Irish Rovers bring musical legacy to City

With more than four decades of memorable tunes to their credit, the legendary Irish Rovers perform at the Memorial Centre Sept. 24. Showtime is 7 p.m.

The original troupe formed back in 1963 in Toronto.

Today, all the members hail from Ireland. Founding member George Millar is from Ballymena, original member Wilcil McDowell is from Larne, John Reynolds from Belfast, Sean O’Driscoll from Cork, Ian Millar from Ballymena, and percussionist Fred Graham is also from Belfast.

They’ve pretty much done it all over the course of their extensive history – hosting three TV series, seeing their singles zip up the charts repeatedly and notching several international appearances and tours. They still tour regularly, and last year released their latest CD Gracehill Fair. Today, the guys call Vancouver Island home.

In September of last year, the guys headed back to the Emerald Isle for a DVD/TV special, performing on location at such picturesque sites as Carnlough Harbour, Dunluce Castle, The Giant’s Causeway, Glenarm, Galgorm Manor near Ballymena, and Waterfront Hall, Belfast.

“It’s basically The Irish Rovers ‘Coming Home’ because this is our home, for all of us,” said Millar. “We want to show the world what the northwest Irish coast is like. I’ve traveled the world now for over 40 years and there’s nothing like it.”

The Irish Rovers formed their own record company in 1993, which gave them full control over their music production. After that, several of their albums were recorded in both Canada and Ireland. Since 1995, they’ve released 10 more albums including Come Fill Up Your Glasses, Down by the Lagan Side, Still Rovin’, Gracehill Fair and two Greatest Hits albums Gems and 40 Years A-Rovin’.

Will Millar left the group in 1994, Jimmy Ferguson passed away in 1997, and in 2005 Joe Millar also retired from the band, while his son, Ian (who inherited his father’s golden tones) took up the family ranks. Big Sean O’Driscoll and the hilarious John Reynolds have both been with the band for about 20 years, and drummer, Fred Graham has been touring with the lads since 2007.

Founding members George Millar and McDowell still perform the majority of songwriting and management duties for the band, which hopes to tour again through Australia, New Zealand, Canada the U.S. and Ireland before they retire.

The story of the Irish Rovers starts in 1963 in Canada, where the 16-year old George Millar and 23-year old Jim Ferguson, both new immigrants from Northern Ireland, met in Toronto at an Irish function.

The Irish Rovers were launched. George’s cousin, Joe Millar, also then immigrated to Canada. Joe, who played button-key accordion and harmonica, and also sang traditional ballads was recruited as he stepped off the plane. They played as a trio until November of 1963, when George, Joe and Jimmy were joined by bass guitarist Vic Marcus and banjo player Doug Henderson.

The Irish Rovers later became regulars at Calgary’s popular Depression Coffee House, then headed off to ‘Americay’, landing at another famous folk club – The Purple Onion in San Francisco, where they headlined for an unprecedented 22 sold-out weeks. The folk clubs of California became the learning grounds for the young Rovers, they were eventually offered a recording contract with Decca Records in 1966.

The Irish Rovers released their debut album The First Of The Irish Rovers in 1966. Their second project included a tune called The Unicorn penned by Shel Silverstein. It was also at this time that Wilcil McDowell completed the group’s legendary line-up.

Meanwhile, that song became a multi-million seller, and beloved by a generation. In 1969, they received a Grammy nomination for ‘Folk Performance of the Year’.

During the 1970s, the Rovers hosted the most popular Canadian variety show of its time. CBC’s The Irish Rovers Show which ran for six seasons.

In 1981, the group starred in their second national television series The Rovers Comedy House. Their oddball Christmas hit written by Randy Brooks Grandma Got Run-Over By A Reindeer became a favourite holiday anthem which was released as a single, then on several albums from 1982.

They later soared to the top of the pop and country charts with Wasn’t That A Party which their friend, Tom Paxton wrote after he witnessed one of the band’s famous post-show parties. They also starred in their third television series Party With The Rovers which was set in a traditional pub with celebrity guests performing each week.

For ticket information, check out www.centralalbertatheatre.ca.

– Weber

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