Young Dubliners: Pioneers of Celtic rock
Fans of Celtic music get a double treat this month. Last weekend, the acoustic quintet Lúnasa packed the house at the Mariner Theatre. Next Thursday, the Young Dubliners, another band with its roots in Irish music, performs at the Down East Saloon. Local group Yellow Cabin opens for them at 5:45 p.m. Feb. 20.
But wait — there’s more. Fans of folk music also can listen to veteran Milwaukee singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey perform at 7 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Down East. Rolling Stone said of Mulvey “a voice lush and hushed that occasionally sinks into a whisper” and the Irish Times said of him, “Consistently the most original and dynamic of the U.S. singer-songwriters to tour these shores … A phenomenal performer with huge energy, a quick-fire, quirky tale on life, and an extraordinary guitar style.”
While Lúnasa and the Young Dubliners both got their start with core members from Ireland, play music that builds on Celtic harmonies and feature band leaders who can lay on the brogue a bit, the comparison falls apart. Plug “Young Dubliners” into a Pandora radio channel, and suggested similar bands that pop up might include Irish rock bands like Black 47. That won’t happen with Lúnasa.
“When we started to develop what we did, my interest was in the Waterboys, Big Country, the Pogues — Ireland’s response to progressive rock,” said Keith Roberts, one of the band’s founders, in a phone interview from his home in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
Heck, when Roberts, 49, moved to Los Angeles after graduating from University College Dublin, he didn’t come to America to be a musician. He wanted to be a journalist. Roberts grew up in Dublin. His dad was a stage manager at Raidió Teilifís Éireann (Radio Television Ireland), or RTÉ, and his mother was a singer at the station. Journalism didn’t work out, and he fell into a job as a set dresser in the movie business.
“Then, through a long litany of strange events, I ended up buying a bar,” Roberts said.
That was in 1992, and the bar, Fair City, A Dublin Pub, of course had to have an Irish band. Roberts had earlier put together a duo with Paul O’Toole. The Dubliners was an Irish folk band in the 1960s, and so people began to call the duo The Young Dubliners. They mostly played Irish ballads, something Los Angeles wasn’t quite familiar with. Over the years they added more members.
“We would have the strangest, hippest audience coming down,” he said.
So unfamiliar were audiences with Irish music, when The Young Dubliners sang about “the foggy dew,” the Irish accents came across as “the foggy Jew,” Roberts said.
When Irish progressive rock started kicking in, particularly with the punk version, the Pogues, the Young Dubliners became more of a rock band.
“Now, because we were playing stuff that sounded Irish to a certain degree, all of a sudden we started hearing this Celtic rock stuff,” Roberts said. “I think people show up and are shocked or pleasantly surprised.”
Fair City also became a west coast mecca for Irish bands on tour to stop by and play. The Young Dubliners began to play outside Roberts’ bar at the House of Blues and other venues. In 1994 it made its first record, the EP “Rocky Road.” That was followed by “Breathe” in 1995, its first full-length album.
“They (the producers) came to me and said, ‘Are you ready to go on the road?’” Roberts said. “The music had always been in me. I said, ‘OK.’”
He sold his interest in the bar and never looked back.
This year, the Young Dubliners, also called the Young Dubs, released its ninth album, “Nine.” It’s a big departure for the group, its first fan-supported album. Not wanting to be locked into the strict timetable of Kickstarter, the crowd-funding, web-based finance program, the Young Dubliners set up their own crowd-funded endeavor using PayPal accounts and its website. Patrons could donate whatever they wanted to the recording project, and get premiums like a tour of Ireland with the band.
“It was unbelievable,” Roberts said. “We had some big donors and a lot of little kids paying $9.”
Officially, “Nine” comes out March 4, but it’s available already to patrons who supported it and placed preorders. It features hard-rocking, Celtic-tinged tunes like “We are the Mighty.”
“We consider them our marketing group,” Roberts said of the patrons. “They’re our street teamers.”
Recording on their own is totally new, he said.
“Everything about this record is new. We never did it this way before,” Roberts said. “Having the freedom to do it the way you want to do was great in one way, but it also was a little bit too liberating.”
Still, taking their time, about 18 months from start to finish, allowed the Young Dubliners to work on and not rush the project.
“We must have rewritten lyrics 10 or 12 times,” Roberts said.
There’s also another freedom they gained: not being locked into an oppressive royalty system that promised band riches but in reality paid them little more than an advance.
“We have a chance to make money from our CDs now,” Roberts said. “We have a chance to make money from our shows, our merchandise.”
In fact, the Young Dubliners turned down two record deals to make “Nine.” They’re realizing they don’t need record companies.
“Now we’re saying we don’t need a record deal. Get yourself a publicist and a promoter,” Roberts said.
This won’t be Roberts first trip to Alaska. He’s been to Homer twice before for summer gigs and the Young Dubliners also has played at the Alaska State Fair. A big fan of Discovery Channel’s “Alaska: The Last Frontier” cable TV show about the Kilcher family, Roberts said he hopes to meet some of the Kilchers. That won’t be hard. Atz Lee Kilcher, one of the stars, plays in Yellow Cabin and will be opening for the Young Dubliners.
Roberts also has another reason for visiting Homer. With his son, he’s a big fisherman in California.
“My main objective is to meet up in Homer with someone who does fishing,” he said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
7 p.m. Feb. 19
Down East Saloon
Tickets $22 at the Down East, the
Yellow Cabin opens for Young Dubliners
5:45 p.m. Feb. 20
Down East Saloon
$15 in advance, $20 at the door, available at the Down East or the Homer Bookstore.
Bob Boulding, guitar, vocals; Dave Ingraham, drums, percussion; Chas Waltz, violin, keyboard, harp, mandolin, vocals; Keith Roberts, vocals, acoustic guitar; Brendan Holmes, bass, vocals
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