| Joe Hurley on stage with Alphie McCourt and others.
Joe Hurley will mark the 20th anniversary of his Irish Rock Revue at the City Winery on this Saturday night. The Echo asked him a few questions about putting on the show for these past two decades.
What are the origins of the Irish Rock Revue?
St Pat’s was approaching and we wanted to do something a bit special, pay tribute to the Irish musicians of my youth, like Phil Lynott who bought me and underage pals a round of drinks at Chelsea Potter on King’s Road when we were 14, and Undertones, SLF, a lot of under-appreciated acts, whose songs I loved and wanted to help share with the world. Or New York City at least.
I was recording with my dear friend, producer Tony Visconti at the time, and so we had the idea of him playing bass and recreating the genius of “The Boys Are Back In Town” from the seminal “Live and Dangerous” double album he’d produced for Thin Lizzy. And then we thought well let’s get a few special guests up, add an Undertones classic, some SLF, suspect device of course, and with the East Village music scene still a hotbed of talent reared on punk, it felt natural to ask a few more pals up to sing these, a few Pogues, Sinead, and then my mother and I were talking about her favorite ballads as a kid – “She Moved thru the Fair” and “Sally Gardens,” songs that my grandparents had taught me as a kid growing up in London, to remind me of and instill in me my Irish blood and our culture, and in many ways those ballads are pure rock & roll – if they move you.
Joe Hurley with Ed Torres and Pete Hamill.
Has it evolved or has it kept the same basic format?
Well the same format in that we curate carefully and with only the music in mind — finding the right singer for the right song is always a gorgeous challenge, and it has generally had sensational results.
Sure, it’s evolved tremendously over the years of course. And like any growing relationship, it takes on its own, in a way. There are new ideas, brilliant touches of simpatico, fuelled by strokes of genius, pints of Guinness and bucket-loads of humanity, and ultimately, the need to exist outside your comfort zone. Like Bowie said, and I’m paraphrasing: “If you’re cozy and comfortable where you’re standing, you need to wade out a little further ‘til you’re out of that zone, decidedly uncomfortable and treading water. And that’s when you start truly creating.”
Are their standout highlights and acts for you in the 20 years?
Michael Cerveris, two-time Tony award-winner, starring in a Shakespearean production at the Public Theatre, nipping downstairs between acts, removing his crown and walking onto our stage to sing “Irish blood, English heart’” to packed a Joe’s Pub, then waltzing off back upstairs to the theatre where his crown and cape awaited for the 2nd act which he began seconds later. That’s a bit special. Very rock & roll. Very Irish
Peter O’Toole loaning me his white cane and top hat for the 3rd Revue claiming that he knew “all the lyrics to every song in the show.”
Joe Hurley on stage with Colum McCann.
Is any year a particular standout?
They all stand out and fall down in particular magical ways. In 2009, I was getting bit weary of losing the first three months of every calendar year to the organizing of the Revue, going to sleep on Jan. 1 and waking up to smell roses and the spring in mid-March, and was ready to call it a day on the show, a beautiful day, after so many years of honoring our musical bloodlines, our Irish heritage, our common ground, and seeing how many nationalities embrace the Great Irish Songbook.
Then I read an article on the Save St. Brigid’s campaign and immediately I called Ed Torres, who was spearheading the movement, and said what can I do? How can we help, and he joined me for coffee 15 minutes later, and we had wonderful 3-hour talk. We sorted plans to make St. Brigid’s the focus of the Webster Hall Irish Revue, getting publicity and fundraising, and it rejuvenated me and all involved. This year’s recipient is Solace House.
Tell us some other good memories?
Pete Hamill, Frank and Alphie McCourt singing “The Auld Triangle,” three minutes that brought a hush to a packed Highline Ballroom. Lincoln Center at night, under a starry sky lit up, as art of my OurLand Fest. Rockaway outdoors was a personal one. I’ve a lot of strong ties out there, and performing outdoors in middle of summer at Bungalow Bar brought many things in my life full circle.