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This is the second of my three part interview with Larry Kirwan. This section gives an insight into Celtic Crush - How it came about, what you are likely to hear on the show, and Larry's favorite artists and stories.

This interview was originally done for SiriusBackstage.com in March 2007


INTERVIEW WITH SIRIUS DISORDER DJ - LARRY KIRWAN OF "CELTIC CRUSH"
PART 2 of 3

Larry Kirwan hosts "Celtic Crush" on Sirius Disorder (ch. 32) which airs:
Saturdays 10 am - 1 pm ET
Rebroadcast Tuesdays 10 pm - 1 am ET



Larry Kirwan Interview - Part 2 - Celtic Crush on Sirius Disorder


Please explain what Celtic Crush is all about and what we are likely to hear during a show?

Celtic Crush takes a world view on what Celtic Music is, where it’s come from and where it might go.  My taste is very broad and I see Celtic in the least obvious places.  Apart from all the obvious choices:  The Pogues, Flogging Molly, The Chieftains, Enya, U2, Damien Rice, Thin Lizzy, Sandy Denny, Afro-Celt, Van Morrison, et al; I might also check out the Celtic side of Bob Dylan, The Band, Lou Reed, Cat Stevens, Richard Thompson.  I also explore the music of Irish Trad bands such as The Bothy Band, Solas and Lunasa; the Breton revolutionary Alan Stivel, Carlos Nunez from Galicia and try to demonstrate how Celtic music and thought has influenced world culture.  After every set of three songs, I talk about some memory that one of the tracks might have unveiled or give an anecdote regarding one of the musicians that I might have known or, just in general, ruminate on the world and what’s going on at that particular moment.  In reality, I suppose, I’m taking the free form style of FM disc jockeys of the 60’s and 70’s and adding a dash of the Irish storyteller’s passion and techniques.

How did “Celtic Crush” come about?

A couple of years ago I was up in Sirius doing an interview with Meg Griffin on the release of a Black 47 CD.  We’re old friends and we had a relaxing and free spinning chat.  Sirius had been receiving requests for a Celtic show; and, from what I understand, Steve Blatter spotted me in the corridor and thought that I’d make a good fit.  And voila…

How did the show evolve from its beginnings?  Didn't we used to hear a lot more "RiverDance-like" tunes?

Although Meg wanted me to be on Disorder, Steve wished to introduce more on-air personalities to The Globe, the world-music station.  Shirley Maldonado programmed the Globe and I worked closely with her.  The idea was to take what Celtic music they had in the Sirius database, see what was working and then for me to add hundreds of my own choices.  Shirley thought it best to have the music on her channel flow from one program to another and have Celtic Crush fit somewhat seamlessly into the mix.  I agreed.  Being a world music fan myself, I saw no reason why Celtic music could not fit next to a Moroccan chant, a Fado from Portugal, a Selif Keita track from Mali, Indian hip-hop from London, etc.  I’m not sure I ever played anything from Riverdance but I was actively looking for symphonic like rhythmical tracks such as recorded by Afro-Celt, etc.  Even with the Black 47 tracks that I was encouraged to play to attract my base, I would go for a flowing Fanatic Heart rather than an in-your-face Big Fellah.  However, when the Globe was shelved, Celtic Crush moved to Meg’s Disorder channel.  I still kept the Afro-Celt type of music but was then able to add more hard core Irish like the Dropkick Murphys, etc. and expand the limits of the show.

Who are your favorite artists?

They tend to wax and wane but I’m always mindful of revolving and adding to the artist mix.  I really like to turn on the audience to bands and singers that they might not necessarily hear anywhere else.  I’ve been going through a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds period lately.  Also Wake The Dead who combine Grateful Dead songs with jigs and reels.  I’ve recently “discovered” an amazing singer, Shaz Oye (oh yeah) from Dublin.  She is a black, gay woman from the tough docklands and sounds like a cross between Joan Armatrading and Nina Simone.  Sometimes I’ll cast backwards though and introduce people to the magic of people like Tim Hardin, Nick Drake and Syd Barrett, or feature songs from an enduring masterpiece like Astral Weeks.

