PETERBOROUGH EXAMINER: Long farewell for The Irish Rovers
Posted on April 26th, 2016 at 7:00 pm
You know when The Irish Rovers decide to say goodbye to life on the road by playing all the places that have special meaning to the iconic Celtic super-band, it's not going to be a wee farewell tour.
"It started last year in New Zealand and parts of the U.S.," said Rover George Millar who took a few seconds to think about which hotel room he was speaking from on this week (turns out it was in Midland, Ont.).
"I think this farewell tour is going to last another two or three years. We've played an awful lot of places in the last 50 years."
The band will be in the city Wednesday for an 8 p.m. show at Showplace Performance Centre before heading stateside for several shows starting Friday.
Roved this band has, all over the world for half a century, selling millions of records and entertaining audiences with their foot-stomping songs and spirited humour, all delivered with an irresistible Irish brogue.
But the story of The Irish Rovers is very Canadian.
They began in Toronto where Millar met Jimmy Ferguson at an Irish function in 1963 and the two played until dawn.
They were later joined by George's brother, Will, and cousin Joe. Wilcil McDowell's accordion has been a signature sound throughout the decades. After several lineup changes, George Millar and McDowell remain the only original members.
The band began racking up hits, including Black Velvet Band, Whisky on a Sunday and The Unicorn.
That little 1968 ditty ("There were green alligators and long-necked geese"), which claimed unicorns were real but missed a critical ride on Noah's ark, remains one of band's best known and most requested songs.
In fact, said Millar, it was a bit of a lifesaver.
"Without that little unicorn, I'm not sure we would have lasted another two years. We were playing folk clubs at the time and that song put us on the world stage.
"I just got a $200 cheque from Japan for The Unicorn," said Millar with a laugh. "It must have been because some displaced Irishman bought a bunch of CDs."
In 1971, the band was offered the first of three television series, the CBC-produced, The Irish Rovers, promoting Irish music to North Americans.
Around that time the band was asked to represent Canada at an Expo in Japan, followed by those in several other countries. That caught the attention of then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who said, "I really like them, but if they're going to be representing Canada at expos, I think they should be Canadian citizens."
Millar said they got a call one day in 1976 telling them to be at Vancouver's city hall the next morning to take the oath of citizenship.
"We were at a garden party in Ottawa some time later and Pierre Trudeau came up to us and said, 'So, you finally got smart and became Canadians.' If I ever meet his son (current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) I'll have to tell him that story."
Although the band has for the most part remained true to its original style, in the early 1980s they began experimenting with country-rock. Renamed The Rovers, the group scored a major international hit with Wasn't That a Party and also found success with the Christmas novelty recording Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.
During the holidays, Millar said they still trot out that audience favourite.
"God help us," he said with a sigh.
By the late 1980s, the group was once again The Irish Rovers and continued to record and tour.
Most recently, they have released The Irish Rovers, 50 Years triple CD set and a new children's album, Songs for the Wee Folk.
They have also become somewhat of an Internet sensation with the video for Drunken Sailor, their take on the old sea shanty, having gone viral.
While the band still loves to perform, Millar, a 68-year-old grandfather, said life on the road is a young man's game. And the band members are far-flung. Aside from those who have moved back to Ireland, a couple live on Vancouver Island, one is in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and another in Montreal.
"We've had a grand craic," said Millar, using a Gaelic word that loosely translates to fun.
"And we've been at it a long time, but now we're leaving the road to the younger bands. We will still be doing a CD now and again and we'll still be doing public appearances for festivals and things like that. We're just getting away from the everyday grind."
-The Brantford Expositor
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