Dropkick Murphys' ultimate St Patrick's Day setlist
IRISH music comes second only to the country’s iconic stout brand as far as St Patrick’s Day essentials go, and there are few bands more qualified to talk fist-in-the-air theatrics than Irish- American punk stalwarts Dropkick Murphys.
Every year the Bostonians play a week of hometown shows in the run-up to St Patrick’s Day, and their brand of rabble-rousing folk-rock draws crowds all year round. Fresh from recording new album Signed And Sealed In Blood, we shared some pints of the black stuff with guitarist James Lynch and vocalist/bassist Ken Casey to pick this set of St Paddy-worthy bangers. It ain’t all ‘fiddley-dee’...
The Body Of An American - The Pogues
The Pogues’ influence on the band is as clear as day, so it’s no surprise that this boisterous story of an Irish-American boxer’s whiskey-soaked wake features high on their St Paddy’s list.
Ken Casey: “It encompasses everything great about The Pogues: melody and catchiness, but it also has a lot of power. We once played Fairytale Of New York live and we disguised Al Barr [vocals] as Shane MacGowan. We thought everyone got the joke, but after the show, everyone was like, ‘That was unbelievable! Where’s Shane?!’ That’s what happens when you pull a joke on St Paddy’s day...”
The Fields Of Athenry - Pete St John
Although it was only written in the 70s, The Fields Of Athenry tells the sad tale of a convict bound for Australia. Paddy Reilly’s folkie version is Ken’s favourite.
James Lynch: “It’s a bagpipe song for us, so we start off in Bb or Eb. We had to find a way to make it sound unique – and that’s when capos came into our lives! It’s an opportunity to play with the open notes and make it sound bigger.”
Ken: “This is almost Ireland’s second national anthem. Pete St John actually came to see us in Dublin at the Olympia Theatre. That was intimidating, but he enjoyed it – or so he said!”
Jailbreak - Thin Lizzy
“Tonight there’s going to be trouble,” crooned Phil Lynott over one of Lizzy’s best riffs. A perfect pre-pub warm-up...
James: “There’s so much to do with the tempo when it comes to Thin Lizzy. If you play too fast, you lose the power of the riff – and the swing is essential. It’s difficult live, because if you’re in the pocket, it’s dynamite; if you’re not, it’s out the window. That’s one of the things about the new album: we’re aware of the all-important, ever-present swing. We can take three chords and make them sound totally different to how they did five albums ago.”
Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye - Traditional
This fist-in-the-air fan favourite is a powerful song about a returning war veteran who is unrecognisable following time served in the army.
Ken: “I knew it was going to be a popular song when I first played the demo to my kids and they said, ‘Daddy, play Ha-roo again!’ It’s rare when we do a traditional song like this and it can capture that sing-along vibe and also have a dark edge.”
James: “It’s a perfect example of everything we do mashed into one song. It’s catchy enough to tap your toe to it, but it’s got a tough edge and involves multiple instruments. It’s the perfect storm.”
Foggy Dew - Traditional
If you only get hold of one hair-raising war chant this year, make it The Chieftains and Sinead O’Connor version of this ballad, which chronicles the Easter Rising of 1916.
Ken: “We’ve used this as our intro song before we go on stage for about 12 years now. The lights go down and you just hear this war drum noise: it just rumbles through the whole club and it’s got this haunting power. We should get some royalties from The Chieftains – people are constantly going, ‘What’s that song?!’”
James: “We used to use The Boys Are Back In Town, but it started to give me anxiety when I listened to classic rock radio because I thought I was due on stage...”
Wild Night - Van Morrisson
Taken from 1971’s Tupelo Honey, Wild Night shows off the singer-songwriter at his R&B best, not to mention some tasteful Stax-style fretwork from session guitarist Ronnie Montrose.
Ken: “This is a song that I’d love to do one day and has to be in the pocket, as well. It’s a great riff and a great beat. A great St Patrick’s Day anthem if there ever was one – having had many wild nights on St Patrick’s Day!”
