Black 47 will disband in October 2014 exactly 25 years later. In the meantime, Black 47 will record a final album, Last Call and tour the country for a year returning to old haunts and doing an extended tour of summer festivals.
“The band has never sounded better, we’re working on twelve new songs, it seemed like a great time to call it a day,” said leader and IAW&A co-founder Larry Kirwan. “We decided to go out when we’re ahead and, as always, on our own terms.”
Formed by Chris Byrne an NYPD detective and Kirwan, a playwright, Black 47 – who took their name from the worst year of the Irish Potato Famine – caused an immediate stir by introducing original music and political context into the Irish bar scene. “It was a bracing sound, we were setting Irish jigs and reels to Hip-Hop beats, singing about James Connolly and Michael Collins, and creating pub anthems like Livin’ in America and 40 Shades of Green.” Soon Black 47 was signed to EMI Records, Funky Ceili lit up FM Radio and MTV, and the band became a feature on Leno, Letterman and O’Brien.
“It was a different world back in 1989, the streets were edgy, we played recession gigs where you could get a pint for $2, the Guildford Four had just been freed from a British prison, we were campaigning for the release of Joe Doherty from the MCC. Still we were very much about entertainment and innovation – how to unleash the power of Irish melodies and link them to the beats of the day, how to portray the lives of modern immigrants, always with an eye on current events.”
Black 47 became popular nationally because of heavy airplay and television exposure. In many ways though the band has always been synonymous with New York City; their CD, New York Town is an incisive document of the city during the 9/11 period. “We played every Saturday night in Connolly’s for years after the tragedy trying to get people to come back to mid-town while providing a scene for first responders and New Yorkers who needed to kick back and let off some steam.”
Many think Black 47’s finest hour was their opposition to the war in Iraq even while supporting their many fans serving there in the military. “It was a tough time, speaking out on a nightly basis particularly to the unconverted. But the troops loved the Iraq CD – a band was singing about them and what they were going through.”
Geoff Blythe (saxophones), Fred Parcells (trombone/whistle) & Thomas Hamlin (drums) are the other three original members. Joseph Mulvanerty (uilleann pipes/bodhran) joined when Chris Byrne left in 2000, and Joseph “Bearclaw” Burcaw (bass) came aboard in 2007. All members add their own spin to the arrangements of the songs from Last Call, described as “a very up, horn driven, celebration of American and Irish life.” Then again, that’s what Black 47 has always been about. It should be a great final year for “the only band that matters,” as their friend Joe Strummer once described them.