In the Spring of 2001 I was working as in intern at WFUV radio for their Sunday Irish music program, Ceol na nGael. I spent my Sunday afternoons talking to listeners on the phone, answering their questions, fielding their requests, and sometimes just chatting about Irish music. But that Spring a whole new category of calls started coming in – it was the Shilelagh Law Hot line. The phones lines were flooded with calls from burly sounding guys with heavy New York accents asking me “When are you going to play Shilelagh Law?” As I scrambled to pick up calls, I admit that half of me wanted to smash the phone against the wall, but the other half couldn’t wait to go see them play live and experience for myself what this band was all about.
So that’s just what I did. The night I saw the band play live for the first time I was floored. I remember getting back to my dorm room in the wee hours of the morning and writing them an email to let them know just how much their music and their energy impressed me. I learned A couple of things that Spring – that Shilelagh Law fans are crazy, loyal, and full of passion for Irish music and New York City, and that I was one of them.
In a recent conversation with the band’s lead singer Rich Popovic, I found out that I wasn’t the only one getting pressure from Shilelagh Law fans. Supporters of Shilelagh Law have been asking the band for a live recording for years, and they have finally gotten it with the release of “Shilelagh Law Live at Connolly’s.” It’s a 19 track disc that was recorded over three nights at a venue that has a long history of supporting the band, Connolly’s Klub 45 room in Midtown Manhattan. And as if packing hundreds of Shilelagh Law fans into their favorite venue for three nights of music wouldn’t generate enough excitement, the band decided to orchestrate the recording during the most magical and celebratory time in NYC – the Christmas Season.
Popovic gave me some insight into how the CD was made. During the planning stage Rich and the rest of the band, Denis & Kevin McCarthy, Terrence Brennan, and Steve Gardner, decided which songs they would perform over the three nights at Connolly’s – not an easy task for a group that has accumulated so many hits during their fifteen years playing together. Then came the fun part when both long-time and new fans gathered to provide the special ingredients: the chorus of voices singing along, the clinking glasses, and the thunders of cheers, all the sounds that add to the spirit and energy of a live Shilelagh Law performance. When all was said and done, the band had a lot of raw audio to revisit, but in an effort to provide an accurate representation of what an audience would hear at a live show, the band decided there would be limited post-production work. When Popovic spoke about creating a live feel on the album he admitted “it’s not gonna be perfect, but the energy will be great.
The end result is CD is packed with the most rousing recordings of fan favorites like “When New York Was Irish,” “Fields of Athnry/Moonshiner,” and “Songs to Sing.” Mixed in with their fierce performances of popular pub songs, are some tender original tunes such as their well loved 9/11 song, “Christmas in New York,” and the beautifully written “Pubs, Pints, and Open Doors” – a song that Popovic was moved to write after experiencing the warmth and hospitality of Ireland. “Shilelagh Law Live at Connolly’s” is a collection of traditional and original songs, songs about New York and about Ireland, songs about music and friendship, but what is evident on every track is that these guys are New Yorkers who love their city and the music of their Ancestors, and that they have some serious fans.
For the live Shilelagh Law experience head to Yonkers to see them play at Rory Dolans on June 15th, or pick up Shillelagh Law Live at Connolly’s on their website halfthebottle.com.
For more Irish sounds around town this week check out Flogging Molly on 6/14 at the Paramount in Huntington and Mary Courtney at Tir na Nog in Trenton, N.J., on 6/15.