(Black 47: a name deriving from the year 1847, the blackest year of the Irish potato famine)

Way back in 1993 I first heard Black 47 in my local record shop in Ormskirk. I entered the shop as I usually do, at least once every week, and the staff shouted, 'Eddie, Eddie, come and listen to this. Who does this CD sound like?' They played a new single, ' Maria's Wedding' by Black 47 and afterwards I said, 'Fucking Hell'. I said this in a whisper of breathless excitement it was not a curse. 'It's Dexys. Play it again.' My local record shop were, probably, the only British shop to play 'Maria's Wedding' four times on the day it was released. Of course, by play 3 I knew it wasn't Kevin Rowland singing but the horn section left a nagging doubt in my mind. I mean, it was so accurately influenced by Searching For The Young Soul Rebels Dexys. Not a copy, an extension, a step further. There isn't a single clue on the sleeve that Geoff Blythe is playing on it but his essence is in the notes he plays and that is a part of the make up of Black 47 the same as it is of Searching For The Young Soul Rebels Dexys. Maria's Wedding became one of my favourite songs of 1993. In fact, I bought several copies for my friends but heard nothing else and for the next nine years was completely unaware of the rest of their music. Then sometime around the turn of the century one Wildheartedoutsider told me that Geoff Blythe played in Black 47. My memory went right back to the record shop in Ormskirk all those years before and that experience suddenly made a lot of sense. I've since collected all of their albums, one by one in chronological order. I'd already visited the website and heard some of the songs but I wanted to hear the music in the order that it was made. I knew from the little I heard on the web that I was going to love this band and I cursed the years I'd spent without them. Now, let's get this straight from the start. I was motivated to discover more about Black 47 because Geoff Blythe a one-time member of my all-time favourite band, plays with them but, and this is a very important, almost spiritual point for me to make, I fucking love this band.

Black 47 were formed in New York 1989 by Larry Kirwan (singer, guitarist, leader, songwriter) and Chris Byrne (Uileann pipes, tin whistle, Bodhrán). Kirwan had previously played in a band called Major Thinkers back in Ireland but had given up music to write plays. They were soon joined by Fred Parcells (trombone) and then Geoff Blythe (sax). Living in New York, Geoff ended up with Black 47 at the suggestion of his wife. Geoff had apparently been, 'going up the walls for want of a gig', he found it. The band were complete with the addition of Major Thinkers drummer Thomas Hamlin and bass player David Conrad. Right, are you with me so far? That's pipes, whistles, a trombone and a sax or two. I haven't mentioned big guitars and loud drum machines have I? Can you imagine what all that sounds like? It's beautiful. Black 47 are a very rich and ambitious mix of Irish folk, Dexys soul, heavy metal, hip-hop, reggae and more. They do not make superficial music. This is music of substance.

Listen to short extract from "Maria's Wedding":

After gigging extensively around New York and building up quite a local following Black 47 released their first music on a cassette they sold at gigs. The nine song mini album is pre-Geoff Blythe, side one has four original studio tracks plus a cover of Dominic Behan's Patriot Games and side two four more songs recorded live in London. The cassette sold well and helped to spread the word and with Blythe and Hamlin on board they began work on their first album proper. The album, Black 47, was recorded at a variety of sessions as the band gigged extensively around New York with a Saturday residency at Paddy Reillys Bar. Bursting with the muse, Kirwan produced the string of classic songs that make up this album. The simplest thing to say here is for you to buy the album but life is never simple. As Black 47's star rose they worked further afield and came to the attention of the record industry who must have been asleep up to this point. Before you know it Black 47 have a deal with EMI and are recording their major label debut, Fire Of Freedom, with The Cars' Rik Ocasek in the production chair. The two albums have nine tracks in common, one is raw, independent and beautiful the other is well-produced, major label and beautiful. Ah, you know, you might as well buy them both. EMI promoted the forthcoming album and band with the release of a five-track EP led by Funky Céilí (In the UK as far as I'm aware the only single was Maria's Wedding). A video was filmed for Funky Céilí  and appeared on MTV. It became the most played song on US alternative radio. Black 47 were big news and appeared all over the music press and on TV talkshows, but EMI were caught by surprise and the stumbling giant were unable to keep up with the speed of demand.


