This is the title Larry Kirwan’s upcoming show:
Sounds like you are going to expect something wicked, festive and poignant is happening this March 17. The spirit of Rock and Roll is strong as ever and when it is mixed with Irish Celtic music; the brew becomes intoxicating. All Black 47 fans will love this!
March marks the exciting month in Irish music as we celebrate St Patrick’s Day with gusto. There will be lots music, of course. And there is always a cross-generational/genre appeal when Larry Kirwan stages a concert. And you will know why as you read the rest of the interview.
CMF1. Great to hear you are returning on St Patrick’s Day! You must be excited with the new lineup.
Larry Kirwan: Well, in a way I’m surprised I’m even doing a show with a band. I had intended doing a solo show for St. Patrick’s Night in some smaller room.
Then BB King’s asked me to put together an evening and headline it with a band. At first, I turned it down but then I began to feel that there should be a major gig in Times Square on the biggest Irish night. In many ways, it was a bit early for me after Black 47 disbanding. But in the end I followed the old Black 47 advice, “nothing ventured – nothing gained.”
So, I put out the word to a number of musicians I’d been working with in other spheres and they all were keen to play, so onwards and upwards, as the bishop said to the actress!
2. You’ve got eclectic musicians in the team. When/how did you decide to jam together at BB King’s?
Black 47 will never be surpassed for its singular style, originality and energy and being a founder-member I’m very respectful of that. Yet as a writer it’s interesting to speculate how some of the songs would sound with different instruments and a different approach. Songs to me are living and breathing entities and, in my head, they’re constantly changing and evolving. I’d always wanted to play with a double bassist, and recently I’d jammed with Rene Hart at a David Amram gig.
He comes much more from a Jazz and Improv world, so I asked him first. I’d been very impressed with the piano playing and arranging of Coty Cockrell when he worked on my Hard Times musical, so I approached him. I’d always admired Deni Bonet on violin. She’s played with so many artists and we got talking at the Kansas City Irish Festival when she was playing with Mundy (the Irish superstar). And I wouldn’t have felt right without inviting my long-tme drummer, Thomas Hamlin. We’ve played together in so many bands previous to Black 47. So, it should be an exciting gig and it is St. Patrick’s Night which always promises surprises.
3. I heard there will be lots of laughs and improvisation during the show.
Every show I’m involved with has lots of merriment. I always keep things loose onstage. That’s what Rock & Roll is about.
Throw together some good songs and let the musicians knock sparks off each other. Music is there for the making, you just have to let the spirit loose.
4. Apart from the usual St Patrick’s excitement, this is going to be interesting as it marks the 100th anniversary of the 1916 uprising in Dublin. Sounds like it’s going to be a poignant event.
WB Yeats said that “poetry should be as cold and passionate as the dawn.” I always try to follow that rule. So, if there is poignancy, it has to be balanced with power and purpose. Along with songs about James Connolly and Michael Collins (both leading figures in the 1916 Uprising) – I’ll also be introducing a new song, Sean MacDiarmada, about Sean McDermott the real initiator of the rebellion. But then Black 47 always kept the Spirit of 1916 going – we didn’t have to wait for any convenient centenary commemoration. That spirit is strong and as long as I perform it will always be celebrated.
5. Your artistry extends to writing and you have your own show on Sirius XM. How do you keep it all together, to give generously to your listeners and still maintain your multi-media expertise?
Well, I rarely watch television or spend much time on the internet, and I’m not a big sleeper. But I also find that if you work on interesting projects you gain energy by moving from one to the other. With Celtic Crush on SiriusXM I basically improv, play my favorite artists, and talk about whatever comes to mind for three hours. That’s exhilarating and is like doing a long gig. I get amazing feedback from the many listeners around the US and Canada, so that really helps. I’ve always worked as a playwright and novelist while playing with Black 47, so I’ve always had a couple of projects going while on the road. I’m currently working on a score for a documentary, though, that is really kicking my butt as I have to learn a new recording system at the same time. My big regret is that I’ve had to put aside a new musical I’m writing about Iraq until after March 17th. But maybe the break will help.
6. Your son Rory K is also joining you on stage. He is doing an interesting solo career as an emerging hip-hop artist! I know his music and I am one of his avid followers.You must be a proud dad.
Frankly, I’m amazed at his facility with words. He has a great feel for the sound, rhythm, and meaning. That goes for a lot of hip-hop artists. Yeah, sure I’m proud of him, particularly since he did it himself without any help from me. I didn’t even know about that side of him for a long time. He turns me on to really interesting artists like Fetty Wap. I also like the fact that he has a steady job and is doing well at that too. My major advice to anyone going into the music world is get a skill that will net you a couple of hundred bucks a day. I didn’t take that route and it was a hard road that brought you face to face with real financial stress. I give him what advice I can but in the end each artist has to find their own way.
7. There will be stand up comedy during the show right?
Yes, my old friend and comrade, John McDonagh of WBAI will be presenting a small piece of his highly acclaimed show, Cabtivist, as well as acting as MC for the night. So, in many ways it’s a gathering of the clans. It will be a fun show.
8. Will this St Patrick’s eve going to be the brand New Larry Kirwan with new music along the way?
I’ve actually written a dozen new songs for the IRAQ musical – so most of my songwriting energy has gone into that. I will be doing a couple of new songs especially for the show though. I’m also reworking David Bowie’s Heroes to transpose it from Berlin to Belfast – from one wall to another. David was a big influence on so many of us. I was lucky enough to have a long conversation with him one night about music, Berlin, Belfast, and life in general. He was a very inspiring person. He loved innovation and I think he would have liked this new take on Heroes. I guess that’s one of the themes of this coming show – what happens to songs when you look at them in a different perspective?
9. What else can people expect coming to the show?
Well, Chris Byrne, the co-founder of Black 47 will be joining me on stage. That’s always special for me. Something happens when we perform together.
It was like that right from the start back in 1989. Sparks fly and there’s a joy and purpose in the air. He’ll also do an opening set with his Urban/Traditional band, Lost Tribe of Donegal. And another old collaborator, David Amram, will be joining me. David is an amazing musician and perhaps the last living member of the Beats – he and his friend Jack Kerouac began the whole Poetry/Jazz thing. He’ll be bringing down his French Horn, whistles and hand drum. My brothers and sisters from the Lia Fail Pipes and Drums from Mercer County, NJ will perform. It’s always a thrill to have them present. They’re excellent and always get the crowd going. And there’ll be surprise guests. It will be a night to remember.
For everyone’s benefit please read this press release:
Big thanks to my friend Anita Daly for arranging this interview!