Black 47 to paint the town green
Short of tracking down and lassoing the four globetrotters in U2, or summoning Rory Gallagher with a Ouija board, it's hard to imagine a bigger coup.
Come Sunday, though, when the better-than-ever Mystic Irish Parade steps off, Black 47, the New York-based rock band noted for its mix of fiery activism, indigenous Celtic flourishes and spirited, Clash-like anthems, will be atop the headliner float.
And, in more than 2,500 gigs in a 22-year career, Black 47 has performed in virtually every possible venue, club, tent, barn, parking lot, arena, fair or festival.
But never on a parade float.
Larry Kirwan, Black 47's iconic frontman/songwriter/guitarist, thinks the idea of playing on a parade float is pretty cool.
"Should be a blast as long as we don't fall off," he says. "But I know our Connecticut fan base will be only too willing to dust us off and help us back up again."
No doubt. Black 47 inspires intense local loyalty, which is a tribute not just to the band's dynamic fervor in performance or their Irish allegiance, but also to the always-searching but e'er consistent quality of albums such as "Fire of Freedom," "Home of the Brave," "Black 47" and "Trouble in the Land." As they've matured, Kirwan's ability to reflect and analyze critical situations across the globe get sharper and more impassioned. Most recently, records such as "Iraq" and "Bankers and Gangsters" remain acutely relevant and insightful.
The latest Black 47 album is "A Funky Céilí," an inspired collaboration emphasizing the up-tempo, most-rocking aspects of their back catalog. The idea came to a sleepy Kirwan on a mid-winter drive from a gig in Boston back to New York. Kirwan rolled down the window, hoping the icy air would revive him, and mentally designed a Black 47 mix tape that would so energize the listener, it would keep him or her awake on a long drive.
On this busiest week of their year - in which Black 47 cheerfully battled jet lag to play St. Patty celebrations from Las Vegas to New York - Kirwan answered Five Questions in anticipation of the Mystic parade.
Q: Rock 'n' roll is by definition a festive exercise. But I associate a commitment and activisim with certain artists such as Black 47, the Clash, Springsteen, Rage Against the Machine and so on. Given that St. Patrick's Day is a celebration in its most liquid form, describe how you guys will approach a gig like the Mystic Parade.
A: I guess we pretty much deal with every show as it comes. Seeing we've done almost 2,500 and have never repeated the same set, you just see what happens on the day and react to it. But I think the activism and commitment is built in to Black 47 and surfaces no matter what. Still, to the best of my recollection, we've never performed on a float before - so there's always a first.
Q: "A Funky Céilí" is such a great idea for an album. In that spirit of pure energy, you'd think the band could play the entire album's track list in order, and it would make for a killer show night after night. But there's more to it than that. Talk about the dynamics and ebb and flow of coming up with a set list. Most important, for a St. Patty show like the Mystic Parade, how do you tailor your set list?
A: Well, we're playing a fairly late show in Rumson, N.J., the night before (Springsteen's home town), so we'll just get up on the float, have a slug and see what happens. The "Funky Céilí" CD has become really popular. I guess we've finally found our niche - keeping people awake on long journeys or providing a non-stop background to a party!
Q: There are two very fine Irish bars - John's and the Harp & Hound - hard to the main parade route in Mystic. Will you hijack the parade to stop at either or both, and is there any beer, really, besides Guinness?
A: No doubt we'll visit a pub or two. I'm actually more of an IPA drinker than Guinness, though I do quaff the occasional pint of "Liquid Quaaludes," our code name for Guinness!
Q: In the context of St. Patrick's Day stereotypes, do you get tired of people expecting you to eat corned beef and cabbage?
A: No, although the equivalent in Ireland was bacon and cabbage. I generally eat anything that's put in front of me and say, "Thank you, and could I please have dessert?"
Q: "Bankers and Gangsters," to me, continues to illustrate the Black 47 dichotomy between rock-as-fun and rock-as-message. There's great energy and witty tunefulness - but at the same time the band seems pretty angry. Talk a bit about the record and the creative impulse that led to the recording.
A: Actually, I'm not sure we're pissed off as much as we approach music and issues with energy. After all, we are rock and rollers and not wistful folkies, although I suppose we have a little of that element.
I often used to argue with (renowned and seminal rock critic) Lester Bangs at the (now-closed) Bells of Hell about "fun versus message." For the most part, Lester preferred music for fun's sake, whereas I always went for music with at least a little content heft. Thus, I preferred The Clash to The Ramones, and I would imagine that Black 47 reflects that.
When we did the "Iraq" CD, I was concentrating solely on writing songs that reflected what we were hearing from our fans and friends serving over there. So when I came to write "Bankers and Gangsters," I could let my mind roam again and write about anything. I think the songs - and their treatments - demonstrate that.
Thus you can go from "Red Hugh" (in which the titular character spends a last paranoid night in Spain) to "That Summer Dress," lying on the floor, or from Rosemary Nelson's assassination to memories of Lester, Television, et al at CBGB's in "Long Hot Summer." So, to me, sheer eclecticism is the hallmark of "Bankers & Gangsters."
IF YOU GO
Who: Black 47
What: Appearing at 9th Annual Mystic Irish Parade
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Begins at south parking lot, Mystic Seaport, winds through downtown, ends at Mystic Arts Center
How much: Free
For more information: mysticirishparade.org
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