THE IRISH ROVERS
50th Anniversary Tour lineup: George Millar, Wilcil McDowell, Sean O'Driscoll, Ian Millar, Fred Graham, Geoffrey Kelly, Morris Crum, Gerry O'Connor
Band members hail from Ireland and one from Scotland, however The Irish Rovers formed in Toronto, Canada. They have produced over 40 albums in North America with many more internationally. The band's new album "The Irish Rovers, 50 Years" is being released at concerts this year o their 50th Anniversary Tour. The days of the long tours are coming to an end for these lads as they are now completing one last world tour. After that, they will finally be available for special events, festivals and longer stays. International touring will happen only on a very limited scale.
The 2012 album release was in response to mammoth attention their Drunken Sailor recording recieved on YouTube. It brought them back to the radio airwaves across North America and attracted a younger generation of fan worldwide. The album is full of tales from the sea, including a tribute to The Titanic marking its 100th anniversary.
George Millar and his cousin Ian Millar are both from Ballymena, original member Wilcil McDowell is from Larne, Sean O'Driscoll is from Cork, bodhran player Fred Graham is from Belfast, keybordist Morris Crum from Carnlough, whistle/flute player Geoffrey Kelly from Dumfries, Scotland, and fiddler Gerry O'Connor is from Dundalk.
The story of The Irish Rovers (aka The Rovers) is one for the big screen; hosting three award-winning television series, topping the music charts again and again, several appearances as musical bank robbers on “The Virginian”, and more than 46 years of international recordings and touring their music around the world. The Irish Rovers themselves, were the inspiration for one of the world's best-known party anthems. The boys in the band have lived large.
The band has regularly toured Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia. In 2010, they released Gracehill Fair (Rover Records), which received high accolades from Maui to Belfast, and in 2011 released both Home In Ireland, and their first Christmas CD in over a decade, Merry Merry Time of Year. In September 2010, the lads returned to their roots, to film in Northern Ireland for their DVD / television special, Home in Ireland. Life in Ireland, and emigration have long been the focus of the band's original music. Home In Ireland is a tribute to their homeland and the Irish emigrants who long to return. While revealing the beauty of their homeland The Irish Rovers perform on location at Carnlough Harbour, Dunluce Castle, The Giant’s Causeway, Slemish Mountain, Glenarm, Galgorm Manor near Ballymena, and onstage at Waterfront Hall, Belfast. George Millar says, “It’s basically The Irish Rovers ‘Coming Home’ because this 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.”
As young Irish immigrants themselves, the Rovers became so much a part of the Canadian cutlure that Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau personally asked them to become Canadian citizens so they could officially represent Canada around the world. By 1989 they had hosted three international television series, recorded 25 albums and had represented Canada at five world Expos - Montreal (1967), Osaka, Japan (1970), Okinawa, Japan (1976), Vancouver (1986), and Brisbane, Australia (1988). In recognition for a quarter century of contributions to the International music world, The Irish Rovers won the Performing Rights Organization's (PROCAN) 'Harold Moon Award'. At Expo86 in Vancouver, they recorded, "The First Thirty Years” at their Irish Rovers Free House “The Unicorn”. In ‘89, their “Silver Anniversary” Collection Album featured backing by The Chieftains and songs written by Randy Bachman, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.
The Irish Rovers formed their own record company in 1993, which finally gave them full control over their music production. Since then, several of their albums have been recorded in both Canada and Ireland. Over the years, the band has survived management changes, record label changes, personnel changes and still over 46 years later, they're selling out concert halls internationally. Since '95, they've released ten more albums including Come Fill Up Your Glasses, Down by the Lagan Side, Still Rovin, Gracehill Fair and two double album Greatest Hits, Gems and 40 Years A-Rovin. Recently, their recording of Drunken Sailor reached a younger generation with over 5 million hits on various YouTube sites, which in turn lead to the release the Drunken Sailor album.
The story of the Irish Rovers starts in 1963 in Canada, where the 16-year old George Millar and 23-year old Jim Ferguson, both new emigrants from Northern Ireland, met in Toronto at an Irish function. They sang together ‘til dawn.
George’s cousin, Joe Millar, also then immigrated to Canada. Joe, who played button-key accordion, harmonica, and sang traditional ballads, was recruited as he stepped off the plane.
While in Toronto, George and Will Millar's musician father Bob, became the band's representative and guided the young lads through several months of playing folk song festivals, Hootenany's, Irish soccer dances, coffee houses, and Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre. For a short time, George, Joe and Jimmy were joined by bass guitarist, Vic Marcus and banjo player, Doug Henderson. In '64 George and Jimmy headed west to Calgary, Alberta, to join forces with George’s brother, Will who was solo singing at Phil's Pancake House, and performing on a childrens' television show. They called Joe back in Toronto to bring his family out to Calgary and join them. Photo from left, Will Millar, Jimmy Ferguson, George Millar, Wilcil McDowell, Joe Millar.
"Calgary is very special to us because that's where Will joined the band, and years later it was the spot we chose to build our flagship Unicorn Pub." George Millar describes the band's first television performance:
Will Millar introduced the group to his manager Les Weinstein who became the Irish Rover's full-time manager, and Will became leader of the band. The Irish Rovers were already regulars at Calgary's popular Depression Coffee House and Weinstein encouraged them to head south to “Americay”.
American agent, Jan Brainerd was impressed after seeing them perform at a tavern called Dinucci's. She arranged for an audition at the famous folk club, The Purple Onion, in San Francisco where they headlined for an unprecedented 22 sold-out weeks. Mrs. Brainerd became their longtime booking agent and later engineered their first recording contract with Decca Records in 1966. The lads fresh brand of Irish music was a hit in the US.