You're a voracious reader, so what about literary influences in general?
LK: Oh, millions
of them. Apart from the obvious ones, Yeats and Joyce, I would say Henry Miller,
Lawrence Durrell, Shakespeare, Hemingway. (Every songwriter should read Hem. He
showed us how to take the clothes off the words and get down to the essence.)
I'm also deeply influenced by Edith Wharton - her ability to grab you in the first
sentence - and the Gaelic poet, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill - who strips away all
that harmful Jansenist Catholic influence and returns us to the real Irish sources
- amongst many others. Barbara Pym too, in an odd way. I'm sure a songwriter as
sublime as Ray Davies of the Kinks was influenced by her - the ability to see
drama in small lives. But I'm careful not to mix up literature with music. Then
it becomes merely literal. You should never appear literary. If it shows, then
you've crossed the line and become a pretentious bore. And God save us from that.
CPW: Are you reading
anything in particular at the moment, and if so, what?
I'm reading a collection of short stories by William Trevor (also great for songwriters).
I've stopped reading House of Mirth by Edith recently - she breaks my heart
too easily and I'm feeling a bit fragile lately. I'm re-reading Shakespeare's
sonnets - the word genius is thrown around so much these days - but how do you
even do homage to old Will? He still shines…
Anbinder (a fan of the band's) gave me his wonderful book about Five Points last
week and I'm enjoying that. I often take a flip through Graham Greene's The
Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair. Once I found Greene
exotic and distant; now, unfortunately, I often feel as though I'm living his
various moral dilemmas. I would recommend any writer to read those books. For
anyone drunk on words, read The Alexandrian Quartette by Lawrence Durrell.
And, if you have trouble getting up in the morning, read Henry Miller for his
lust for life. He's got me through many's the rough morning.
Would you please define your particular concept of "duende"?
Well, I was introduced to the concept of duende by the Spanish poet García
Lorca, and that was one of the reasons why I recorded my solo CD, "Kilroy
Was Here." Duende to me means that link that you can forge with an
audience where both singer and audience get to explore the individual "hearts
of their matters." It's when a song, usually by its meaningfulness, opens
up a mainline to the heart or the soul. Now, Black 47 tends to do that, to some
extent, with people at every gig, but usually in a redemptive manner - "No matter
how bad things are, I'm going to get up tomorrow morning and have another go at
the world," kind of thing. But I wanted to see if - armed with just a guitar -
I could go even deeper. Irish people have a rare sense of duende, but we
often coat it over with a patina of slagging and humor. Some of that comes from
our particular form of Catholicism, the rest probably from being a subjected people
for so many centuries. Christy Moore singing "The Cliffs of Doneen"
is an example of how the coating can be stripped away. I've been learning how
to cut through it at these solo shows of mine. It took a while, but I've been
getting there lately. It was a hard road, though. I found that instead of getting
rid of the conditioning of my audience, I first had to get rid of it from myself.
After I discovered that basic fact - I sometimes can't believe how I manage to
miss the obvious - it became easier to achieve.
Black 47 has a unique lineup of instruments - one of the first things to attract
me to the band's music. Did you and co-founder Chris Byrne have this particular
instrumentation in mind when you decided to form a band, or did it all just fall
into place bit by bit?
Nothing at all like that. It was meant to be a duo. I had played in various improv
downtown bands with Fred Parcells. He just assumed that Black 47 was improv and
showed up with his trombone on one of the first nights out. Geoff Blythe's wife
and I were old friends. I met her in a park one day and she said Geoff was going
up the walls at home. I just told her to send him down to the next gig. That's
the way it was in the early days. Fred used to take other gigs sometimes and we
were expected to be a four-piece, so I would get Thomas Hamlin, my old drummer
from Major Thinkers, to sit in on African percussion in Fred's absence. One day
Fred came back and Hammy refused to leave . . . and so it goes. But each guy was
chosen for his distinctive musical chops, the ability to improv and take the songs
further every night and, of course, a sense of humor.
Of all the songs you have written, are you able to choose a favorite, or does
it vary from day to day?
I don't really think of it like that. It's always on to the next song, play or
novel with me. I would say that "Life's Like That" and "Molly"
from the solo CD are favorites. They reflect exactly what I want them to. With
the Black 47 songs, it varies nightly. A song will take off onstage and that will
be my favorite. I've always been very particular about what songs we record -
there is absolutely no filler on a Black 47 CD, every song has to fight its way
on. So I can relax when singing them. They are all of a certain standard and,
like children, I'm fiercely proud of them all. Then it's up to each one to go
beyond itself on the night. And that varies wildly. Some songs call for a certain
something and if I don't have that within me, no matter how many people are requesting
it, I won't do it. For instance, "James Connolly" and "Black 47"
demand total concentration and immersion in the characters of the songs. It's
not too much of an exaggeration to say that, when performing them, you take a
beating during those two songs; so if I'm not up to the thrashing, I just won't
do them. However, there is nothing quite like performing "James Connolly."
