New York's famous but still local Irish bar band, Black 47, takes 47th Street and paints it black every Saturday.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Larry Kirwan fled to America when the father of a pregnant Irish lass told him, "You've got two choices, castration or a one-way ticket to New York!"
Well, maybe that's not how it happened, but that's the story that brought Black 47 and its jaunty redheaded frontman fame seven years ago with the hit "Funky Ceili" (click here for complete lyrics). Musically, the song is a party of rock guitars, Irish pipes and a rapid-fire staccato vocal. Lyrically, it's the story of a rakish Irishman banging around New York while pining for his love left behind in Ireland. It announced Kirwan's Black 47 as a band unlike any other before or since.
"With that, it was taking an Irish jig, putting a hip-hop beat underneath it, and then putting a story on top of that," Kirwan recalls. He says producer Ric Ocasek told him he had a hit on his hands as soon as the song was done. But, he says, "before I heard it on the radio, I couldn't believe anybody playing it."
|Larry Kirwan (guitar, vocals)|
Chris Byrne (pipes)
Fred Parcells (pipes, horns)
Geoffrey Blythe (saxophone)
Thomas Hamlin (drums)
Andrew Goodsight (bass).
Related links: Official site
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Kirwan has now populated four studio albums plus a fifth due in January with jaunty characters like this. There is, for example, the hero of the fan favorite "Czechoslovakia" (lyrics), who is sent on a mission to marry "the finest girl in Prague" and then visit the pope, plans that both go awry. And there are solemn tributes to Irish heroes, like "Bobby Sands MP" (lyrics) and, um, "I Got Laid on James Joyce's Grave" (lyrics).
This different kind of songwriting (the only comparison I can think of is Bob Dylan's "Motorpsycho Nightmare") grows out of Kirwan's other life as a playwright. He's got a published collection called "Mad Angels" and a play in development about the Teddy Boys, forerunners of the Mods and Rockers. So combining the playwright's ethic with songwriting, he takes his own experiences and starts embellishing. "Most songs written by rock 'n' rollers tend to be autobiographical, but they don't tend to be character-driven," he says.
Even with national recognition, the band has maintained its local presence, playing every weekend for large crowds. But after playing for years at Paddy Reilly's on the east side, the band was forced to more and had a hard time finding a new venue in the city's shrinking music-club scene. "We had to create our own scene; hence, playing a place like Connolly's," Kirwan says.
Connolly's (14 East 47th St.) is a midtown Irish restaurant and tavern where the bandmates convinced the management to let them set up their equipment upstairs and play. Now their Saturday gig draws a large and varied crowd for a modest $10 cover. Some know the band from MTV; others know it as a New York bar band; others come to hear songs about Ireland.|
"It's like the old Democratic Party it's a big coalition," Kirwan laughs. "One night it might be people who know us as a national band people fly in from out of town. The next night it could be a big Bronx crowd."
Black 47 plays every Saturday, when in town, at Connolly's, including this this Saturday's early record-release party for the forthcoming CD "Trouble in the Land."
|DECEMBER 29, 1999|
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