By Larry Jaffee –
New York City’s Irish-American musical community celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day on March 19 for the 18th Annual All-Star Irish Rock Revue at a packed Highline Ballroom.
Conceived and curated by London transplant Joe Hurley, the Revue offered non-stop three hours plus of faithful renditions from the best of the rich Irish rock songbook, ranging from traditional Celtic ballads to the punk of Stiff Little Fingers and the Undertones to Van Morrison and U2 staples, and everything in between.
I first encountered Hurley almost a quarter century ago at an outdoor festival in Brooklyn. He fronted Rogue’s March, which had a regular weekly gig at the Second Avenue club Paddy Reilly’s, featuring the best local Irish music. I became a regular, and they impressed me so that I even managed to coax Rogue’s March play my wedding in 1993.
Shane MacGowan was sacked from The Pogues in September 1992, and he asked Hurley to borrow Rogues’ March to back him up, as well as do their own set, at a weeklong residency at the New York club Bang On.
At this year’s Revue, Hurley – ever the raconteur – told a great story about being a teen with his mates hoping to not get chucked from a Kings Road, Chelsea pub when they realize Phil Lynott and his Thin Lizzy bandmates were at the other end of the bar. Lynott bought the underagers a round of drinks, and the bartender left them alone.
Rogue’s March and Hurley released a few critically acclaimed albums. Hurley perhaps reached the most people co-reading (with Johnny Depp) the award-winning audiobook of Keith Richards’s Life autobiography.
The All-Star Revue started off reverentially with “Danny Boy,” sung beautifully by Mary Lee Kortes, among the scores of New York musicians on hand making these types of festive gigs, which in this case, featured a crack house band that didn’t hit a bum note all night. They included drummer Steve Goulding (Graham Parker, Mekons), bassist Sal Maida (Roxy Music, Cracker), keyboardist Jon Spurney, guitarist Chris Flynn (Rogue’s March), accordionist Kenny Margolis (Smithereens, Cracker, Rogue’s March), and fiddler Deni Bonet.
Another traditional ballad, the Brendan Behan-penned “The Auld Triangle,” was sung by 75-year-old author/raconteur Alphie McCourt, brother of the late Pulitzer-winning author Frank McCourt and actor/author Malachy McCourt.
Among the special guest vocalists was The Pogues’ former bassist, Cait O’Riordan – the former Mrs. Elvis Costello – who flew in from London and lent authenticity to her former band’s “Sally MacLennane,” sharing vocals with Hurley.
Highlights of the never-ending cast of characters included Maura Kennedy (backed by husband Pete Kennedy) holding the audience spellbound on the standard “She Moved Through the Fair,” and Lianne Smith (who’s performed at all 18 concerts) tackling Sinead O’Connor’s [r.i.p Prince-penned] “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Mike Fornatele hit all the high notes on Dexys Midnight Runner’s “Come on Eileen.”
Many of the performers had some sort of Irish heritage like Willie Nile, who traded verses with Hurley on a blistering version of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” as
tribute to NY guitarist Adam Roth, who passed away in
December and had played with Carroll (who died in 2009).
Ellen Foley went far punkier than U2 on its “Vertigo,” and James Mastro tricked you thinking it was Mike Scott and his Waterboys on the Irish-tinged “Fisherman’s Blues.”
Hurley and his band The Gents (including Patti Smith Group bassist Tony Shanahan) came on with an exceptional mini set of his best originals, such as “Shut Up and Drink” and “Amsterdam Mistress,” with the memorable lyric “pints of Guinness, lots of slow kisses” amid “the ghost of Dylan Thomas was smiling at night.”
Van Morrison’s songbook showed up a bunch throughout the night, as NY rock legend Garland Jeffreys delivered a soulful “Tupelo Honey,” and talked about how he and Morrison shared a manager who ripped them off in the late 1960s. Wexford, Ireland native Pierce Turner, whose recorded solo work is criminally overlooked, launched into a poem as a prelude to Morrison’s “Here Comes the Night.”
Preceding “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile),” soul singer/born entertainer Carlton J. Smith told a story about running into Morrison as he left the Apollo Theater where he encountered James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and, of course, Jackie Wilson.
It really turned into a rocking revue when many whom already performed during the first two hours crowded the stage for Them’s “Gloria,” as Dick Manitoba of The Dictators, commanded the proceedings front and center, “wanting to feel it in his loins.” And we all did.
Still recuperating less than 24 hours after the show, an exhausted Hurley reflected on the logistical juggernaut of juggling schedules, talents (egos and temperaments appeared to be checked at the door), etc., putting together such a massive endeavor year after year. In an email, he chalks it up to “science, art, glorious happenstance, heapfuls of simpatico, loadsa luv, top gents, lads & lasses, oh, it goes on & on … and so it goes and so it goes….”
No doubt there’ll be a 19th edition of the All-Star Irish Rock Revue in 2017.