James: “All Van Morrison songs add up to more than the sum of their parts. Everyone’s doing something simple, but it turns into something unreal. It’s better if everyone’s part is simple, especially when you’ve got a bunch of dudes who are well aware of that.”
78rpm - Stiff Little Fingers
The seminal Northern Irish punks made their name in the late 70s singing about the Troubles, usually damning both sides, as on this B-side to their classic single Alternative Ulster.
Ken: “I’ve got their tattoo on my arm and you don’t do that for no reason! It’s a B-side on our new record. It was a lot more difficult than I thought it’d be. The crafty b*stards!”
James: “They do a lot of interesting stuff – a lot of octaves and open notes – it’s never just three powerchords. We went on the road with them recently and they cornered me at the end and said, ‘I wish I could play like you!’ I listened to them as a child, so that was a head-wrecker!”
Whiskey, You're The Devil - Tradtitional
Another traditional tune documenting the plight of a luckless soldier, the lines “Whiskey, you’re the devil, you’re leading me astray” nonetheless remain as relevant today as they ever were...
James: “This is one traditional tune that everybody knows. Anyone can play a version and you’re going to be entertained. It also mentions whiskey; open up the audio dictionary to Irish music and you hear something like that. My friend used to have The Pogues’ version on his answering machine and I’d call when he wasn’t home just to hear it. It was elusive to me, pre-internet!”
Delerium Tremens - Christy Moore
An amusing ode to the worst hangover of all time. The chorus even references a Guinness ad: “I could never figure out how the man stood up on the surfboard after 14 pints of stout...”
Ken: “In the early days of the band we tried to play this, but we never got there...”
James: “Now we have the banjo, mandolin, bagpipes and whistle – we used to have to force these other melodies into one guitar chord. But it’s fun to try them on guitar. You can usually find the notes around the chord you’re playing. We don’t know what the augmentation is – but if you dick around enough, you’ll find it!”
The Boys Are Back - Dropkick Murphys
The opener from the band’s new album recalls the sentiment of Lizzy’s classic, but this table-banger is pure Dropkick.
Ken: “It has everything our fans are looking for: the power of the guitars, the bagpipes and a chorus that everyone really wants to sing. All big things for a St Paddy’s day compilation!”
James: “It’s got a little bit of '50s flavour to it, too. You don’t hear the Bo Diddley beat in Irish songs and that’s what we’re reaching for these days: something unique.”
Ken: “Hopefully that will become the set opener, and maybe [new track] End Of The Night the closer, which might take that song Closing Time off in some bars!”
Ken: “Mike Ness [Social Distortion] perfected the fake fight. For years, every time I saw them he’d look into the crowd and say, ‘Yeah, you wanna f**king say something?!’ Finally, they’re playing a show in Boston and I realise he’s looking at me and I didn’t even say anything! I was like, ‘I get it now! I’m the guy tonight!’”
Ken: “We usually seem to have a couple of these every night – they take care of themselves.”
Insult the local sports team
Ken: “In 2004 the Boston Red Sox had a miraculous comeback against the Yankees. We were down three games to none and then came back and won four straight. The next show we played in New York, we dropped the lights and had a video screen come down to show the highlights from the game.”
James: “I’ve never been so scared and so proud.”
Get in the crowd
Ken: “In Mexico, they said, ‘You can’t go in the crowd. They’ll kill you.’ I thought, ‘I’ll be fine!’ So I go in and we’re arm-in-arm. Then I look to the stage and everyone’s waving. Oblivious to me, there’s a 50 on 50 gang fight behind me and the police are running around with their guns out!”
Make the crowd a member of the band
James: “The best way to get a crowd going is to be genuinely happy to be somewhere and let the crowd be the eighth member of the band. It’s like going to see a sports team. They want to be part of it and we’re happy to have them.”