It's just one of those songs. But you have to totally immerse yourself in it -
you have to be prepared to go through his death and ultimate triumph. And that
may not be something that you want to do every night.
What do you feel is the best work - in any medium - that you have ever done?
LK: Oh, I have no
idea, but I think my play "Poetry of Stone" strikes to the core. "Bobby
Sands MP" is a great recording on "Green Suede Shoes." There are
parts of "Fire of Freedom" that just zing along. And there are many
moments on "Kilroy Was Here." I listened to "Fallin' Off The Edge
of America" and "Tramp's Heartbreak" last week and was very moved.
But, as I said before, I'm always thinking ahead. There are two songs from the
next Black 47 studio album, "The Far Side of the Wall" and "Poetry
of Stone" which feel great to me. But, as ever, with the new work I'm very
conscious that the songs must stand up to the Black 47 standard. That's not an
entirely comfortable feeling. But what can you do? Black 47, at this stage, has
a legacy and I'm very conscious of how many people trust and love the band. I
would give up rather than let them down.
What was your most difficult musical project to bring to completion?
"Home of the Brave." And yet, I'm very proud of the end result. But
it took a lot out of me, for various reasons. (For more on this subject, visit
the 'albums' page at: www.black47.com).
CPW: How do you feel
about the current state of the music industry?
It was always a hard business and not one to be entered lightly, although most
of us did come into it in that manner. But it has gotten even worse over the last
10 years - to a point where I would say that you would have to be masochistic
to have anything to do with it. If it were possible, I would take a year's sabbatical
from the sheer stress of the road and the business. Sometimes, I actually feel
like my head is exploding, but then I get out in front of an audience and see
what the band and the songs mean to them, and all the furies seem to fade away.
What can I say but keep out of the music business and just enjoy music for its
own sake, in your local pub or garage or rehearsal room. It's a quagmire that
only very rarely allows dreams to be even explored, let alone turned into realities.
do you think of most rock bands today? Do you feel some are overproduced?
LK: I don't really
listen to rock music. I'm not saying that there are not great bands out there,
but everything seems so regurgitated. Over-produced, under-produced, who cares?
Just give me a good song. Something original. It's been so long since I've had
that thrill of hearing something and going, "wow." That first moment when you
heard "No Woman No Cry" by Marley for instance.
Has the World Trade Center disaster given you any second thoughts about staying
in New York, or even anywhere else in the United States?
I don't think I'll ever leave New York. I love the very stones in the streets.
But the thought of leaving because of 9/11 would be reprehensible to me. New York
is an old love. I shared in all her greatness and she took me home with her on
so many wonderful nights. Am I supposed to walk out the door on her when she's
down on her luck? No bloody way. She'll rise again and, hopefully, I'll still
be there to rise with her for coffee in the morning.
What effect is the disaster having on your current work? Do you expect to make
mention of it in future work, or is it all still too fresh and raw to write about?
LK: I generally let
events like that go through my system and hopefully crystallize into some song,
play or story down the years. I've never been a one to read a headline in a newspaper
and grab the guitar... but I suppose that the general tenseness and melancholy
will find its way out in the short term. There is a tremendous sadness in New
York City now. But life's like that, isn't it?
You have mentioned the recent attacks on schoolchildren in the Ardoyne district,
both on the Black 47 website, and in a recent newsletter. Would you like to make
People can refer to this issue at: www.black47.com.
Suffice it to say that I think that, because of political correctness, that we
are unwilling to go the root of sectarianism - both Protestant and Catholic -
in the North of Ireland. In the case of the stoning of Catholic schoolgirls in
the Ardoyne, this is a blatant case of Protestant hatred of Catholics and Catholicism.
Before there will be any lasting peace in the North of Ireland, this hatred must
be exposed for what it is - racism and sectarianism, and not excused as some form
of fear of losing turf. And of course, likewise with any forms of Catholic sectarianism.
Religion has been a curse to all peoples in the North and it's time regular people
stood up to fundamentalists of all stripes.
Would you please elaborate on the issues of the day as you see fit?
Well, in a society that is basically at war right now, it's very important not
to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We're very lucky, in that we live in
a democracy, no matter how flawed. One of the advantages of a society such as
ours is that we all have the right to our views, no matter how unpopular. Likewise
the right to a fair trial is sacrosanct but there are rumblings that this should
be denied "terrorists" and people suspected of terrorism. We should be ever vigilant
of protecting that right. No "secret" or "military" trials either, please!
CPW: What gets you
through each day, in this world that seems to be spinning out of control?
LK: As Samuel Beckett
said, "I must go on." What else is there?
1 2 3
Larry Kirwan & C.P. Warner
C.P. Warner, novelist
Larry, by Guenter Friedrichs
2. The author and Mr. Kirwan, by Phoebe Warner
Please visit: http://www.black47.de
to view more of Mr. Friedrichs' excellent Black 47 concert photos.
thanks to Larry and Bernadette, for this wonderful opportunity to do something
nice in return for all the years of pleasure and strength
Black 47's music
has given me.