An Overview, plus Questions and Answers
with Larry Kirwan


by
C.P. Warner
 

 

To call Larry Kirwan a busy man would be an understatement. In addition to being the front man for Black 47, one of the hardest-working bands in the business, he is also a respected solo artist, an author and playwright, an actor, a husband and father, and a political activist.

I've been listening to Black 47 since 1992, when, always eager for new material, I was drawn in by the band's unique instrumentation. What then made me a loyal fan was the quality of Kirwan's thought-provoking lyrics, which have the power to raise a whole gamut of emotions, from laughter, to anger, to sorrow. With the skill of a born storyteller, and the precise diction and delivery of an actor, he draws the listener in with every word. Even in live performance, where each hall's own unique traits can have adverse effects on sound quality, you will not find yourself scratching your head and wondering what words Kirwan just sang. He enunciates, by God, and no one is going to miss his message!

The band's present line-up features Kirwan on lead vocals, guitar, and drum machine; Geoff Blythe on saxophones; Fred Parcells on trombone and tin whistles; Tom "Hammy" Hamlin on drums and Humorous Stage Antics; Andrew Goodsight on bass; and Joe Mulvanerty on uilleann pipes, tin whistles, flute, and bodhran.

These men, who are all excellent musicians, really put on one hell of a show. November sixteenth, at the Met Café in Providence, is the tenth I have attended since rediscovering the band on the Internet in April of 2000.

I had eagerly bought both "Fire of Freedom" and "Home of the Brave" in the early 1990s, but never heard anything more about Black 47 after that. They certainly weren't getting airplay on any of my local radio stations, and I believed they had been a wonderful but short-lived act. How delighted I was to have a random web search prove me wrong!

In addition to that, I soon learned that Kirwan likes to maintain personal contact with fans of the band. In my experience, this is not typical. Used to the cloak-and-dagger mystique of the bands I followed when I was younger, I was shocked when, at the first show I attended in Boston, I ran full-tilt into Kirwan and Parcells as they were entering the venue, fresh from the long trek up from New York City. Being still a totally awestruck fan at the time, I just stared and blinked as the two men passed me.

How things have changed! I've progressed from blinking and staring in shock to sitting in the green room at the Met Café, chatting with Kirwan as my portable tape recorder rolls discreetly.

It's a noisy venue, even with the door shut, and I'm thankful that e-mail correspondence has enabled me to ask most of my questions already. The tape recorder is just to pick up anything I might have forgotten, and to capture whatever interesting anecdotes Kirwan might be inclined to divulge.

He is in the process of exchanging his track shoes for wild socks and a pair of soft-soled green suede oxfords. These are the "Green Suede Shoes" of the song, though under the stage lights they appear to be beige. Now, seeing their true color for the first time, I have to comment:

CPW: Love the shoes. Never noticed they were green before.

LK: These? They're falling apart now. Got to get another pair of green ones.

He draws a patterned, pinkish-red sock from his bag and turns it right side out.

LK: There was a sock lady who used to show up at Paddy Reilly's for various gigs. She would run in, and her husband would be at the door waving, and she'd give me a big thing of socks, then she'd leave. She disappeared about three years ago. These are some she gave me.

CPW: I'm glad you mentioned socks. I've been wanting to ask - how big are your feet, so I can knit you a pair of wild socks?

Unfortunately, no one has a tape measure handy, so we line our shoes up, sole to sole, and discover our feet are pretty much the same size. Now I just have to find the right wild yarn to go with those Green Suede Shoes. Fans, keep your eyes on those feet in the coming months…

 

 

The atmosphere in the green room is slightly tense, as we have just heard that bassist Andrew Goodsight's car has broken down, and he may not make it to the gig. Kirwan is compiling the song list, still managing to be good-humored. "Trying to think of songs that don't need a bass that much," he says. "Bobby Sands MP" is on the list for now, just in case Goodsight does arrive, but everyone knows another song will be substituted at the last minute if he doesn't.

As a musician who has played in small ensembles myself, I know how one person's unexpected absence can affect the general mood; and I've only dealt with it in a rehearsal situation. If it had ever happened at a gig, I'm sure I would have fallen apart. It amazes me, how calmly Kirwan is weathering this.

CPW: This brings up an interesting question, actually. How can you proceed when someone doesn't show? You just work around it as best you can?

LK: Yup. Show goes on. You try and compensate for it somehow. It's like dada-ism. You're presented with a hand, and you go with it. You don't freak out. These things happen. Two hundred fifty gigs a year - something's gonna happen. I used to freak out, but what's the point?

CPW: No, it's not going to solve anything. It's not going to solve the problem.

LK: You just get more uptight. People are here to see you, to hear the songs. We'll wait 'til eleven to go on - we're not due to go on 'til eleven, anyway. There's a chance he may show up…

 

 

NEXT

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Photography Credits

1. Larry Kirwan, by Guenter Friedrichs
2. Geoff Blythe, by Keith Warner
3. Geoff Blythe, Larry Kirwan, and Fred Parcells, by Keith Warner
4. Andrew Goodsight, by Guenter Friedrichs