Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, July 20, 2001

Dropkick Murphys break new ground with a new lineup
of Irish folk instrumentalists -- Ryan Foltz on mandolin,
dulcimer and tin whistle and Spicy McHaggis on bagpipes.

the ordinary

A Boston band blends Irish folk
with tastes of skinhead culture

By Shawn 'Speedy' Lopes

For a rowdy Boston-based band whose piping hot blend of hardcore punk, Irish folk and themes of drunken revelry stews like a hearty bowl of ballymaloe, the recent procurement of former Pogues frontman and Irish rock legend Shane MacGowan was an outright score. For two tracks on the band's latest venture "Sing Loud, Sing Proud," the Murphys were granted the services of the brilliant but volatile rock-and-folk songwriter, whose poignant, imaginative lyrics (often slurred through a near-toothless mouth) have made him an icon to legions of fans worldwide.

"He was obviously a big influence and kind of an idol to me," says Dropkick Murphys singer/bassist Ken Casey, whose initial encounter with the unpredictable poet while backstage at the Guinness Fleadh Festival did not go well. "I brought all my old Pogues singles for him to sign and he just told me 'Piss off, wanker!' Eventually he did sign them, but he signed them 'Piss off, wanker.' I'm sure it enhanced their value, though."

In time, MacGowan warmed to the Murphys enough to accompany the band on its latest album, much to the delight of Casey and company. "He is something of a legend so he has to be cautious and skeptical about people who want something from him," Casey reasons. "In some ways he's a cranky old grump, but his manager told me he'd never seen Shane warm up to a new bunch of people like he did with us, and all I could think was, 'If this is what he's like with his friends, I'd hate to see what he's like with his enemies.'"

In the end, the Dropkick Murphys banged out an album's worth of material worthy of MacGowan's approval. "Everyone had a great time with him recording and drinking in the studio, although I had to play the bad guy because I was trying to produce and I had to say, 'OK Shane, just one more take' while everyone told him how great he was. It was definitely 'three sheets to the wind,' and it sounds that way because we really tried to capture the real spirit of the moment."

Bolstered by a new lineup of Irish folk instrumentalists -- Ryan Foltz on mandolin, dulcimer and tin whistle and Spicy McHaggis on bagpipes (both longtime fans of the band) -- the Dropkick Murphys are breaking new ground en route to a breakout year in 2001. "The thing is, I feel like we already broke out," says Casey. "Whether we play in L.A. or Boston, for 200 kids or 2,000, I'm comfortable with where we're at. We may not be a major label band but then again, we're not trying to play that circuit. Things are going so well that sometimes I scratch my head and think, 'Is this real?'"

A major point of contention with the band however, is the media's constant portrayal of skinheads -- who make up a good portion of the band's audience -- as a violent, racist lot when the overwhelming majority of skins are anti-racist and have no inclination toward hooliganism. Three members of the band -- lead vocalist Al Barr (although his hair's grown out now), drummer Matt Kelly and the aforementioned McHaggis -- are avowed skins who stand behind the tradition of the skinhead subculture, rooted in an appreciation of Jamaican ska and reggae brought to England in the '60s by West Indian immigrants.

In the early days, skinheads looked to their hip Caribbean colleagues for music and fashion tips and shared a mutual respect with Jamaican rude boys and rastas. While the trend continues today (with a good measure of oi! -- working-class skinhead music -- and punk added to the mix), a tiny but vocal minority of violent racist factions have tarnished the skins' image as an inclusive multicultural society.

"The skinhead subculture was always about music and working class values," Casey affirms. "The shaved head and boots identified you with this group, along with the music. The problem became racists taking this image and getting all the attention. Now, if there's a group of people and 5 percent decide to act a certain way, do we judge the whole group on the actions of the few?"

The answer, naturally, is a resounding no. Casey believes if the Dropkick Murphys are to be judged at all, it should be on the quality of their music and the universal message they impart. "We all share the same values like being true to your beliefs, being honest with yourself and sticking with friends." Of course, indulging in the occasional pint of ale doesn't hurt your standing in the group, either.

Dropkick Murphys

Also performing: The Sticklers and Buckshot Shorty

Where: World Cafe, 1130 N. Nimitz Highway
When: 7 p.m. tomorrow; doors open at 6 p.m.
Tickets: $16.50, with service charge
Call: 599-4450

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