Black 47, a funky New York-Irish mix


If you want to call Larry Kirwan an Irish rock musician, that's rTC fine by him. After all, he was born in Wexford, Ireland (though he currently calls New York his home), and brings what he calls "an Irish immigrant" perspective to his songwriting.

But don't describe Kirwan's band, Black 47, as Celtic rock -- particularly if he's within earshot.

"The one thing I don't like is being called 'Celtic rock,' " he grouses, over the phone from a Los Angeles record company office. "I suppose you're always going to be pitched as something. But I'm the only Irish one in the band.

"I see Black 47 as the New York band," he adds. "We take the influences of all the different boroughs -- the rap of the South Bronx, and the dancehall reggae of Brooklyn, and the Lower East Side weird style of guitar thing -- and mix them all together. Because I'm Irish and it's seen through my eyes, I suppose it has that Irish veneer. But if you dig into the songs, they're about New York, they're not about Ireland."

Well, yes and no. Take the group's current single, "Funky Ceili," as an example. True, it is about playing the bar circuit in New York, something this band knows better than most. In fact, a large part of Black 47's reputation stems from its regular stand at an Irish bar in Manhattan called Reilly's. "But we were playing all around the country," says Kirwan. "Playing in the boroughs a lot, too -- in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx."

Still, much of the story and most of the music in "Funky Ceili" has its roots in old Eire. Not only is the song about a young Irishman and Bridie, the girl he left behind, but the music is full of reel-based rhythms and bleating uilleann pipes. Because a ceili -- funky or otherwise -- is basically just an Irish dance party.

Kirwan says the overt Irishness of the song almost made the band withhold the single. "We weren't going to put 'Funky Ceili' out at first, because there was always the danger" of being stereotyped, he says. "But you've got to do something."

And "Funky Ceili" certainly has done something for Black 47. Even though the band is still awaiting the release of its debut album, "Fire of Freedom" (it arrives in record stores next week), "Funky Ceili" has already made alternative rock radio playlists as well as MTV.

That means more work for the band -- and plenty of questions about Bridie.

"Yeah, there's a real fascination," chuckles Kirwan. "It's Bridie-mania out there."

Is she real, though? When pressed, Kirwan does a sly sidestep. "I've never liked confessional songs that tell you the truth," he says.

Black 47

When: Tonight at 9.

Where: Steeltown.

Tickets: No cover before 9 p.m.; $3 after 9 p.m.

Call: (410) 288-3400.

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