You know the rest, don't you? Big label unable to handle hot property. They make another album. It costs too much money. It fails. Band disappear. This tale has been told before, yeah? No. Black 47 aren't that band. Even during the heady days of the EMI deal and shaking hands with film stars and being watched by Joe Strummer they kept in touch with their roots. Played the bars in New York. Made sure the bills were paid. Behaved as radically, for musicians, as the music they created. Of course they'd all been around the block once or twice. They had that advantage and they wanted it to last. Their second album for EMI, Home Of The Brave cost $250.000 to make. It's not as good as Fire Of Freedom and probably needed to be better. It's also, arguably less commercial. I bet EMI were delighted. Nevertheless there are numerous good songs to find on Home Of The Brave amongst its sixteen tracks. It's one of those albums you have to give plenty of time and lots of plays but who gives music time to grow on them these days, eh?

When demos for the next CD were presented to EMI Black 47 were released from their deal. The then head of EMI didn't like them much, no wait, he liked them but not the demos, no wait a minute he liked the demos but not the songs, oh fuck it, who cares? Free from EMI they made Green Suede Shoes for a fraction of the cost and returned to form. One of Black 47's best songs, Bobby Sands MP is on this LP. As our Kev once said, 'What do you think about Ireland?' Larry Kirwan is one person who would actually be able to give an answer and in his words, 'I only need to hear it (Bobby Sands MP) for seconds before I'm transported back to the psychotic streets of Belfast in those awful days of the early 80's when ten young men were about to die for a political principle. It's a constant reminder to me, at any rate, that peace is a fragile thing and should be treasured as well as fostered.' So what do you (yes, you reading this) think about Ireland? One thing is for sure, if you have narrow-minded ideas or you believe what you once read in NME about Black 47 or if you think a song called Bobby Sands MP must be bad, then you shouldn't even have read this far. There's a great Irish band called The Corrs, maybe they'd suit you better? But, then again, if you're visiting a Dexys website, then you probably heard a song called My National Pride and at least liked it a little bit?

There are three further albums in Black 47's cannon. Two of them, Live In New York City & On Fire are live in concert. Live in New York City was recorded on St Patrick's Day 1999 and is the CD that will make you realise that they are a fantastic live band that you must see once in your life. Trouble In The Land (2000) is their best received album since Fire Of Freedom and contains an immortal, almost punk, song, I Got Laid On James Joyce's Grave (I was hopin' his genius would rub off on me), Ha!!

Larry Kirwan is an Irish poet who writes about real lives and issues. Some of the common themes that run through Black 47 albums are to do with Ireland, Irish politics and the life of the immigrant Irish in USA (specifically New York) but he also tackles themes that no other writer has yet touched. You have never heard songs like this before and you have never heard music like this before. He and the musicians in Black 47 are on a conscious search to push the boundaries of Celtic music as far as they will go.


[To be continued]



1. Home Of The Brave/Live In London

Tracks - 1. Home Of The Brave 2. Too Late To Turn Back 3. Paddy's Got A Brand New Reel 4. Patriot Game 5. Rockin The Bronx 6. Free Joe Now 7. Funky Céilí 8. Liverpool Fantasy/Get Up Stand Up

Label - (no label - independent release) - Released 1989

Notes - This was a cassette only release.

2. Black 47

Tracks - 1. Banks Of The Hudson 2. Rockin' The Bronx 3. Desperate 4. Funky Céilí 5. Fanatic Heart 6. Free Joe Now 7. 40 Shades Of Blue 8. James Connolly 9. Blind Mary/Her Dear Old Donegal/Sleep Tight In New York City 10. Livin' In America 11. Land Of Devalera 12. Paddy's Got A Brand New Reel

Label - BLK Records (independent) Released - 1991

Notes - The CD that I have is on Gadfly Records (Gadfly 272) and dated 2001. It would appear to be some sort of re-release package. It contains 2 extra tracks, Patriot Game and Home Of The Brave which are presumably from the Home Of The Brave cassette.

3. Fire Of Freedom

Tracks - 1. Livin' In America (Fordham Road 8:00am) 2. Maria's Wedding 3. Rockin' The Bronx 4. Fanatic Heart 5. Funky Céilí (Bridie's Song) 6. Fire Of Freedom 7. James Connolly 8. Livin' In America (Bainbridge Avenue 2:00am) 9. Banks Of The Hudson 10. 40 Shades Of Blue 11. New York, NY 10009 12. Sleep Tight In New York City/Her Dear Old Donegal 13. Black 47 14. Livin' In America

