There is only one thing that George Millar enjoys as much as sitting in his home in Parksville on Vancouver Island with a glass of wine and watching the cruise ships pass by.
And that is performing music on stage with his group, the Irish Rovers.
When he was a mere 16 years of age, Millar and George Ferguson started the group in Toronto. That was in 1963 and the band has endured the test of time.
After being launched by the hit song Unicorn in the 1960s, the group enjoyed a similar revival in the late 1970s with another hit with wide demographic appeal, Wasn’t That A Party.
Now in 2011, the Irish Rovers are enjoying yet another rebirth from a documentary special they filmed on location in Northern Ireland, called Home In Ireland, which attracted the interest of the PBS network.
The special will be broadcast across the U.S. and Canada on PBS on Nov. 27, and will be released on DVD throughout Europe.
Millar and his Irish mates are set to film another special for release in 2012, called An Irish Rovers Christmas, to be filmed in Banff and Toronto.
The group has changed members over the years—the current lineup includes Millar, Wilcil McDowell, Sean O’Driscoll, Ian Millar, Fred Graham and John Reynolds.
Original members Ferguson passed away in 1997 and George’s brothers Will and Joe both retired in the 1990s.
Millar attributes the longevity of the Irish Rovers to the fun for an audience of listening to Irish songs coupled with the enjoyment the group still has performing on stage.
“I think the music is fun and it starts with that. There has also been a revival of Celtic music as well that started with the Riverdance show, plus groups that have enjoyed success in Canada such as The Great Big Sea, Spirit Of The West and The Paperboys,” Millar said.
While travel has become a logistical nightmare for the group and all their band instruments since 9/11’s increased airport security, Millar says all that frustration disappears when they step on stage.
“For two hours a night when you hit that stage, all the headaches and fatigue that come with travel disappear. And despite the travel hardship, we all realize that we are lucky to be able to make a living doing what we do, compared to people who have to work at a job eight hours a day. We have been pretty blessed.”
Millar says it seems “like 105 years ago” that the Irish Rovers first came to national prominence in Canada by hosting their own music show on CBC.
“That show made us popular in Canada, particularly in the Prairies because for many people, CBC was the only channel they could get, so they had to watch us,” he laughed.
“Canada has become our adopted home country and we all became Canadian citizens so we were fine with that. It’s not a bad place to live in and you don’t need a bullet-proof vest when you step outside.”
Millar said their relationship with Canada was probably cemented by their hit song Wasn’t That A Party, although initially most people didn’t associate the song with their band.
“The record company loved the song but didn’t want it to be directly associated with the Irish Rovers. They felt the radio DJs wouldn’t play it. So they released the song under just The Rovers, and many people originally thought we were a group out of Nashville.”
He said there were also concerns that the song glorified drinking. “But if you listen to the words, at the end of the song the boys end up in jail. It was just a fun song that wasn’t intended to carry any particular message.
“When we write songs, we stay away from politics. We are not looking to offend anyone. If people leave our show whistling The Drunken Sailor, then we leave happy as well.”
The Irish Rovers started a Western Canadian tour on Friday in Medicine Hat that will bring them to Kelowna for a show at the Kelowna Community Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 29. Tickets are $43.25/person; available at 250-762-5050 or online at selectyourtickets.com.
Millar is excited about this tour because of the travel arrangements—one flight to Medicine Hat and the tour entourage then travels in three vans across Alberta and B.C. with the final show in Duncan on Oct.6.