A number of Irish festivals throughout Connecticut also have made offers for the Rovers to play, manager Michael Madden said. The Rovers will headline the 10th annual Danbury Irish Festival in September for the fifth consecutive year, Madden said.

But the CD, television appearance and its potential for international recognition isn’t what’s most important to all the Rovers.

"It’s just fun," said vocalist Jeff Conlon, of Bristol, a former New York City police officer, who was speaking as he sat on metal steps on the "Cold Pizza" set after setting up instruments Tuesday morning.

Vocalist Jimmy Cyr of Shelton agreed he isn’t in the band for fame or fortune either, saying performing is just something he really likes to do.

Fame or fortune aside, you would have to like the work, as just after 4 a.m. Tuesday, the crew gathered outside ESPN2’s 34th Street studio. With an hour to spare before setup, band members bided time in a nearby all-night diner, then headed back to the studio for sound checks and rehearsal.

"I’m glad we got here when we did. We needed every minute (to prepare and set up)," said acoustic guitar player and vocalist Tommy Portera of Fairfield.

As the time drew near for the performance, Madden, a Shelton police detective when he’s not managing the band, gave the boys a quick pep talk.

"We’re ready. We’re warmed up now," Cyr said, moments later.

The band, including drum and percussion player Michael Ryan of Durham, left the green room to perform and Madden stood and paced in anticipation like an expectant parent, watching the television monitor intently as the Rovers performed. When it was over, he had one word for the performance: "Excellent."

"Cold Pizza" host Kit Hoover remarked that the tune, "Tomorrow Might Be Just Another Day," got her bopping to the music immediately.

The Rovers have a hectic schedule today, as they kick off the daylong celebration with an appearance and performance on WPLR’s morning show with Chaz and AJ at the Irish American Community Center in East Haven from 6 to 10 a.m.

From noon to 4 p.m., the Rovers will take the stage at the Black Rock Castle in Bridgeport. The band will wrap up the Irish celebration at the Playwright, beginning at 6 p.m.

- Sarah Walker

"Rovers take on a 2nd ‘Cold Pizza’"

New Haven Register


It was an early morning for Fairfield County’s Highland Rovers Band as they took the stage Friday at ESPN2’s "Cold Pizza" show in New York City.

It was the band’s second appearance on the show.
Last March, the Highland Rovers had their national television debut on "Cold Pizza." The program, filmed live in midtown, is a sports show with a twist of pop culture.

Band manager Michael Madden, who is also a police officer in Shelton, said the band was asked last weekend to appear on the show, very unexpectedly. Madden said show executive producer Brian Donlon — a self proclaimed fan of the group — made the request after cast members voted to have them back as likely the show’s last band before the format is changed and the segment is cancelled.

Vocalist Jeff Conlon of Bristol, a former New York City police officer, said it was an honor, especially since several people involved with the show are leaving soon for other endeavors.

"They had a list of bands to choose from," Conlon said.

Conlon, along with vocalist Jimmy Cyr of Shelton, acoustic guitar player and vocalist Tommy Portera of Fairfield, drum and percussion player Michael Ryan of Durham and vocalist Al Natale of Newtown, played "Tomorrow Might Be Just Another Day," for the second year since it was specially requested by Donlon.

The Highland Rovers also performed "St. Patrick’s Day." "It went great. They treated us like we were rock stars when we went in there," Conlon said.

Madden agreed.

"The people at ‘Cold Pizza’ are great. For a national TV show, they give us a lot of exposure. Their whole crew was very good to us," Madden said.

The show’s talent even took to "dancing in the studio," while the band played, Conlon said.

The Highland Rovers Band, whose Madden Group management is based in Shelton, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.

The Highland Rovers will be playing on WPLR’s "Chaz and AJ" morning show beginning at 6 a.m. on St.

Patrick’s Day, and will appear at the Playwright in New Haven that evening.

For more information, visit the band Web site at

- Sarah Walker


Brave Lads All Released 1999
Knights at the Castle Released 2001
Unusual Days Released 2004
Live From County Fairfield: Released 2007
Building the Beast: Scheduled November 2009



Drawing from the diverse New York Metro music scene, the Highland Rovers Band fuses popular rock percussive rhythms, bagpipes, and vocal harmonies to create an intricate and fresh sound. HRB's multi-layered, upbeat, and danceable music showcases their universal, appeal to both mainstream modern rock lovers and culturally diverse audiences searching for a distinct celtic flavor.

With their debut CD “Brave Lads All” in 1999, the Highland Rovers Band launched their unique brand of Irish “kick” – a mix of rock ‘n’ roll, southern rock, and pop. But long before the first CD, the Rovers began building a fan base in 1993 that today spans generations. The band combines their own original music with several energized versions of celtic classics performed in a unique upbeat style.

Today, the HRB’s resume includes performances across the United States and Canada, at venues ranging from well-known Irish pubs to larger arenas such as Shea Stadium. The band has performed with top Irish artists including the Saw Doctors, the Young Dubliners, and The Prodigals. HRB has also performed numerous shows with their longtime friends and mentors, the Marshall Tucker Band.

The band has produced four albums to date. The current CD, “Live..From County Fairfield,” was released in the fall of 2006.