Label - EMI/SBK Records Catalogue no. - K2-80686 Released - March 1993

4. Home Of The Brave

1. The Big Fellah 2. Oh Maureen 3. Losin' It 4. Paul Robeson (Born To Be Free) 5. Road To Ruin 6. Black Rose 7. Blood Wedding 8. Carlita's Way 9. Who Killed Bobby Fuller? 10. Different Drummer 11. Danny Boy 12. Voodoo City 13. Time To Go 14. Go Home Paddy 15. Too Late To Turn Back 16. American Wake

Label - EMI/SBK Records Catalogue no. - K2 - 30737 Released - October 1994

5. Green Suede Shoes

Tracks - 1. Green Sued Shoes 2. My Love Is In New York City 3. Bobby Sands MP 4. Change 5. Czechoslovakia 6. Brooklyn Girls 7. Gerty's Farewell 8. Vinegar Hill 9. Sam Hall 10. Walk All Days 11. Five Points 12. Rory 13. Forty Deuce 14. Mo Bhrón 15. Green Suede Shoes (acoustic)

Label - Mercury Catalogue no. - 314 534 064-2 Released - October 1996

6. Live In New York City

Tracks - 1. Three Little Birds 2. Desperate 3. Funky Céilí 4. Green Suede Shoes 5. Walk All The Days 6. The Reels 7. Fanatic Heart 8. James Connolly 9. Different Drummer 10. 40 Shades Of Blue 11. Maria's Wedding 12. Like A Rolling Stone

Label - Gadfly Records Catalogue no. - Released - February 1999

7. Trouble In The Land

Tracks - 1. Trouble In The Land 2. Those Saints 3. Delirious 4. Bobby Kennedy 5. Tramp's Heartbreak 6. Bodhráns On The Brain 7. I Got Laid On James Joyce's Grave 8. Susan Falls Apart 9. Desperate 10. Fallin' Off The Edge Of America 11. Touched By Fire 12. Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Label - Shanachie Records Catalogue no. - Shanchie 5741 Released - January 2000


8. Ten Bloody Years

Tracks - 1. The Patriot Game 2. Free Joe Now 3. Our Lady Of The Bronx 4. Funky Céilí 5. Maria's Wedding 6. Into The West 7. Big Fellah 8. Time To Go 9. Bobby Sands MP 10. Green Suede Shoes 11. Walk All The Days 12. The Reels 13. For What It's Worth 14. Those Saints

Label - Shanachie Records

Notes - This album is a sampler released by Black 47's then new label to re-introduce the public and fans to their back catalogue. It contains their best known songs and a few rarities.


9. On Fire

Tracks - 1. Big Fellah 2. Those Saints 3. Czechoslovakia 4. Fire Of Freedom 5. Bobby Sands MP 6. Rockin' The Bronx 7. American Wake 8. Johnny Byrne's Jig 9. Our Lady Of The Bronx 10. I Got Laid On Jame's Joyce's Grave 11. Biko

Label - Gadfly Records Catalogue no. - Gadfly 280 Released - October 2001


10. New York Town

Tracks - 1. San Patricio Brigade 2. New York Town 3. Orphan Of The Storm 4. Fiona's Song 5. Staten Island Baby 6. Mychal 7. Livin' In America - 11 Years On 8. Brooklyn, Goodbye 9. Black Rose 10. Blood Wedding 11. I Won't Take You Home Again, Kathleen 12. Fatima

Label - Gadfly Catalogue No. - Released - 2004



11. Elvis Murphy's Blue Suede Shoes

Tracks - 1. Far Side Of The Wall 2. Downtown Baghdad Blues 3. The Bells Of Hell 4. Girl Next Door 5. Elvis Murphy 6. The Day They Set Jim Larkin Free 7. Uncle Jim 8. Ino The West 9. Liverpoo Fantasy 10. History Of Ireland Part 1 11. Kilroy Was Here 12. Life's Like That, Isn't It?

Label - Gadfly Released - April 2005

Notes - The album is credited to Black 47 with songs by Larry Kirwan






1. Black 47 EP

Tracks - 1. Funky Céilí (Bridie's Song) 2. James Connolly 3. Maria's Wedding 4. Our Lady Of The Bronx 5. Black 47

Label - EMI/SBK Records Cat no. - K2-80971 Released - November 1992



2. Maria's Wedding

Tracks - 1. Maria's Wedding (edit) 2. Maria's Wedding (album version) 3. Fire Of Freedom

Label - EMI/SBK Records Catalogue no. - CDSBK 24 Released - 1993



3. Losin' It

[To be continued]

The original version of this page was created by Eddie Metal