Bar tabs bigger than paychecks 

Canada’s Celtic punks The Mahones make their Savannah debut

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO BE THE LEADER of the longest-running Celtic punk band on the continent? Just ask Finny McConnell.

As the frontman and chief instigator of Toronto, Canada’s The Mahones, he and his rotating cast of bandmembers have the distinction of being one of the earliest (and some say best) exponents of that brash and manic hybrid of traditional Irish folk music and loud, furious rock and roll.

The group, whose material is often likened to both The Replacements and The Ramones (who inspired their name), formed in 1990 and have released nearly ten albums full of bluster and bombast since. With a legion of devoted fans around the world, and kudos from both Celtic music and punk rock pundits, it’s no wonder they’ve been given props by —and shared the stage with— both legendary icons (such as members of The Pogues), and contemporary stars of the genre (such as the Dropkick Murphys).

I spoke with McConnell a few days before he’d head south of the border for a string of seven U.S. dates.

Your band’s been together almost 20 years. What are the most obvious changes in the Irish punk and rock scenes since you began?

Finny McConnell: Well, back in 1990 when we started, the only Irish punk bands I knew were The Pogues and The Waterboys (who weren’t even punk). There were a few more but not that I knew of. The Pogues were the band that got the whole “Irish Punk” vibe started. Then in New York, there came Black 47 and The Rogues (now Rogues March). So I guess there was not much happening as a scene like there is today. The Celtic audiences were still a little unsure about mixing the punk vibe into Irish music. I remember people being very indifferent about the whole thing. Even the Irish were not too excited back then. Now, bang! — there are Irish punk bands all over the shop. It’s fantastic!

Did you ever think your band would be around long enough to be viewed by many as some sort of elder statesmen in this genre?

Finny McConnell: Well, if I’m viewed that way, then great. I always knew I was going to play music for my living as nothing else really interested me. It just took me 25 years and one 1980s Pogues show at the Hammersmith Palais in London (yes, the same one mentioned in the Clash song) to realize I love the Irish sound. Since I’ve had The Mahones going for 18 years, it seems like this is what I was meant to do. Now, I just need to get paid for all this hard work. Just kidding (laughs).

Do you feel a lot of pressure as the leader of the band to keep this whole thing moving forward, lest the group’s momentum slow and their stature possibly decrease?

Finny McConnell: Hmmm... Well, I’m a Leo, so I can be a little lazy and content. These days, I just like to do what feels right — like short tours in nice places. Our recording output has slowed a little bit, but we have lots of records already. It makes the new CDs even more special (laughs). I will always keep this going because it’s fun and I love the music and playing it live. I’ve never worried about momentum or a decreasing stature. I’m in this for the music, and not any kind of competition shite. It’s all about having fun.

You said once in an interview that for the first year or so, this band basically got paid in Guinness and whiskey. How much of an exaggeration is that statement?

Finny McConnell: It’s true, our bar tabs were bigger than our paychecks in the early days, for sure!

Tell me a bit about what it’s like to be a Celtic punk band in Canada? How much of the population of Canada has Irish roots, and is your band most popular in your home country, or have you found greater success in other markets around the world?

Finny McConnell: Well, I guess there are a few bands in Canada worth a mention. The Real Mackenzies are my favorite. The Tartan Hearts from Calgary and The McGillicuddys from Victoria are a few more that wreck. Irish roots in Canada are all around. Mostly on the East Coast in Newfoundland and Cape Breton. Actually, it’s very much like Ireland out there. As for The Mahones’ fame, it rotates constantly around the world. We’ve been flavor of the week in many places, but we’re like a fine wine — we just keep getting better!

Over the years, your band has collaborated with a number of well-known names in the realm of Irish punk and rock, such as members of The Pogues and the Dropkick Murphys. Where do you feel The Mahones fit into the greater scheme of those genres?

Finny McConnell: Well I think —and this is just me talking here— that we are the best in the world of course. (laughs) Well, at least top five!

Savannah is well known for its strong Irish roots and a large St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Overall, though, how is our town perceived in the Celtic punk and rock world?

Finny McConnell: To be honest, I don’t know. This is our first show in Savannah. But, I’ve been there twice before as a fill-in guitarist for The Peelers, and as I recall, the place rocks.

What can folks expect from your upcoming performance? What sort of lineup are you carrying these days, and will the set be drawn from across the group’s entire career, or mostly focus on recent material?

Finny McConnell: Well, expect a very high energy performance. Mainly really fast songs from across our whole career. We mainly tour with a four or five-piece lineup. I don’t like the band to be too large, as we tend to bump into each other onstage. (laughs) It also means more people are trying to steal your drinks!

What’s the single biggest misconception people have about Irish punk bands?

Finny McConnell: I guess that all Irish punk started with Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly. I had never even heard of them, and still think they are both shite. Just kidding — Dropkicks Rule! (laughs)

The Mahones play Murphy’s Law Irish Pub Thursday at 9 pm. $10 admission. Listen & Learn at: www.themahones.net.


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