Which are your favorite songs?

I’m a song person.  I won’t play something new just because it’s new; the song has to hold up.  People who listen to Celtic Crush trust my judgment.  They know that if they stick with me for three hours they won’t hear any filler.  Every song is totally vetted for content and magic.  I think you have to be that way on Sirius.  It’s just so easy to switch the channel and find a great song.  That’s the beauty, but also the challenge, of being a Sirius host.  Also with the talks between sets:  I use my stage experience to hold the audience.  Hopefully, these vignettes sound relaxed, but there should also be an inner tension holding them together.  I love and enjoy doing Celtic Crush and put 120% into both the choice of songs and how I present them.

Any plans to have special guests in?  Who would be your wish list?

I’m very lucky in that I can choose my guests.  I’ve had some great chats with people like Richard Thompson and Roger McGuinn – both of whom shared their songwriting and guitar playing techniques.  Then it’s also nice to have old friends like Rosanne Cash or Damien Dempsey and sift through their lives in a way that only friends can do.  I think being a performer/writer myself, I can get people to relax and speak openly, the way musicians do when we’re sharing dressing rooms and booze at festivals.  Having been on the other side of the microphone myself, I know that a good interview is very akin to therapy.  Everyone gains from it.  I would like to have an hour or two with Shane McGowan and Van Morrison.  I’ve never heard a deep interview with either.  Both present major problems to interviewers but I know the streets and the lanes that they came from, their influences and have shared similar ups and downs. 

How do you choose your selections? Why don’t we hear more of the traditional Irish songs on your show? (Unicorn, Black Velvet Band)

In Black 47 we have a rule:  you take your mood onstage with you and work it out through the music.  I do the same with Celtic Crush.  Everyone in my audience has up days and mood indigo mornings; so do I.  It’s like they’re dropping by Celtic Crush to say hello to a friend.  We’ll work out whatever troubles, anxieties, joys and hopes together.  The choice of songs and how I deliver them reflects that reality.  I tend to stay away from the cornier type of Irish songs.  I like to push the envelope a bit and give people a look at themselves through the music.  You can hear The Unicorn or Black Velvet Band on many Irish type terrestrial radio shows.  Were I to play those particular songs, I would play a Paddypunk version such as The Irish Rover by the Blaggards from Houston.  And by the way, that’s something I’m trying to pioneer:  to get some national radio play for bands that might not be well known outside their own city.

Please explain the Bee Gees connection to Celtic Crush again??? :)

I’m a Bee Gees fan, particularly those old romantic rock ballads from the 60s/early 70’s.  I was looking at the Sirius database and saw “I Started a Joke” by Robin Gibb.  That used to be a big number of mine when playing the saloons of Brooklyn in the 70’s, and I wanted to hear it so badly.  And, like you, I was wondering how the Bee Gees could fit in even a very broadly based Celtic program.  Then I remembered that the Brothers Gibb were born on the Isle of Man (a Celtic Nation) before they emigrated to Australia.  And so I had what I needed.  I try to broaden my repertoire all the time by finding such connections and each one makes for a hell of an on-air story.

I know we hear Pierce Turner music on Celtic Crush -- Will we see some of those Turner & Kirwan songs?

I’ve been thinking about that for some time.  There are a number of songs that would fit right in.  I just have to get them digitized.  T&K of W are firmly entrenched in the vinyl period.  But we made some really interesting music.  Black 47 recorded one of those songs recently, The Girl Next Door.  That was the first song that ever dealt with lesbianism on a national level.  It even got banned in Ireland.

Do you ever take heat from fans of one genre (i.e. Traditional) who take exception with you playing songs from the opposite end of the spectrum (Dropkick Murphy’s, Flogging Molly, Sharky Doyles)?

It doesn’t seem to arise.  However, I do go out of my way to find songs that the audience requests.  Quite often, they’ve heard a song years ago that’s stuck in their minds or a line of a tune that their grandparents used to sing.  And it means so much to them when I can find it and maybe give a bit of background on the song.  That gives them a window to their past and benefits us all.

