I’ve always loved radio. I suppose that comes from spending so many solitary nights back in Wexford tuned into an ancient tube-powered wireless. What treasures seeped from its cloth-covered speakers. I could summon voices from Luxembourg, London, American Forces Network in Germany, not to forget Bulgaria.
The comrade with the sexy voice from Radio Sofia was my favourite. It didn’t matter that she was preaching the destruction of capitalism and the demise of the Holy Father in Rome, I was hooked by her sultry Eastern European accent. I even wrote her a fan letter and was rewarded with a big package addressed to ‘Comrade Laurence Kirwan’. This caused no end of problems, as Jim Morris, our postman, was not only a Fianna Fáil member of Wexford Corporation but a very devout Catholic. He complained to my grandfather about the godless communist propaganda I was receiving. He needn’t have bothered. I was already disenchanted: instead of a picture of the sexy comrade, they had sent a long boring treatise on Marxism.
Fast-forward many years to an interview with Meg Griffin at Sirius Satellite Radio about the latest Black 47 CD. Steve Blatter, Vice President of Music Programming, happened to hear my accent and inquired from Meg if I’d be capable of stringing a couple of coherent sentences together as they were in need of a host for a Celtic show. Ms. Griffin assured him of my rapier-like loquaciousness and a week later I was behind the controls at Sirius delivering the first broadcast of Celtic Crush.
I’ve been doing it now for ten years and it has enriched my life enormously. Once I’d figured out the studio technology I was encouraged to produce the show. This essentially means that I choose the songs, and I decided from the outset that I would reward songwriters and musicians who took chances in their search for excellence. There are many types of Celtic music, each with its own boisterous proponents; however, most agree that we feature a strong selection from their genre on Celtic Crush with little nod to commerciality.
Finding great songs is always a task; on the other hand, ‘modern’ Celtic music offers over fifty years of material to choose from. Because it is satellite radio the show is broadcast throughout the U.S. and Canada and can be accessed by computer anywhere in the world. With over 150 full-time channels broadcasting simultaneously you’ve got to be engaging and on your toes, but with 28 million subscribers there’s a potentially huge audience.
I keep the show as loose as possible for there’s a thrill in being just one step away from disaster. I begin with a three- to five-minute soliloquy and this sets the tone for the show. I usually concoct this ‘opening statement’ on my pre-dawn subway journey to the studio. If nothing else it keeps me awake. I use no notes or computer. It’s just one person with a microphone and a lot of great music. Having played 25 years with Black 47, I often personally know the artists I’m talking about. But I’m not concerned with their personal foibles – only their art and how they create it.
During interviews I try to put the artists at ease so that they’ll open up to the listeners about their music and its inspiration. Ray Davies was my favorite interviewee. What an intelligent person, and a gentleman to boot. He walked me through the recording of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ as though it had happened yesterday instead of 1967. Why is Ray Davies Celtic? Well, his people originated in Wales and he lives in Ireland part of the year. That’s Celt enough for me. Still, we feature everything from the Kilfenora Ceili Band to Dropkick Murphys with many a stop in between.
And so this coming Saturday I’ll celebrate ten years of Celtic Crush with a look backwards. It never ceases to amaze me how great songs hold up while great arrangements and fashionable choices so often don’t. Or as Stephen Foster is reputed to have said, “Great music is forever, everything else fades away.”
Celtic Crush continues to thrive ten years later.
If you’d like to hear Celtic Crush, go to www.siriusxm.com