It has been a magical journey from their 1966 debut recording, The First of The Irish Rovers. Most of the Rovers’ albums over the last twenty years were recorded in both Canada and Ireland on their own record label, Rover Records. This year’s release was spurred on by the fact that their recording of Drunken Sailor received multi-millions of hits on You Tube. Since its release, the CD has made waves on both sides of the Atlantic making headlines in both Belfast and North America. CBC also recently featured the new single, The Titanic in the documentary, The Pride of Belfast, which featured George Millar and the Harland and Wolff shipyards where the mighty ship was built.
All band members hail from Ireland. Founding member George Millar and cousin Ian Millar are both from Ballymena, original member Wilcil McDowell is from Larne, John Reynolds and percussionist Fred Graham are from Belfast, and Sean O’Driscoll is from Cork. In September of 2010, the boys chose their favorite spots to film while producing a new DVD, Home in Ireland, around their old stomping grounds, in Northern Ireland. Some of the locations, they had filmed at many years earlier for their 80’s TV series, which was produced in conjunction with Ulster Television. The special will be broadcast across the US and Canada this winter.
Band founder, George Millar says of their recent DVD/television special, Home In Ireland “it’s basically The Irish Rovers ‘Coming Home’ because that is our home, for all of us. We want to show the world what the northeast Irish coast is like. I’ve traveled the world now for over 40 years and there’s nothing like it.
The Irish Rovers became so much a part of the Canadian culture that Prime Minister Trudeau personally asked them to become Canadian. Since then, they have represented Canada at no less than five world Expos and received Canada’s ‘Harold Moon Award’ in recognition for a quarter century of contributions to the International music world.
Their story began in Ontario in 1963, where the 16-year old George Millar and 23-year old Jim Ferguson, both new emigrants from N. Ireland, met in Toronto at an Irish function. They sang together ‘til dawn; and so the Irish Rovers were launched. George’s cousin, Joe Millar, immigrated to Canada the following year and was recruited as he stepped off the plane. After several successful months in Ontario as The Irish Rovers, the trio made their way to Calgary, Alberta, to join forces with George’s brother, Will. “Will, was presenting a children’s TV show called Just 4 Fun. We went on the show and sang, Whiskey You’re the Devil,” George Millar recalls. “There were these little five-year-olds sitting on the floor in front of us. Of course the switchboards lit up with people going, ‘Please don’t be putting those songs in our children’s ears.’ That’s how we began.”
The success of their first album, lead to a second, which included a sweet little song which they had been playing in the clubs, called “The Unicorn”. The words were from a poem written by Shel Silverstein who wrote for Playboy. The lads “stuck a tune to it”, and the result was a multi-million seller, beloved by a generation. They then made several appearances as musical bank robbers on The Virginian, guest roles on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and The Beachcombers.
In 1971 when The Irish Rovers hosted their first of three CBC television series, The Irish Rovers Show, they used their new-found fame to promote all Irish music to the US and Canada. As their popularity increased, the stories of these lads became legendary. In fact, they were the inspiration for one of the world’s best-known party anthems, Wasn’t That A Party, which was written by their friend, Tom Paxton. And perhaps it was their love of the brown stuff that led them owning a string of popular pubs across Canada.
Members, singer/songwriter, George Millar and accordion player, Wilcil McDowell still have an endless array of amusing stories from their long career. George’s brother, Will Millar left the group in 1994, and Jimmy Ferguson passed away in 1997. Joe Millar retired to the golf course in 2005, while his son, Ian (who inherited his father’s golden tones) took up the family ranks.
You can see the Rovers live at the Painted Hand Casino on Wednesday, October 17th at 8 p.m.
For tickets call 306-786-6777 or Purchase online at http://tickets.siga.sk.ca/