I am working on a new Art book at present “The Art of Irish Drinking” combining all the paintings I have completed with drinking subjects of Potcheen men and Pub scenes etc ( seems like there are quite a few!) Along with Irish ballads and poems of the blessings and curse of the drink! I am not much of a drinker these days but by God I have seen a lot of it in my Day. My Grannie in Ballymena lived next door to McQuillian’s Pub -the scene of many drinking escapades with the characters who frequented the place.
The Pubs in Ireland are like no others any place else in the World. In my Boyhood there was one on every corner of our town and the same scene could be repeated in every town in Ireland. Pubs were more than a drinking place. In those days after the war they were social clubs, and meeting places for darts, dominoes, cards and music- even clandestine plotting or political arguments that now and then erupted into a few fisticuffs. Places of camaraderie to escape the hard factory life and enjoy a few laughs .
I made my first singing debut in that Pub on my grannies corner. I was often asked by my Mother to go and send my father back home and when the men saw me I was told to “Get up there and give us an oul song” My boy soprano voice would pipe out some old ballad like “The Irish Rover” or The Wild Colonial Boy” to the strains of my Da’s button Key accordion. I probably learned the trade of entertainment in these noisy bar rooms.
Memories of those Guinness -flavoured air establishments are etched forever in my mind and when I paint my Pub scenes I am right back there again with the Characters in old cloth caps, big dark pints in their hands and them roaring out the chorous of some old sea chantey or drinking song and it’s “ No nay never. No never no more, Will I play the Wild Rover no never no more”
Well the show at Winchester Galleries is over for another year and once again it was a success. Thanks to the hard work of Gunter and Linda at the Oak Bay location. This is a wonderful Gallery and I am very proud and quite humble I might add to be a part of their line up of fine artists. I am looking forward to another summer on Vancouver Island and each day is now growing more beautiful with all the explosion of blossoming trees.
I moved some of my art to Benchmark Gallery in Duncan where Michael and Janet have become my good friends over the years. I enjoy working with them, they were the ones who first agreed to show my paintings and over the past 5 years we have been very successful from their friendly art Gallery on Station Street of old Duncan. Here is an invite from Winchester showing some of the pieces that were on sale.
Well the lights are retrieved from the storage and I am trying to get up the spirit to hang em once again! Wasn’t that only last month when i took them down! How it does rush along so fast! The dreadful carols are piping through Superstore aisles and I am cursing Maria Carey through my clenched teeth as she screams out “Oh effin Holy night!” The fields are frosted this morning and my thoughts are sailing somewhere in Azure oceans. A time of reflection this month as the 50th anniversary of Irish Rover approaches and oh what a wild Unicorn ride that turned out to be. Full of excitement, success, of love found and lost and found and many friendships made and a few lost forever. I check You Tube now and then and there are many of the old CBC TV shows posted. Those shows fill me full of nostalgia and i remember the high days and the good times. Not sure who is posting them but “Thanks for the Memory”
After I left Rover I formed a great band “Some Mad Irishman” (named after a song written by an old friend Mike Smith who hung out with us in the early days) Here is a you tube clip from the Live concert in Christchurch Town Hall
I think the Keeper song is a great environmental piece. I will write a few more thoughts this week. I am off to Salt Spring Island to do a concert for the Salt Spring Folk society Fullford Hall Monday 9th Dec at 7pm My friends Mary Murphy and Paul Keim will join me for a bit of a hooley.
So here’s to the start of the Pagan festivals look out for old wise men bearing gifts like spuds and crubeens and some Potcheen. Slainte!
My friend and great Irish performer Mary Murphy put together this collection of my paintings and coloured them with her lovely melodies from her new C.D Honey from Heather. Over the past few years Mary and her partner the great guitarist Paul Keim have been the mainstay of my Ireland show. Our last successful run was 6 weeks last march/April at the new Oak Bay Beach Hotel.
After all the touring years with the Irish Rovers and later with a new creation ‘Rogues and Romancers’ touring “Ireland where the Song and Dance Began. that I toured through New Zealand and Australlia. It was all big business and these last few years has been a pleasure with Mary and Paul and along with Chuck McCandless – Joel Hanna- various fiddlers we had a lot of fun.
Looking back now at all those music years I feel very content to hang the old Banjo on the wall, play the old music in the background while I spend a lot of time at my easel. “As some sage once wrote “A time for all things” Well my music was indeed a time that has left me with a million good memories with only a few bitter ones to put aside in the box full of wasted angst.
My instrumental C.D’s still play over the speakers of the CD stand in places like Costco and WalMart. And now and then when I am least expecting it I will catch the sound of my old tin whistle rising above the shopping frenzy. I will walk by the player stand and push the button again before I rush out of the madness.
Strange enough to hear the strains of “The Lark in the Clear Aire” above the announcement of great deals at the Meat counter!
But the old music still lives and will hopefully still be playing away long after I’m gone.
