Irish Rovers still roaming - Calgary Sun
Posted on December 11th, 2010 at 10:23 pm
By Lisa Wilton
George Millar remembers exactly where he was when he first realized The Irish Rovers were on their way to becoming a household name.
“We were driving near Albuquerque,” says Millar, a founding member of the legendary Celtic folk group.
“It was about two o’clock in the morning and all of a sudden on the radio comes our version of The Unicorn. We stopped the car and ran around screaming into the night in the desert because we couldn’t believe it.”
The year was 1967 and the cute singalong ditty (which cheerfully explained that the demise of unicorns was due to the silly creatures not getting on Noah’s Ark in time) was about to sell eight-million copies around the globe and become a Top 10 hit in the U.S. “The strange thing about that song is that just ahead of us was The Beatles and right behind us was Strawberry Alarm Clock,” recalls Millar.
“It was all rock ’n’ roll on the charts and here was this little Unicorn song in the midst of it.” Not bad for a rag tag group of Irish musicians, most of whom had emigrated to Canada only a few years earlier.
Millar was only 16 years old when he met 24-year-old Jimmy Ferguson in Toronto.
The pair played coffee shops and folk clubs around the city as The Irish Rovers but the classic band lineup didn’t form until 1964 when Ferguson, Millar and his cousin Joe relocated to Calgary.
Here, they met up with Millar’s older brother Will, who was presenting a children’s TV show called Just 4 Fun.
“We went on the show and sang, Whiskey You’re the Devil,” Millar recalls. “There were these little five-year-olds sitting on the floor in front of us. Of course the switchboards lit up with people going, ‘Please don’t be putting those songs in our children’s ears.’ That’s how we began.”
More than 45 years later, The Irish Rovers are still touring and recording. Although Millar and accordionist Wilcil McDowell, who joined in 1967, are the only original members, the current six-piece lineup has been together about two decades.
Millar admits he is sometimes surprised but encouraged that audiences of all ages still come out to hear the band play trademark tracks such as Lily the Pink, Wasn’t That a Party, The Orange and the Green and Drunken Sailor.
“When we began we kept saying, ‘Let’s give it one more year,’” says the 63-year-old singer and songwriter, who now lives on Vancouver Island.