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Top » Bands and Artists » I » Irish Rovers » Biographies


The members of the Irish Rovers were all EmigrEs from Northern Ireland who formed in Calgary in 1964. They started performing regularly at The Depression Coffee House but it took them 4 more years before signing their first record deal with Decca. After the success of their first hit, Shel Silverstein's 8 million copy "The Unicorn", the band were given their own CBC-TV show. It ran for 6 years and won a Canadian ACTRA award for 'Best Variety Performance'. After the cancellation of their variety show, they produced 16 one-hour TV specials in the mid-70's. In 1977 they were signed to Attic Records who went whole hog and released three albums of Irish Rovers material that year. Their output was frenetic throughout the 1980's including several chart topping and award winning back-to-back albums including 'The Rovers' (1980), 'No More Bread And Butter' (1981) and 'It Was A Night Like This' (1982) which were all produced by Jack Richardson. The Rovers called in musical favours from the likes of David Sinclair (Body Electric), Daryl Burgess, Peter Clarke, Kim Mitchell, Ian Thomas, Doug Riley, Steve Kennedy, Brian Leonard, Terry Frewer, Michael Creber, Craig Zurba (Agent), Doug Edwards, Bernie LaBarge, and Gary Koliger among others. Their 25th Anniversary collection featured the backing of The Chieftains and songs written by Randy Bachman, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. In recognition for a quarter century of contributions to the International music world, they won the Performing Rights Organization's (PROCAN) prestigious 'Harold Moon Award'. As of 1989 they had recorded 25 albums and had represented Canada at no less than five world Expos - Montreal (1967), Osaka, Japan (1970), Okinawa, Japan (1976), Vancouver (1986), and Brisbane, Australia (1988). The Rovers line up since the end of 1994 has featured original members George Millar, Joe Millar and Wilcil McDowell, joined by percussionist Kevin McKeown, singer/guitarist/bass player John Reynolds and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Wallace Hood. On some tours, they are joined by banjo player Sean O'Driscoll. In recent years Jimmy Ferguson passed away and Will Millar retired from the group. With notes from C. Williams, Wallace Hood, Kathleen & Karen Robertson
Contributed by: Jam! Pop Encyclopedia


Irish Rovers. Irish-Canadian pop group formed in Calgary in 1964 by the brothers Will Millar (singer, banjoist, guitarist) and George Millar (guitarist), a cousin, Joe Millar (accordionist), and Jimmy Ferguson (singer). Joe Millar was replaced in 1967 by Wilcil McDowell but returned in 1969, now playing bass guitar. All members were born in Northern Ireland between 1938 and 1947. Under Will Millar's leadership the Irish Rovers began their career at the Depression in Calgary and appeared at other coffeehouses throughout North America (notably the Purple Onion in San Francisco and the Ice House in Los Angeles, recording its first LP, The First of the Irish Rovers, Decca DL-74835, at the latter venue). They moved into concert halls and nightclubs on the success in 1968 of their recording of Shel Silverstein's children's song 'The Unicorn'. 'The Unicorn' eventually sold some 8 million copies world-wide and was followed by a lesser hit, 'Whiskey on a Sunday'. The group subsequently toured Australia in 1969 (and again in 1974) and appeared at the Canadian pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan. The group starred 1971-5 on CBC Vancouver TV's 'The Irish Rovers,' one of the most popular variety shows of its day, and thereafter appeared in many CBC specials. Though it did not have as consistently high a profile in later years, it performed for audiences in many parts of the world and in 1979 received the PRO Canada's Wm Harold Moon Award for international achievement. It had its second substantial hit, 'Wasn't That a Party?,' in 1980 and was seen in the CBC TV mini-series, 'The Rovers' Comedy House,' in 1981. The group was known as just 'the Rovers' in this period. Over the years the Irish Rovers have balanced their repertoire of traditional and novelty material with contemporary songs by Will Millar, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, and others. In 1966 Peter Goddard suggested that they 'whistle, hoot and sing their way through songs with the subtlety of a shillelagh' (Globe and Mail, 16 December) but in 1978 noted that they 'are only Irish in passing these days and we're to think of them, now, as singers of international songs' (Toronto Star, 20 January). The album Hardstuff (Attic ACD-1253), issued in 1989, continued to reflect this duality, with titles by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, Randy Bachman, and Tom Northcott, on one hand, and several tunes featuring Ireland's Chieftains as guest performers, on the other.
Contributor organisation: Encyclopedia of Music in Canada
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