The Hippo


Aug 24, 2019








Larry Kirwan. Courtesy photo.

Black 47
When: Thursday, Aug. 21, at 8 p.m.
Where: Shaskeen, 909 Elm St., Manchester
Tickets: $20 at (21+)

A band that mattered
Black 47 career-closing tour stops in Manchester bar

By Michael Witthaus

After 25 years as a band, Black 47 will end where it began — in New York City in November. A career that started in Bronx bars and rose to Leno, Letterman and even Shea Stadium closes out with a run of shows dubbed “Last Call.” The appearance at Manchester’s Shaskeen Pub on Thursday, Aug. 21, will be an intimate one with the politically charged Irish band — just as founder and front man Larry Kirwan likes it. 
“Going to the gig and getting that high, you can get that at the Shaskeen just as much as you can at the Garden,” Kirwan said in a recent telephone interview. “In fact, you may get it more so at the Shaskeen because people will be saying, ‘Wow, they’re here. They’re in my town; they’re in my bar. This is it.’  It’s all about that moment when that fourth wall breaks and something happens in the music.”
Interestingly, this isn’t Kirwan’s first area gig. 
“When I came to this country I did a month at the Lamplighter [a now shuttered Irish bar in Bedford] and I lived in Manchester for a month,” he said. “A guy called Frank from New York, he was a basketball player and he ran [Lamplighter]. I’ll always remember it.”
Black 47 got its start playing places like the Lamplighter for practical reasons, said Kirwan. 
“You don’t get paid a lot in the rock clubs, but you always get paid at an Irish bar. Our idea was to have people come from the outside into this environment. Along comes Joe Strummer who finds us playing, and he says, ‘Man, you’ve got to get out of here.’”
The late Clash guitarist was an early champion of the group. 
“The best thing Strummer ever said about us, I think, is ‘Black 47 is the only band that matters now.’ People used to say the Clash was the only band that matters and Joe said, ‘The Clash is over, and Black 47 is the only band that matters now.’ For years I never even said it. Then when he died, I said, ‘OK, I can say it now.’”
With 40 or 50 gigs left, he’s hopeful Black 47’s torch will pass to another young band. Kirwan will continue a busy solo life that includes writing books and plays, hosting the weekly Sirius/XM show Celtic Crush and carrying on the activism that spurred him and co-founder Chris Byrne early on. 
“There was nobody doing politics anymore, it was the end of the ’80s,” Kirwan said. “We were both actively engaged in Irish causes at that point. Things were very low, so we thought we could be a voice for the voiceless in the north of Ireland. That was the beginning of it.”
Though he’ll remain political, Kirwan has no ambitions to be a politician. 
“I inhaled and I enjoyed it,” he said with a wry chuckle. “I can’t run for office; I have a past.”
A desire to go out on top is the reason Black 47 chose to end 25 years to the day from the first one. 
“Not too many people get that choice to do it as they see fit. … That’s the way we’ve always done it.” But the tour isn’t a vanity exercise either. A final album released in February, Last Call, is packed with the same power and passion as their other records. 
“US of A 2014” indicts the intern economy faced by new college graduates. Even a playful song like “Salsa O’Keefe” makes a point: it’s often easier to blend genres than break the color bar between musicians. 
“Our whole thing was to knock down not just the fourth wall between us and the audience,” said Kirwan, “but to knock down walls between people in general.”  

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