This St. Patrick’s Day season undoubtedly will be a bittersweet one for fans of Black 47. In November, the band will disperse after 25 years.
“It was something that was brewing for a while,” said Joseph “Bearclaw” Burcaw, who has been playing bass with the band since 2006. “Now, was the right time to pack it in.”
Black 47, whose name was inspired by the Irish Potato Famine, first formed in the late 1989 behind frontman Larry Kirwan, but made its first splash in 1993 with the song “Funky Ceili” from the album “Fire of Freedom.” In 2010, the band released its 14th album, “Bankers and Gangsters.” These modern Celtic rockers offer up songs strong on political and social issues that are teamed with energetic play and an eclectic mix of styles — rock, traditional Irish music, reggae, folk, jazz and the blues.
As a gift to fans, the band last week released “Last Call,” its last album of original material. Burcaw said the band pulled the record together relatively quickly, which gives it a great energy and the feeling of a live album. “I’m really happy with the way it sounds,” he said. “We put in 110 percent.”
Burcaw, who grew up in New Milford, said the break-up has been a “very organic” process, a matter of people moving on to their next chapter. He said it has made touring a particularly poignant experience, considering it is like one long farewell tour. As such, he said the band will be returning to some old haunts, “that the band used to play in the late 80s and early 90s.”
For those interested, the band will be in the area next week, beginning with a performance on March 16 at Empire City Casino in Yonkers, N.Y., followed by its 25th and last St. Patrick’s Day Show in New York City at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, and finally, at Bridge Street Live in Collinsville. From now until November, there are about 30 shows spread across the country. They also are expected to perform on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on March 17.
In Yonkers, the band will be performing with Shilelagh Law at an outdoor concert from 2 to 6 p.m., rain, snow or shine, according to organizers. Last month, Kirwan visited the casino to talk about the performance there, and the final year of the band.
“It is bittersweet, but it is something we all decided six months ago,” he said, according to a news statement. “We wanted to go out our way. We were always in control, never let anyone tell us how we should play or anything. We wanted to be the ones to choose when we called it quits. We are playing our last show exactly 25 years after we started. This is an achievement for us.”
The band is known for its energetic live performances, a practice that has continued, with fervor, on this final tour. Burcaw, who started as a fan going to their shows while in college, said that energy has never wavered.
“The intensity of Black 47 will never change,” said Burcaw.
During that recent media event, Kirwan also spoke about the experience of catching the band live.
“There is loyalty among us. We are friends in the band. I am the band leader but I am a leader among leaders,” he noted. “Everyone is free to do what they want on stage. We also offer a unique show. None of our 2.600 shows have every been the same.”
For Burcaw, the fact that he played with a band of which he also was a fan was a dream come true. He knows he may not have been there at the beginning, but he said the past eight years have been phenomenal.
“I am so happy to have made three great records with the band, and traveled the world with them,” he said.
As much as he is having fun, he said there is a lingering sadness that is beginning to creep in as the end nears. However, he’s looking toward the future and new projects and opportunities.
“I’m lining things up right now,” he said, including a return to his own music and perhaps a chance to go back out and play with other musicians. Burcaw is an accomplished musician in his own right, having performed or recorded with the Black Crowes, The Roots, Ron McLure, the Neville Brothers and fellow Black 47 bandmate saxophonist Geoffrey Blythe, who was a founding member of Dexy’s Midnight Runners and the new project GI Blythe.
So while Black 47 may be ending, Burcaw knows it will be a year of beginnings, as well. “This is going to be a busy year.”