Black 47
Larry Kirwan's Musical Poetry
 More of this Feature
• Part One
• Part Two
• Part Three
  Related Resources
• Fusion
• Ireland/Celtic
 Elsewhere on the Web
• Black 47: Official Site

Black 47 is one of New York's biggest homegrown acts. Known the nation over from their campus performances, television appearances, and regular gig over at the Paddy Reilly's Bar in Manhattan.

Five albums later, Black 47 released a live album late last year, On Fire!, which captures the band's energetic live show and music that combines elements of Celtic, rock, folk and hip-hop. Lead singer and songwriter Larry Kirwan, also an established playwright, released a solo album, entitled Kilroy Was Here, a few months later.

Kirwan has a talent for writing and singing about Irish and Irish-American political icons, against a multi-layered musical background. His poetic lyrics always tell a story, and he has managed to capture elements of Irish-American life, both with Black 47 and on his own, as well as life in New York, and various World situations.

I had the chance to ask Larry Kirwan some questions about his music and inspirations.

Paula: Why did you decide to release a solo album?

Larry: The songs seemed to be coming from a different place - I'm not quite sure how to explain it. They seemed of a mood and a moment that called for something a bit different than Black 47. Not that Black 47 couldn't have wonderfully interpreted the thoughts and ideas that eventually became songs; but, for one, I was hearing the lead instruments as trumpet and violin - I was also hearing double bass instead of electric bass, and I wanted to place the kick drum and snare much further back than is customary with Black 47. So, it seemed fitting to use some other musicians. I had no idea of making a Black 47 light (whatever that might be). Stewart Lerman was in on the planning of the cd from early on; he was familiar with a number of the players and felt that they would add immeasurably to the songs. I went into Stewart's studio first and laid down acoustic versions of all the songs; then we sat back and figured who might be the right people to interpet I was also interested in seeing if I could adapt a number of influences and insights that I'd gathered from listening to Myles Daivs/Gil Evans and apply them to a contemporary album.

Paula: What influences your lyrics, both for Kilroy was Here and with Black 47?

Larry: Well, with Kilroy, for the some part I was dealing with memory and the place that I came from, Wexford town in South Eastern Ireland. I had a very sepia-toned childhood to employ a cliche. Wexford was isolated and yet very much aware of the world around it. I wanted to capture the time and essence of that childhood because both have long gone. The Wexford that I return to now is quite different than the one I grew up in. I wanted to take a snapshot of it as I remembered it and my family, as in "Life's Like That, Isn't it?" I wanted to frame the teddyboy/rockabilly world of teenage Wexford as in "Symphony in Blue." In other songs from Kilroy, I had a notion to capture a sweet melancholia as in Molly, which uses Joycean metaphors but is really about being in love with a woman who is sleeping with two men and caring for both of them. Fatima came from overhearing Pete Hamill ask "what does the Pakistani taxi-driver say to his children when he comes home at night." History of Ireland, Part 1 is an attempt to tweak the noses of self-serving historians and political activists, not the least myself.

With Black 47, I often use the raw data of my own life to create humorous adventures, this is probably a Henry Miller influence. As Henry did, I usually exaggerate or add something to the mix. I've never been a confessional Joni/Jackson type of writer. Some of the songs are inlfuenced by my years as a playwright - have a beginning, middle, end but always leave a little sense of mystery or "unfinishedness." Then there are the historical songs. I, myself, am deeply interested and influneced by history. And there are songs with a poltical bent - not preachy, one hopes, but those that can give a nudge in a general direction - usually leftwards or populist. But, usually, I just let my mind range and see if something comes up that I'm interested in.

Paula: What messages do you feel important to get across to an audience with your songs?

Larry: I'm not sure I quite think like that for the most part. With the political songs, I want to wake people up and get them thinking. Get them away from TV where they are being insidiously influenced by ads and "messages" - deprogram them. For many years, I was using songs to heighten the Irish-American experience and in that way get people more interested in the British problem in the North of Ireland. With songs such as James Connolly, Bobby Sands, Big Fellah, etc I was seeking to give heroes to the youth - not just the Irish American youth but young people in general. But, if there is an overlying message in the songs, it is redemption. No matter what happens, most of humanity has to get up in the morning and go at another day. Black 47's music is there to be a sound-track to that often difficult struggle.

Next page > More with Larry Kirwan >