Rovers hanging up their travelling shoes

The Irish Rovers swing through Penticton on March 7 on their 50th anniversary tour.

When the Irish Rovers swing through Penticton on March 7 on their 50th anniversary tour, it may well be the last time they put in an appearance here.

It won’t be the last time they perform live, but after 50 years on the road, the Rovers are planning to hang up their touring kits.

After this tour is over, said George Millar, the band will be restricting their live performances to special events.

“We are going to do some of the European folk festivals and some of the ones in North America as well,” said Millar. “The touring is for young men, and we are not young men anymore. It’s time to give it a bit of a rest and let some of the younger bands take over.”

The Irish Rovers have put a lot of miles behind them since that fateful day in 1963 when Millar ran into Jim Ferguson, both of them new immigrants from Ireland, in Toronto.

Millar still shakes his head in wonder over one of the band’s earliest hits, The Unicorn.

“Back in the Unicorn days, 1968, No. 1 was the Beatles, No. 2 was the Irish Rovers and No. 3 was Strawberry Alarm Clock,” said Millar. “You don’t ever know what is going to take the fancy of the public. I am certainly glad it did, but I still look at those charts and I say, boy I don’t know how we did that.

“It’s a wonderful ride on that little unicorn’s back that we have had all these years.”

The Unicorn remains on the Irish Rovers’ set list, Millar said, by popular demand.

“People do like the old songs. In our case, they want The Unicorn. They would lynch us if we didn’t sing that,” joked Millar. Other favourites like The Orange and the Green, the Black Velvet Band are also on the playlist for Penticton, along with new songs.

Making sure the audience has a good time is what it is all about, he says.

“I think we have reached a happy medium where I understand what the people want,” said Millar.

“They let us do a job that we love and even get paid for it at the end of the day. It’s the fans who let us do this. We can never forget them, nor would I ever let them down,” said Millar. “That’s why we have kept going as long as we have. It’s that two hours on stage that makes you forget about what happened on that day, whether you are tired and you just flew in, or you drove 300 miles to get there, it doesn’t matter.”

Millar said they are looking forward to playing in the Cleland Theatre.

“The Okanagan people, they know how to have a good time. They’ve always enjoyed our shows and they are quick to join in, clap along and sing,” he said. “I find it much more intimate when you are at close quarters like that. It just has a warmth about it.”

The concert will be split between new and old songs, in what Millar describes as a “pretty uptempo couple of hours.

“We tell some gags, which they’ve probably heard a million times. There is a wee bit of patter, there is a couple  of slow love songs that might bring a tear to the eye, and that’s okay too,” said Millar. “I  always think if people are leaving and there is whistling The Drunken Sailor, then we have properly done our jobs.”

Millar jokes that he has gotten to know every airport and hotel in the western world. But all that touring, with luggage and equipment and all the people needed, takes its toll.

“The old back starts complaining after the years,” said Millar. “When you’re 21, it doesn’t matter. You can drink all night and party and  still do a show everyday. We can’t do that anymore, we’ve learned.”

While the band may not be doing as many live shows, they plan to keep creating new music for people to enjoy.

“Although we won’t be touring as  much, we will be putting out a new CD probably every 12 to 18 months. We’re always coming up with new material and writing,” said Millar. “We aren’t completely getting off the road. We will do the odd thing. We are all in decent health, so we will keep going while we are enjoying it and the audience is enjoying it.”


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