The Irish Rovers bring their farewell tour to Summerside, delighting audience members with all their hits
Black Velvet Band. Wasn’t That a Party. Whiskey on a Sunday. The Unicorn.
Over the past 50 years, these songs have firmly threaded their way into our cultural folk music patchwork. And, in particular, it has been a charismatic group of musicians from Ireland known as The Irish Rovers that has helped to make this happen.
Since 1963, The Irish Rovers have entertained audiences all over the world with their brand of popular Irish folk music. And last weekend marked a special occasion in this regard, as the Rovers “roved” to Prince Edward Island for one last hurrah.
Last Saturday night, before a sold-out audience at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside, stopping in on their Farewell to Rovin’ tour, The Irish Rovers played their final Maritime note. And with a well-attended matinee performance on Saturday afternoon, also at the Harbourfront, followed by the evening show where not a seat was to be found, it was certainly an enthusiastic and fitting farewell to the still-rockin’ Rovers.
Before I tell you about the show, just a quick note about current personnel in the band. Most people who know the group will recall Will Millar as a lead vocalist. He is still living, but has mostly retired from performance and puts his creativity into painting these days. Jimmy Ferguson was a founding member as well, but heart issues eventually led to his death in 1997.
George Millar (founding member/vocalist/guitarist and brother of Will Millar) is now leading the group and is joined in fronting duties by his cousin, Ian Millar. Both are from Ballymena, Ireland.
Other longtime members include Wilcil McDowell (from Larne) on accordion, Sean O’Driscoll (from Cork) on banjo/concertina/mandolin, and Fred Graham (Belfast) on drums.
And rounding out the lineup for this Farewell to Rovin’ tour are Morris Crum on keyboards, Geoffrey Kelly (from Spirit of the West) on whistles and flutes and Gerry O’Connor (one of Ireland’s most outstanding fiddle players) on fiddle.
“Hello, Summerside, are ye ready to go?” George Millar shouted out from the mike, as applause greeted the eight-piece group while they settled into their places on the Harbourfront Stage at 7 p.m. They then dove straight into their first number — appropriately, The Irish Rover.
And what a full and lively soundscape it was that then encompassed the theatre: resonating harmonized vocals, acoustic guitar driving the rhythm, accordion humming, fiddle lines dancing about, a tin whistle floating in the high treble register, a piano hugging the chordal body, bass guitar supporting it all, with a pounding drum propelling it along. All at once it was as though we were happily lassoed into an Irish party.
Songs like Mairi’s Wedding, The Girls of Derry, I’ll Tell Me Ma and Black Velvet Band kept the party surging as the Rovers promptly proved that they’ve still got the gusto after all these years.
Their latest CD is called Drunken Sailor (2012), so they played a handful of tunes from this album as well — most notably The Titanic (which also featured a lovely and fitting intro of Nearer My God to Thee), and, of course, Drunken Sailor, which was their energetic finale to the night, after a big standing ovation and encore (to which George promptly replied with, “We’re just getting too old to walk off and walk back on again,” as laughter filled the house).
Big highlights of the second half also included engaging and hilarious stories of Irish yesteryear by Ian Millar, and greats like Wasn’t That a Party, Dark Island (perhaps the very best version I have ever heard of this air, played with impeccable smoothness and haunting serenity by Geoffrey Kelly on tin whistle) and The Unicorn, which included a whole lot of jubilant audience singing and I think even some of those classic accompanying actions.
For more on The Irish Rovers, and for a trip down memory lane to listen to some of their hits, visit http://irishroversmusic.com.
Next week: Peggy Clinton at the Souris Show Hall.
Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626-1242. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.
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