I recently got a copy of a new book by Larry Kirwan of the famed Black 47. The book is titled A History of Irish Music. It is one of those books you would grab if you are a music history fanatic. Or if you are just a casual music lover who happens to share a love for Irish music, then this one is for you too! I think I love this book for both its educational merits and its prose. And you will find out more in this interview as you read Larry Kirwan’s witty answers.
1. Why did you write this book?
Black 47 toured constantly from the announcement of disbanding in Sept. 2013 to the actual final date in Nov. 2015. Because we were going back to a lot of places we’d played over the years my memory was stirred, with the result that a lot of thoughts of growing up in Ireland and the various types of music I’d heard back there came to the fore. These memories were all fresh, so I decided to write them down and put them in a narrative form – a history of what I’d seen and experienced. I also wanted to tie in the social and political changes that had occurred in Ireland and the diaspora, and tie them in with the music that had been created in tandem. Since I was both political and a musician, I thought I had a pretty unique perspective on the times and wished to share that with other people.
2. Was it a challenging experience putting everything together: lyrics, references etc?
Not really, since I could choose whatever subjects and songs I liked. The real problem was with photographs. I had intended to illustrate the book with old prints but found that it was hard to get the rights to many of them. Even when I possessed photos I wasn’t always sure who took them; and even when I was, many of the photographers were either dead or retired. I didn’t want to use their work without permission, so in the end chose not to use any images. A shame! But there’s talk of the book being turned into a documentary, and if that happens I’ll update the work and add photos then.
3. You discussed at length the Travellers and I think that part about a tall man singing his heart out gave me goosebumps. It’s beautiful!
Thank you. It’s very kind of you to say so. I was never less than aware that that particular memory was precious, young though I was. Music was interwoven in the lives of the travellers and the Wexford townies of that time. Everyone sang and I was very aware of the specialness of the moment as it was occurring. Of course, I wasn’t thinking in terms of writing about it so many years later. It was more like experiencing the Irish scene in the Bronx in the 70’s and 80’s – I knew no one else was likely to write about it in detail – and eventually I did in the novel, Rockin’ the Bronx. I wrote a play that detailed my early life back in Wexford – The Poetry of Stone – it was only produced once. I’ve been thinking of turning it into a short novel, purely for my own enjoyment. I hope to get to it in the next couple of years. The Wexford of that time is very clear and luminous to me still. My grandfather is the main character in the play – he drank in Kielty’s – the pub outside which I heard the tall man singing. It’s now called Mary’s Bar and I drink in it when I go to Wexford It’s still unique and has much the same aura as back in my grandfather’s time.
4. You wrote in a style that reads like a song. Was this intentional?
No, not at all. But I guess my life has been so tied in with music that such a thing could happen effortlessly. Also remember I wrote the book as Black 47 was coming to an end. That obviously provoked some strong thoughts, so I’m not surprised that they were coated in an elegiac, if redemptive, manner. I’ve always written prose and plays in a musical fashion. For that matter, all of James Joyce’s work moves to a very defined musical beat. Oddly enough, although incredibly beautiful and insightful, I don’t catch that same strong inner musical pulse in the writing of W.B. Yeats – much as he wished to be a songwriter.
5. What’s next for A History of Irish Music?
Jesus, I really don’t know. I didn’t really plan much of a promotion for the book. What with Black 47 disbanding and my time being taken up with musical theatre and solo work, I’ve orphaned the book. But it already seems to be getting a life of its own. The subject isn’t going away and it’s a good read for those new to Irish music or others who need some gaps plugged. People seem to be enjoying it. And I enjoyed writing it and reliving some of the past. I’m not sure I would ever have written it if I wasn’t the host/producer of Celtic Crush on SiriusXM Radio. I do that weekly three hour show without notes and in an improv fashion, so my memory is jogged – sometimes brutally – every Saturday morning.
6. Will there be another book in a not so distant future?
Yes. It’s a novel called A Raving Autumn. It’s a mystery set in the years after 9/11. I’ve purposely not published it as it was all a bit painful. But I think I’m ready for it now. It may be the best thing I’ve written – I certainly hope so. Oddly enough, earlier today I made a mental decision to go with a September 2016 release date. Hopefully, I’ll stick with that.
7. What’s your message to your readers?
I don’t really have one. I basically write for myself. You spend so much time writing a play or a book that you have to be totally invested in it. In the end, though, I’m just telling a story – hopefully one that is both entertaining and uplifting. Which reminds me of the one rule in Malachy McCourt’s legendary saloon, The Bells of Hell in Greenwich Village.
Thou Shalt Not Bore! I guess I still live by that dictum with regard to my writing.
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much I did putting everything together. It is always a treat having Larry on board. My big thanks to Anita Daly for arranging this interview!
You can buy the book here: http://www.black47.com