CALGARY HERALD: George Millar raises a glass to 50 years of Irish Rovers during farewell tour
Posted on April 26th, 2016 at 6:00 pm
George Millar has a great deal to be thanked for.
Professionally, he’s been responsible for entertaining millions over the past 50 years touring the world with his Canadian traditional roots act the Irish Rovers, and releasing classic hits such as Wasn’t That a Party, Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, Black Velvet Band and, of course, The Unicorn — all of which, as well as some new ones, are collected on a 70-song, three-CD set.
Personally, well, there’s the Calgary pub that he and his bandmates opened 35 years ago bearing that last song’s name which has introduced hundreds and thousands of folks to that classic Irish elixir Guinness.
“I’ve had one or two there myself,” says Millar with a chuckle.
As the latest incarnation of the Rovers hits town one last time for a pair of shows, Friday night and Saturday afternoon at the Deerfoot Inn and Casino, as part of their ongoing farewell tour, Millar spoke with the Calgary Herald about that five-decade career, the music, the memories and the pub.
Q: Congratulations on 50 years. That’s a remarkable feat.
A: It is. We’ve had different changes. (My brother) Will retired about 25 years ago and (co-founder) Jimmy Ferguson, of course, passed away … But we keep going and the people seem to want to see us and we sort of said, “Well, we’re all enjoying good health” — touch wood — “so while we’re all feeling good and while the people still want to hear us we’ll keep doing it.”
Although this is a farewell tour of Western Canada it’s not the end of the Irish Rovers. After all of the farewell tours are over, which is going to be another year and a half … we’re still going to be doing folk festivals and putting out a CD now and again. So you can’t get rid of us quite that easy yet.
Q: Doing these farewell tours it must be incredible to see all of the lives you’ve touched, generation after generation.
A: Those stories are so touching. I had a couple the other night. One woman was divorced when she was young and brought up her child alone and she said the only thing that kept her going was listening to the Irish Rovers and watching the TV show. It tugs at your heartstrings that these people are so aware of us and have followed us faithfully all of these years. That is the one hard thing about retiring is that you’re going to miss all of these people. It’s wonderful that we were able to help them in some small way …
Also we’ve been lucky because of the fans, they’ve let us do what we wanted to do for 50 years. I could have been in Ireland picking potatoes or something. Instead, here I am travelling the world and we can sing our songs and be merry and have fun and we actually get paid at the end of the day for all of that. It really is quite a blessing that the Irish Rovers have had and we don’t forget that.
Q: The music you play is such a celebratory music. Playing those songs night after night has also got to be something of a blessing for you, too.
A: It is. Of course, there’s an awful lot of tragedy in Ireland over the last 800 years or more. We’ve been fighting and bickering with each other all of that time … But there’s so many good songs in Ireland without all of the political troubles and all of that stuff so we have always, as a rule, stayed away from that stuff. We’re a mixed band ourselves — there’s Catholics, there’s Protestants, and probably a few heathens in there as well. So we stay away from the religious aspect, we always have. There’s an awful lot of good Irish, British, Scottish type songs that we do in our act …
So we do new songs in the show but we also do a whole spat of our earlier ones that people are happy with and familiar with and what they pay their money for, so I’m happy to do them.
Q: Is there one song that you play but if you never heard it again that would be a good thing?
A: Well, first of all we’ve had such few hits as a band that’s gone for 50 years … We’ve had two or three hits around the world and we’re very happy for them, so we don’t really have to do too many. We do The Unicorn and we throw in Wasn’t That a Party, and at Christmas we will sing Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer but after those three there’s not too many what you’d call mega-radio type hits because we were not a radio type band … So I don’t mind singing any of the songs at all. I like them all … You do have to give them a wee rest, not The Unicorn, of course, but you do have to give some of the other songs a bit of a rest. And then when you pick them up again, then you put new life into them, and that’s what makes them work.
Q: Speaking of The Unicorn, why Calgary for The Unicorn Pub?
A: Calgary was really where the band became the four of us. We started the Irish Rovers in Toronto, Jimmy and I, soon after we emigrated (from Ireland). My brother Will had gone on out to Alberta. So we had the group going for about two years with my cousin Joe (Millar) and then we decided to go out and see Will out in Calgary for the summer … So Calgary was important in the fact that’s where Will joined us and where we officially launched ourselves …
And then when it came time to build the pub, our first one, we were looking around and we found that area, we thought, “Well, you know, this is really a great spot so let’s make this the flagship,” and that’s where we built.
Q: It must be sad for you that it will be closing soon? (The Lancaster Building where it’s located has been sold and the pub, which Millar and the Rovers no longer own, will have to move out this year.)
A: I suppose everything in life has its run and has its time, and like the old Irish Rovers we’re nearing the end of our travelling days as well. Maybe it’s apropos that it’s happening around the same time.
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