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Irish Rovers still roving after 45 years

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If you want to have a long career in the music business, the secret is you have to like your band mates and write your own The Irish Rovers play Fort Macleod, Sept. 25. Photo submittedmaterial, according to the Irish Rovers’ founding member George Millar. Which is a little ironic as their biggest hits are covers of friends’ songs.

“One of the things that helps a band be successful is if you can remain friends. If we didn’t get along, it would be over,” said Millar from his Vancouver Island home, who is pleased the Irish Rovers are now going into their 46th year. They tour consistently, hitting road for three-four weeks at a time, then taking a breather.

The fans always  enjoy  the Irish Rovers’ shows, featuring a mix of traditional Irish songs and crowd favourites like “The Unicorn,” “Wasn’t That A Party,” and when appropriate “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.”

They will be playing the Empress Theatre, Sept. 25 at 2 p.m.

“When we started playing in Toronto it was just me and Jim Ferguson. I was 16 and he was about 20. We were making about $25 playing just on the weekend. We were happy with that. And he was older so he could buy beer and cigarettes. We always said let’s just do it for another year. And I guess we still do it that way,” said Millar, who is always to see the fans come out.
“We’ve been very, very blessed. If it weren’t for the fans, we wouldn’t be doing this at all,” he said.

 And while members Will Millar left the group in 1994, Jimmy Ferguson passed away and Joe Millar retired in 2005, the rest of the Rovers continue to tour and record, keeping their spirit alive. Joe Millar’s son took up the torch from his father.
“Joe Millar has that same sort of nice velvety voice,” he said.

Millar has fond memories of their biggest hits. The Shel Silverstein penned “Unicorn” was recorded  at the request of the record company. they had been playing it live for quite a few years before, having bought Silverstein‘s record.

“ We were pretty committed to playing a lot of Irish drinking songs, but we liked playing something  a little bit different,” he said adding they recorded when their record company raved about it after hearing it.
“And here’ a neat little bit of trivia, Glen Campbell of all people, who was playing a lot of sessions  then, played on it. There was two guitars, me and Glen. The next day he released ‘Gentle on my Mind,” and never had to play another session again,” he recalled.
‘Unicorn’ ended up being the break-out hit for the Irish Rovers.
“I remember number one on the charts was the Beatles, number two was us and Strawberry Alarm Clock were number three. I don’t know how we got there, surrounded by big rock bands,” he laughed.
“We‘re still riding the back of that wee unicorn,” he said.

A friend of theirs, Tom Paxton, who was opening shows for them, brought the Irish Rovers “Wasn’t It A Party.”
“He was opening a tour for us and at the end of the tour, he said ‘I’ve written this song for you,’” he recalled, adding  the lines in the song aren’t necessarily true.

 He remembers how the  record company changed the band’s name on that album, to try to distance them from the Irish music tag.
“ A lot of people thought we were some new band out of Nashville. But we lost a lot of our long time fans in place like New York and Boston because of it. It took a while to get them back,” he reminisced.
 There is a lot of people interested in playing Irish music since the Irish Rovers.

“It’s just happy sounding music, even if the lyrics are sad.  The song ‘1798 Rebellion’ is about a young fellow who is caught and drawn and quartered, but people still like drinking to it,” he said.
‘Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,’ was another song that appealed to  them.
“We heard a husband and wife playing it in North Dakota and we liked it. A few years later we were doing a Christmas album and needed one more song. It turned into a seasonal hit,” he said.
 They will be playing all of their audience favourites at the Empress.
“That’s what the people pay to hear,” he said.
“I don’t know if we’ll be playing Reindeer, because it isn’t Christmas, but you never know,” he said. They have two new projects in the works including a new Christmas CD as well as a CD of sailing songs and sea shanties called “Drunken Sailor.”
“They are almost done. The Christmas  record should be out in late November and ‘Drunken Sailor is about three quarters done. We’ll also have a new DVD out,” he said.
Tickets for the Irish Rovers have already sold out.

 —By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 20 September 2011 16:39 )  
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