bill bodkin has a pint with one of the best Celtic bands out there …
The month of March is a time for those of us who are enamored with our Irish heritage (and those non-Irish who use our heritage as an excuse to drink) to celebrate the month of Saint Patrick with beer-soaked corned beef, copious amounts of whiskey and the wonderfully crafted, beautifully melodic, soulful and high-energy sounds of Celtic music.
To me, there are very few bands out there that help ring in ‘Irish Christmas’ quite like The Fighting Jamesons. In all their tin-whistle glory, this band rolls into town, throws a hell of a party, melts face, changes lives and gets everyone drunk not just with healthy amounts of whiskey but the wondrous and exciting brand of music they perform. From the old standards and traditional ballads to high-energy Dropkick and Flogging Molly covers as well as original tunes, The Fighting Jameson cover whatever venue they perform in with a tidal wave of emerald awesomeness.
This isn’t the first time we’ve spoken about this band on Pop-Break. I’m all in on these guys — both musically and personally. On a personal level, The Fighting Jamesons provided me with two very special moments for me on the night they rocked The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. Midway through their first set, the band called me up onstage, for a reason unbeknownst to me. Walking up on that Pony stage for me was magical. This was a stage where legends were born, where history was created — it’s like stepping on hallowed ground. Sure, this sounds like hyperbole, but if you’re a music fan and know the venue’s history like I do, you know what I’m talking about. While the bright lights of the stage shined in my eyes, I was handed a shot of Jameson. Yes, my job was being the band’s stunt liver. Every time the chorus hit, I was to take a shot of whiskey. Let’s just say that chorus came around quite a few times, and I was lucky to have my wife as a designated driver that night. Speaking of my wife, the Jamesons made another special moment for me this night as they dedicated to her (at my request) the song ‘Galway Girl,’ (recorded by Steve Earle and Sharon Shannon), one of her favorite songs.
Why bring these moments up? I just wanted to illustrate how not only are The Fighting Jamesons a highly talented band, but they’re also a really fun, crowd-oriented band who are out to provide a great night out for their fans. They really are a band for the people — that also love a pint and a bottle of whiskey.
I got the chance to reconnect with The Fighting Jamesons a week before their return to Asbury Park at The Wonder Bar on Thursday, March 15/a> as a part of the city’s Big Irish Thursday, which’ll also feature the Irish legends The Saw Doctors (check for our interview with them next week) at The Stone Pony.
Pop-Break: It was nearly one year ago that you guys debuted at The Stone Pony. You mainly perform in Virginia, so can you talk about the emotions and excitement you were going through before you hit that stage?
Fighting Jamesons: That show was a bit surreal. We had been together less than a year and we found ourselves back stage at the this legendary venue with child-like jitters as we sipped our drinks in anticipation. We act like kids most of the time anyway, but when we get excited we act even younger. There was definitely a Christmas-morning mystique floating through the air. It’s hard to believe that was a year ago — our entire time in Asbury Park is still so vivid.
PB: Can you talk about your first experience performing in Asbury Park?
FJs: We were lucky enough to get there a day early last year to enjoy the sweet spots of that town. Bond Street Bar and Asbury Pie were worth the trip alone. We stayed in the old haunted Johnny Cash hotel [Berkeley Carteret] both nights. The town sure has a charm to it like no other. Everyone, everywhere, was warm, friendly, and interesting. There wasn’t a dull person we met. The show went fantastically. We’ve played lots of places and hands down, these were some of the the best sound guys we’ve ever worked with. They were super hilarious and damn good at their jobs. They made us sound a lot better than we are. We played two sets with a short break in between. The fans there were one of a kind. One guy, Billy, brought a whistle, like a basketball coach has, and rocked out with it the whole show while he was dancing. Probably the most enthusiastic fan we’ve met. Another guy we met … whose name was Guy … came on stage with us and sang a song. There were pretty girls dancing, and the rowdy kids were moving too. It was like a party where no one knows each other, has a great time, and leaves with a cast of new best friends. We are certainly looking forward to recreating it.
PB: And why did you guys want to come back and perform at The Wonder Bar on March 15.
FJs: Asbury Park has an energy that we love. It’s a unique thing and we love it … plus we want to eat at Bond Street again.
PB: You recently went into the studio to record an album. What was the inspiration behind this?
FJs: We’d been writing here and there, but really sticking to old traditional Irish songs and some of the classics. The band started down this path, then things just started to come quickly. We knew the next step was to produce an album with original songs. It was our contribution to the lineage of this type of music.
PB: Talk about the original tunes that you guys wrote — they seem to have been ripped out of the history books of traditional Irish music. Was it difficult crafting songs that were more in the vein of traditional Celtic classics than modern punk or modern rock?
FJs: The album is fun. There’s a song in there for everyone. The upbeat pub style songs really come natural to us. It sounds corny, but we’re all best friends. We have no more fun than when we’re together, whether we’re crammed in a van, tow-truck, or smelly 10×10 practice space. These songs embrace the fun-loving attitude of the band and this type of music. It was an organic process for us.
PB: Mark Padgett of Mae produced your record. How did you come to work with him, and what did he bring to the table as producer?
FJs: Mark is from Virginia Beach, Va., as well. Our paths had crossed before, and when it was time to record, we knew he was the guy to do it. We reached out to him and set up studio time shortly after our March madness of last year. Mark is one of a kind. He’s a down to earth, funny guy, who knows his stuff like no other. We’d do a take and if it sucked, he told us. Everything was constructive. He never let us ‘sacrifice excellence,’ as he would say. He has an ear for music and with him being neutral to Irish music, he was a great unbiased resource to have. We are truly grateful we had him in the process, and now have him as a friend.
PB: If someone wanted to check the record out, what would be the one track that you would recommend them to check out to really get what The Fighting Jamesons are all about?
FJs: Oh, this is a tough one. Recently we’d probably have to say ‘Johnny On The Island.’ It’s versatile, energetic, and is a good representation of our live show
PB: In the year’s time since we last spoke, how do you feel the band has matured both musically and as a live act?
FJs: We have a deeper understanding of each other and ourselves musically. The writing and recording process really brings that out. We have a more intense live show now with our original songs and new renditions of some century old traditionals. We push and push more for energy in the live show now a days — less talk, more rock. Crowd interaction is still huge with us. We want to make everyone dance, laugh, and leave the show happier than they were when they got there.
PB: One really cool aspect of your live show is you invite a member of your audience on stage to do some shots of Jameson with you. Can you talk about how this part of the show came about?
FJs: Ah, yes! Naturally starting as an Irish pub band, you looked for ways to mess with the crowd, whether it be making them laugh or making them drink — usually both . We like to have fun with our fans. It’s more of a social thing than a ‘we’re up here, you’re down there’ kind of thing.
PB: For those who’ve never seen you perform before, what can they expect?
FJs: [laughs] It will be loud. Most people don’t mind and the ones that do clear out space for the people who want to dance. It’s a lighthearted show, full of energy. People dance, people drink, people are merry. We’re really looking coming back to Asbury Park.
Pop-Break.com is proud to present The Fighting Jamesons on Thursday, March 15 at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, N.J.. Tickets are $10 in advance.