|Drummer Thomas Hamlin & Larry Kirwan say good-bye to Philadelphia|
In September 2013 the band released this statement. "In early November 2014, exactly 25 years after our first gig, Black 47 will disband. There are no fights, differences over musical policy, or general skulduggery, we remain as good friends as when we first played together. We just have a simple wish to finish up at the top our game after 25 years of relentless touring and, as always, on our own terms." As a result they played their last Philadelphia gig at World Café Live last Thursday evening.
As the New Yorkers neared the finish line last week they remained a loyal and stable group. The sextet could boast that they still had four original members and a fifth one who had been with them for almost a decade and a half.
As always, leader and group spokesman, Larry Kirwan, regaled us with stories that inspired his compositions. He and his mates showed off their humorous side with what is arguably their best known song, "Funky Ceili," as well as "Maria's Wedding," and their ode to inebriation, "40 Shades of Blue." They also played a few deadly serious political works such as "James Connolly" and "The Big Fellah" two wordy tales that teach us a great deal about Irish history.
Kirwan and his friends leaned heavily on their early catalog (all of the songs above are from their first two major label releases) and, as is the case with most artists, those early CDs included their very best tunes. From those first couple of discs they also gave us "Banks of the Hudson," "Rockin' the Bronx," "Blood Wedding," and "Desperate."
"Celtic Rocker" from Bankers and Gangsters (2010) also saw the light of day as did the group's updated version of "When Those Saints Go Marching In." Simply titled "Those Saints" this track, from Trouble in the Land (2000), was rewritten with totally new lyrics. They also played their reworked rendition of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" that was never on any of their studio albums even though it became a standard for the band in concert.
Black 47 has never been the tightest ensemble to walk onto a stage but that's not meant as a criticism. Freewheeling arrangements that are rough around the edges have always been part of their modus operandi. It's how they're supposed to sound and on this night they stayed true to form.
The only drawback of Black 47's last World Café show most likely wasn't their fault. The usually clear sound produced by this top notch West Philadelphia venue was missing. The opening act, Barley Juice, suffered the same fate and their fiddle player complained after their set that she wasn't happy with the muddy mix.
Regardless, Black 47 gave another concert worthy of their reputation.
So long guys, you'll be missed.
You can purchase their final studio album, the appropriately titled Last Call in digital format from Amazon.