Black 47's Kirwan puts faith in music
June 18, 2003
ARTS & LIFESTYLE
Article by LARRY KATZ
Black 47's Kirwan puts faith in music The notion that music can change the world is more than idealistic malarkey to Larry Kirwan. It's the reason Kirwan, leader of the Irish-American rock band Black 47, pushed ahead with his idea for the American Fleadh, a tour coming Saturday to the FleetBoston Pavilion that gathers a half- dozen bands with Irish roots. It's also the underlying belief of his first novel, "Liverpool Fantasy" (Thunder's Mouth Press, $14.95), a book that asks a deeply intriguing question: What would have happened to John, Paul, George, Ringo and the world we live in if the Beatles had broken up in 1962. "When I think back to when I was growing up in Wexford in Ireland," Kirwan says from his home in lower Manhattan, "everything was black and white before the Beatles. Then they came along and it all became color. `Please Please Me' blew Ireland and England away. The Beatles changed everything. From then on it was just cool to be young and not get married and not get a job and to do what you wanted to do." But in "Liverpool Fantasy," based on a play he wrote in the mid- '80s, Kirwan imagines what might have been had the Beatles not "changed everything." In the book's opening, set in 1962, an angry John Lennon quits the band when the Beatles' record company insists on the release of the sugary show tune "Till There Was You" as a single instead of "Please Please Me." George Harrison and Ringo Starr return home with Lennon, while practical Paul McCartney heads to America to embark on a career in show biz. Flash forward to the late '80s. A bitter John is living on the dole in Liverpool. He's still pals with Ringo, who's plugging away on drums with Gerry and the Pacemakers. George is a Jesuit priest suffering a crisis of faith. And then Paul McCartney, an aging Las Vegas entertainer better known as Paul Montana, decides to visit his old mates for the first time in 25 years to suggest a reunion. "I started writing `Liverpool Fantasy' because of something I read," Kirwan says, "something where it said that John would have been a success in any field at any time regardless of the Beatles. "Being a fan, I went along with that at first. Then I began to think, `No, he wouldn't.' Because I knew a lot of John Lennons growing up in Wexford. Maybe they weren't as talented as John, but they were great singers, songwriters and guitarists who had a brutal honesty combined with not-so-great people skills. I still see them around. Guys at war with the world who think they're better than everybody. I think that's what would have happened to John if there had been no Paul around to smooth out the rough edges." But in "Liverpool Fantasy," Kirwan does more than create an alternate universe in which the four Beatles live out much different lives. He sees a different England. Without the Beatles leading a cultural revolution to the tune of "All You Need Is Love," Kirwan envisions the rise of politician Enoch Powell's National Front party leading Britain - and John's son Julian - to embracing a nightmarish fascism. "My point," Kirwan says, "is that if there had been no swinging London, if the Beatles hadn't been kings of the world at the time, unleashing all these possibilites for everyone . . . the National Front would have become a much more powerful force. At that point in time, the Beatles had a huge effect. They did change the world." Kirwan's belief in the power of music takes another form with his band Black 47 and his brainchild, the American Fleadh (pronounced flah). "A fleadh is a generic term for `getting together with music' in Gaelic," he says. "We played all of the Guinness Fleadhs, which ended a few years ago. It was a great thing, but I wanted to take it down to a manageable size so we could tour across the country with five or six great live bands and give people a show you don't need an American Express card to pay for. "The one unifying theme is that all the bands have a connection to Irish music. But each one puts a different spin on it. Flogging Molly have a punk, hard-core Pogues-ish feel. Hothouse Flowers have a blue-eyed soul feel in the best possible sense. The Saw Doctors have a tremendous pop and folk rock sensibility. Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul have added Americana roots to the music along with Eileen's virtuoso appeal on the violin. The Prodigals bring a jig punk feel to it. "As for Black 47, we bring the political side and the reggae and rock." Kirwan says with a laugh. "And general mayhem." Will the American Fleadh change people's lives? Kirwan believes it will at least strike a blow at a modern electronic dictator. "Television has already taken over, hasn't it?" he says. "Live music is one of the few antidotes we have to the creeping apathy that comes from watching TV. Getting people together is important. It's all over unless we get people out there." American Fleadh, Saturday at 7 p.m. at the FleetBoston Pavilion. Tickets are $30-35. Call 617-931-2000. E-mail: email@example.com Larry Katz Executive Arts Editor Boston Herald One Herald Square Boston MA 02118 617-619-6483Copyright (c) 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.