Black 47 targets Iraq war on its latest album

By John Benson

Black 47 targets Iraq war on its latest album

The band's singer said its music isn't preachy.

At the risk of coming across as a pre-St. Patrick’s Day buzzkill, Black 47’s Larry Kirwan wants fans attending the band’s Friday show at the Beachland Ballroom to know there will be plenty of party songs celebrating the Celtic punk band’s culture.

Still, Kirwan, an Irish expatriate and naturalized American citizen, acknowledges the band’s politically charged history, which over the past 20 years has attracted a loyal audience filled with both right wing and left wing followers.

While Black 47 — named after the worst year of the Great Irish Famine, 1847 — has championed plenty of Irish and social issues in the past, it’s now tackling a more divisive subject matter on its latest album “Iraq.”

“I think the Irish look at the downtrodden because they were so downtrodden themselves at one point,” said Kirwan, calling from New York City. “And if this war was being fought equally by all of the classes, it might be easier to get behind it, but there is a disconnect here with certain people taking the full brunt and other people, the vast majority, are not.

“That’s what I’m trying to draw attention to with the album, that this is a human drama going on over there.”

Kirwan stresses the band’s material isn’t of the preachy variety. The material that makes up “Iraq” was inspired straight from the frontlines in the form of e-mails sent to the singer from soldiers serving in Baghdad, the Anbar Province and beyond. More so, his criticism of the war began five years ago as the world awaited the invasion of Iraq.

“It was St. Patrick’s Day 2003 when we came out against the war on stage and actually did a cover of the old Pete Seeger song ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,’” Kirwan said. “That caused a huge stir because our fans tend to be strong left wing or right wing, and there was a lot of dissension about doing it because at that point everyone was being beaten up with the big patriotic flag.

“We thought it was important in Irish and rock music that someone make a stand. The problem is we don’t play to just the converted. So soon thereafter, I wrote a song called ‘Downtown Baghdad Blues,’ which became a big favorite with the troops in Iraq.”

Indicative of Black 47’s underground status is the fact the band’s anti-war stance went unreported, while the Dixie Chicks and Pearl Jam were targeted for their outspoken opinions.

Kirwan and his bandmates may be positioned alongside its Celtic brethren such as Flogging Molly and The Dropkick Murphys, but the Big Apple-based outfit appears to stand alone with its political opinions and unique mélange of rock, reggae, hip-hop, folk, traditional Irish and punk.

It’s important to note that on several occasions Kirwan stresses his respect for the troops. And as an American, he feels “Iraq” is his response to a war he doesn’t support.

“This is a patriotic album,” Kirwan said. “This is not some ideological album, ‘Please stop the war.’ This is saying, this war has to end because it’s not working out for the people over there who are doing the fighting and the dying.”

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