What do you think of the Celtic sounding Salsa music out there (Ruben Blades and Salsa Celtica)?

Oh, I really love it.  With Black 47, I was one of the pioneers who combined Irish music and hip-hop beats.  So I knew instinctively that Celtic music would fit Latin and Salsa music.  Perhaps, my favorite composer/performer is Astor Piazzolla, the Nuevo Tango giant.  I once went drinking with Ruben Blades and got a four-hour tutorial on the nature of rhythm and how it affects music.  It was a wonderful experience and I still use the knowledge he imparted.

How about Seanchai songs on Celtic Crush?  And how are they connected with Paddy-a-GoGo.

Paddy-a-GoGo was an idea that Chris Byrne, who at the time was the uilleann pipe player/rapper with Black 47, came up with for Tuesday nights in Paddy Reillys back in the early 90’s.  The band that recorded their CD, Keep it Reel, was Chris, Eileen Ivers and Patrick McGuire.  That band morphed into the present Seanchai.  I enjoy listening to and playing both bands, for the memories and the music.

I love hearing the stories behind the song’s creation (“Madame George”,”Arthur McBride”,”Lullaby of London”) – It really makes songs that I might not otherwise pay attention to stick out and become favorites…  Do you get a lot of similar feedback on doing that?

Yes, people really enjoy hearing the stories behind the music.  That tends to broaden the experience for them and, sometimes, helps them to see the song in a different light.  Remember, of course, that it often happens to me too.  While listening to the song playing, I might recall some detail about it or what I was doing when I first heard it.  So, I learn from Celtic Crush too.  In fact, doing show is one of the highlights of my week.  I also enjoy being up in the bustle of Sirius.  It takes me out of myself, as it were.  Amidst all the excitement on the 36th floor, there’s also a very warm and welcoming feeling about the place and the firm.  And you never know just whom you’ll run into.  One day in the mens room while taking a pee I looked around – on one side was Paul Anka and the other John Prine.  Now what are the chances of that happening anywhere else in the world? 

Speaking of, what feedback have you been receiving from the show?  From fans AND from the artists that you play…

The fans of Celtic Crush are just great.  I actually get to meet them because many show up at Black 47 gigs.  They seem to really get off on the wide play list and the aural vignettes.  Many call it a must-do on a Saturday morning or Tuesday night.  The music seems to create a link to their past.  Without getting into detail, the show has helped many through crises by just allowing them to sit and think and know that no matter how bad things are, there’s always a new day in the making.  And that works both ways…

What is your favorite Celtic Crush Story?

Oh God, there are so many of them.  One that springs to mind is the night Pierce Turner and I gate crashed the Boomtown Rats party.  It was their first gig in NYC and we left the Palladium early and showed up at the swanky One Fifth Restaurant in Greenwich Village.  Because we had Irish accents it was easy persuade the staff that we were the Rats.  We went at their champagne with gusto and pretty much forgot where we were.  Suddenly, the maitre D tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You must meet your guests, they are arriving.”  So we stood on a greeting line and shook hands, etc.  Then Debbie Harry arrived, with a few drinks aboard herself.  She came right up to me and whispered, “I loved your performance tonight.”  She gave me a hug, which I took a little further and received a beautiful kiss.  Thank you, Bob Geldof.

 

Come back next time for the final installment of the interview where Larry talks about Sirius, his feelings about the proposed merger, and his future plans for Celtic Crush, Black 47, and his other various projects


Recommended Websites:

Celtic Lounge


James Hannon (Aka "JimboXLax" on SiriusBackstage.com) has been a member of the Sirius Backstage community since August 2003 and is a "Top Dog" there.

He is also a filmmaker who has released a documentary on the 60's garage band Richard and the Young Lions, and is currently working on a series about Bronx Gangs of the 1950's and 1960's such as the Ducky Gang and the Fordham Baldies - immortalized in the great fictional Bronx movie "The Wanderers".

You can find out more about these projects and James at: Lantern-Media.com or my Myspace page
You can reach James at jameshannon@lantern-media.com



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