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Irish Rovers have new Xmas DVD
Forty-eight years ago, 16-year-old George Millar and his 24-year-old friend Jim Ferguson got their first booking for $25 in a folk club in Toronto. It would mark the start of a long and successful career.
“We thought, my God, we've got it made, this is wonderful," said the original Irish Rover member. And it helped that his friend was of the legal drinking age. “He was older so he could buy the cigarettes and the beer, so it was a wonderful combination.”
All members of the Irish Rovers hail from Ireland, but Millar has lived in Nanoose Bay for 20 years. Although there have been a few changes in members over the years, the group has consistently recorded music and performed around the world.
Recently the group released a new album called Drunken Sailor and a single The Titanic. The following concert tour was sold out and garnered rave reviews, while a new, younger generation of fans were tuning in on YouTube.
The group is about to start another tour, celebrating their new Christmas DVD which features them in the pubs and mountains of Banff National Park, joined by Crazy Canuck Dave Irwin. The concert section of the DVD is filmed in Ontario and it will be aired on PBS in early December. They are also promoting their CD Merry Merry Time of Year.
In 1964, after a year of clubs, coffee houses and festivals, Millar, Ferguson and George's cousin Joe Millar, made their way to Calgary to visit George's brother Will, who was performing on a children's television show. The boys entertained the children with numbers like Whiskey You're the Devil and Tim Finnegan’s Wake, and although the toddlers loved it, their parents were less than enthused.
“Finally the producer said: ‘look the switchboard's gone mad, you cannot be singing whiskey songs to children,’ ” Millar said, retorting with: “but look! they love it, they're dancing around.”
The group had to excuse themselves from the show, but it wouldn’t be their last appearance on television.
In 1966 the Irish Rovers released their successful debut album The First of the Irish Rovers, followed by perhaps their most well known, The Unicorn. The Rovers made the song (complete with cats and rats and elephants) an international success. The song, written by Shel Silverstein, helped sell millions of copies of the album worldwide.
In 1968, The Irish Rovers were named Canada's Folk Group of the Year, by the predecessor of the Junos. The following year, they received a Grammy nomination for Folk Performance of the Year.
After several appearances on TV shows in the U.S. and Canada, the Rovers hosted CBC's The Irish Rovers Show in the ‘70s, which ran for six seasons. This award-winning show became the most popular Canadian variety show of its time, hosting stars like Johnny Cash, Vera Lynn and Carl Perkins. A modest Millar gave his reasoning for part of the show's success.
"Most (people) had no choice," he said. "They only had one channel, there was Disney Land and the Irish Rovers, and then the Beachcombers, and they had no bloody choice. In a way they were like a built-in audience."
The Irish Rovers are beginning what they call “The Long Goodbye,” where they will play shows for two more years, marking 50 years of touring, and then retire. They won’t retire from making music, Millar said, just the traveling, as it’s a “young man’s game.”
Millar said the reason the Rovers have managed to stay together and happy all these years is because they share similar ideas and they like and respect each other. They all love the music, which is very important he said, as well as living apart, which means every few months when they get together they are excited to catch up. His advice for younger groups is to keep their heads up and do what’s right, citing the Rover’s drugs of choice throughout the years.
“People would say: ‘what kind of drugs did you guys take?’ And I said: ‘things like Tums and Metamucil.’ Those were our drugs in the dressing room.”
The Irish Rovers are performing a Christmas concert in Courtney Dec. 5, but that show has already sold out.
Their Christmas DVD as well as their Merry Merry Time of Year Christmas CD and other albums are available on their website www.theirishroversmusic.com.