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I've been a Wild Rover... the Irish influence.
To be sure
"I have been a wild rover for many a year", most of my years in fact, and I'm not even proper Irish; I am Australian. Nevertheless, there is a bit of the Green in my blood and over the years it has become greener by degrees, despite remaining true blue Aussie. Like the real Irish, there's a bit of blarney in my tale and it goes like dis...
...My great grandparents on my Dad's side came from somewhere around Limerick, emigrating to Sydney way back in the mists of time (the mid-nineteenth century.) I never knew them of course - they were just sepia pictures on the wall of my Grandmother's house - but their Irishness filtered through the family generations in ever decreasing amounts - in our anti-establishment, anti-royalist, aspirational, working class ethos; my Nan's staunch Catholicism; the two rebel songs that my Dad would croon when he reminisced about old uncles who's wakes he attended when he was a child - snippets of Irish things that meant little if anything to me, an Aussie boy who loved the beach and the bush. Right through my childhood, my teens, twenties and my early thirties I thought little about my pinch of Irish Blood. Even after I moved to England, Ireland was of little interest to me.
The Soul Destroyers
I have been playing the guitar, as a hobby, since I was 18; my music of choice being The Blues. Once I settled into life in Norfolk in the east of England, I discovered the joys of the English pub and it wasn't long before I met some lads from the local boozer and we formed a band. It was a blues band of course, and after some practice we began playing in those same pubs, to live audiences. It was an enjoyable hobby but to be brutally honest there were much better bands bashing out 12 bar blues than our little outfit. We tried hard, but do you think we could get people to dance to the noise we made. We should have named the band "The Soul Destroyers", so dismal did our band become. One night, after a particularly bad gig, we retired to someone's house for some consoling drinks. We were sitting around with a bad case of the blues when an album was played on the stereo. It was called "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" and it was by a band with the curious name of The Pogues.
I Saw the Light
Do you know what? I was mesmerised by the sound. My mate Dave, the bass player, looked at me with a glint in his eye and we both knew at that moment that this is what we should be playing, not the bloody blues. The following week I bought the "Best of the Pogues" album and the song book, and we started learning the material. I discovered that the Pogues, fronted by ex-punk, Shane MacGowan, was made up of "London Irish" and they had morphed traditional Irish music into "Punk with fiddles and accordians" and man, did they kick arse. The rest of course is history. MacGowan has become a songwriter with a stature on par with the greats of Irish literature, and a consumer of alcohol as legendary as that of Brendan Behan.
Shane MacGowan: Modern Irish legend?
Dance ya Bastards, dance!
The band took succour from this wild mob called Pogue Mahone (Gaelic for Kiss My Arse). We talked a talented traditional musician named Steve to join our band and teach us some Irish songs and tunes. We enlisted a drummer from the Punk era who was looking for something new and we were off. In no time at all we had people actually DANCING at our gigs. We filled pubs and soon we too "kicked arse".
That was almost 20 years ago and I am still playing Irish music, though these days country, bluegrass and yes, even the blues, forms my musical palette. I have been to Ireland half a dozen times and at last have bashed the whole Irish thing into some perspective. We don't just do St Patrick's Day - we do "St Patrick's Month!"
So I have come full circle. I have discovered a heritage I never knew I had. I have learned to drink Guinness by the gallon, and most importantly, I have learned how to make people dance, and I'm not even bloody Irish.