This week, I got an e-mail from my great and good friend J-Co regarding the band Black 47, a band that has entertained the New York community, the Irish Diaspora community, and lovers of raucous music for many years. I have had the pleasure of meeting frontman Larry Kirwan on a couple of occasions. The wonderful Mary Courtney, the Star of the County Bronx, sang on the song Livin' in America. Anyway, J-Co's e-mail contained the following urgent message from the band:
In early November 2014, exactly 25 years after our first gig, Black 47 will disband. There are no internal disagreements, "differences over musical policy," or general skulduggery, we remain as good friends as when we first played together. We just have a simple wish to finish up at the top our game after 25 years of relentless touring and, as always, on our own terms. The last gig we played at the South Buffalo Irish Festival was as good as any we've ever performed. Our goal now is to play another full year plus and dedicate all of those gigs to you who've supported us through thick and thin. Rather than just running out the clock we will be recording "Last Call," an album of new songs in November. We would like to say goodbye to you all personally and will make every effort to come play in your city, town, college, pub, club, performing arts center, and should you wish to alert your local promoter you can download booking particulars here.
Black 47 has always been more than a band, we've spoken out for the nationalist population in the North of Ireland, against the war but for the troops in Iraq, for our gay brothers & sisters, immigrants - legal and undocumented - as well as for the voiceless of 1845-47; but in the end it all comes down to the music, the songs, and the desire to give audiences the time of their lives and send them home smiling and, perhaps, with a question on their lips. We look forward to seeing you all at the upcoming gigs. Thanks for the support and the memories - let's make many more over the next year. Take care of yourselves. Beir bua!
Wow, reading this e-mail set me on the five stages of grief. Black 47, besides being local heroes, has unfailingly promoted progressive values. As the e-mail puts it, "we've spoken out for the nationalist population in the North of Ireland, against the war but for the troops in Iraq, for our gay brothers & sisters, immigrants - legal and undocumented - as well as for the voiceless of 1845-47". The best way to convey the message of the band is to embed some links to illustrate these categories.
First, we have Fantic Heart, an explicitly anti-torture song detailing the plight of a man radicalized by The Troubles, an individual haunted by the death of his lover, and his subsequent torture at the hands of the authorities:
Downtown Baghdad Blues, drawn from an entire album about the Iraq War was their best-known anti-war but pro-soldier song:
The band's take on Danny Boy was a pro-gay rights anthem:
Livin' in America is about immigrants trying to cope with dead-end jobs with no safety net= "no sick days or benefits, and for Christ's sake don't get hurt. The quacks over here won't patch you up 'til they see the bucks up front!" Mary Courtney runs away with the song with her blistering delivery of the brilliant line, "Is this what I was educated for, to wipe the arse of every baby in America?"
Finally, the band gives voice to the victims of the Great Hunger by virtue of their name. Larry has asserted that the band's attitude towards the Famine is identical to the Jewish attitude toward the Holocaust "Never Again!" While I haven't been able to find a video for the haunting song Black 47 (it's kind of hard to narrow down a web search when band and song share a name), the incongruously jaunty San Patricio pays tribute to Irish immigrants who fled the Great Famine and were pressed into service in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War, only to desert and join the Mexican Army when they realized that they had more in common with the Mexican peasants than with the largely WASP invasion force:
So, you have a full year to see the band play before they disband. If you get the chance to attend one of their concerts, jump on it! While the band has always been passionate about politics, they're a hell of a party band as well. Beir bua, indeed!