My beautiful daughter Clare got married as September comes to a close. New beginnings for her as she becomes Clare Calabrese. Her new husband is a good man and my wedding blessing from my heart included “May you be poor in misfortune, Rich in blessings.May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.”
The rain that threatened all day magically disappeared, a rainbow announced a sunny spell and as my friend, Supreme court Judge Keith Bracken, performed the ceremony, the sun burst out and the beauty of the surrounding lake and mountains reflected my Clares glow. I felt a pang when I thought of that little girl growing around these fields and now here she was a most beautiful young bride- so happy with her new husband and I felt the happiness spread to all who were there. When the rain returned and we were all in the big tent, the food and the music and the dancing commenced and even the downpour added to the magic of the day.
The only glitch of the day happened when my plane stunt failed! You see I had saved a large bag of colorful blossoms that my neighbour offered to fly over the wedding ceremony and dump the flowers from the plane over the party. He told me that he would take them out of the garbage bag and put them in a box as “the plastic bag would be too hard to open in the wind” Fine says I drop em from a box.
Welllllll at the right moment the little yellow plane soared over the house (well he missed the house and came over the trees) he lost the bag in the wind and the whole bloody bag came flying like a bomb full of flowers and splashed far beyond the party into the lake. The guests thought that my neighbour was mad at me and dumping garbage!!! or even a body!! Ahhh best laid plans of mice and men!!! But at least I got a laugh when I explained what was in the bag
These days I tour my music a lot less, and spend most of my time painting in my peaceful studio on a small lake on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
After more than 30 years leading the Irish Rovers around the world I am happy with this new success as an artist. The mad life, touring endlessly with the Irish Music machine, wore me down and now I have time to meditate on my art, hike the nearby mountains with my dogs, and I feel fitter that I did 25 years ago. Here’s a blurb I wrote about where it all began.
My love of painting started when I was 10 in Northern Ireland. Money was scarce in those days and when my mother won a large box of watercolours at an annual Fair I spent a lot of time painting on everything I could find- including my mother’s only tablecloth! The Ireland that I grew up in has changed so much and I return every year with a kind of longing for the past. I wander the streets of my old town remembering all the scenes and characters that were part of my life. So nowadays I try to capture those memories on canvas with oil paints. I daydream, and out come scenes of my Grannies country kitchen and her old friends, gossiping over a few ‘cups of Tay’ with that old ‘Brown Betty tea pot always ready to pour.
I can feel the heat from the fire and taste the new bread with creamery butter. I can almost hear their laughter as some old ‘yarn’ is shared. On my canvas you will find Irish Tinkers and moonshine men (the wee still) along with many of the great pubs that occupied almost every corner of Ireland. There were delivery horses on our street and great plough horses in my Grandfather’s fields. There were many home spun scenes to remember and fill canvas with colour and nostalgia. I hope there is quite a bit of humour in my work for I look back on that poor childhood with a smile. we might have been poor but by God we were rich in music and art and laughter. I hope you get a chance to share in some of these happy memories.
With this re-kindled web site I hope you will check my blog now and then. I will fill yer head full of Celtic lore, good old Irish Jokes , stories and homespun foolosophies -and post my latest paintings and Pix of my travels. As the old Irish sage once said” May them that love us ,love us- and them that don’t May God turn their heart- and if he can’t turn their heart may he turn their ankle- so we’ll know them by their limping!”
I have been asked to be the guest speaker at the “United Way” kick off breakfast this September. Seems that over my whole music career I have somehow been involved in Charity events. There were hard times in Northern Ireland when I was young and I am sure we were helped by charitable folk.
My Dad could make money playing his music and before long my sister Sandra and I formed “The Millar Kids” and we were soon in demand at many charity functions.
We continued the duo when we came to Canada and we were constantly on call for charity work here as well.
My little mother pushed us on and one of her favourite philosophies was, “When you grow older you will discover you have two hands, one for helping yourself and one for helping others.”
At 16 I wasn’t much of a charity minded person but I did love being on stage and I suppose Irish Rovers were created from those many Charity events.
Our first Press picture 1965. Don't you love the fireplace?
This was set up to make us look as if we were having a casual "ceilidh" but it is obviously highly staged.
This was an early CBC promo photo for a CBC television special. This was very quaint and popular in the '60's but people are more sophisticated in this day and age.
In the 60's, The Irish Rovers became regulars at Calgary's Depression Coffee House, a folk club that also contributed to the start of Joni Mitchell's career.
Early Rovers Band
Derek Swinson on guitar and Will Millar, bass. This was taken around 1963
We used to play Hyannisport, Connecticut. Edward Kennedy always used to come with his children. He wrote on this photo, to Will and C?? with best wishes and my thanks. Ed Kennedy. He was a gentleman.
First Rovers Promo Shot
Our first Rovers promo shot. This was taken in April 1967. Get a load of our fabulous Beatle Boots.
In this episode of the Virginian, a gang of desperate Irish bank robbers come to town and somehow managed to find the time to play a couple of songs in the saloon.
None of the cowboys suspected a thing! No one remembers if the robbery was successful.