The Mahones Hit the Beach in September

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Submitted by Bill King

The setting couldn’t be more awe inspiring (Kew Gardens). The band more eclectic and electric. With nearly two and a half decades of road work – thousands of festivals and millions of fans, The Mahones are surly the band to see at the 11th Annual Beach Celtic Festival 2014.

Winners of the 2012 Independent Music Awards for Best Punk Album (The Black Irish) and a new studio album – The Hunger & The Fight, scheduled for release this month and December the band is on a roll since the inclusion of their hit song “Paint the Town” in the final scene of the Academy Award winning film, The Fighter.

I recently caught up with band leader and founder Finny McConnell and had this conversation.

Bill King: Where did the concept of building a Canadian Irish-punk band come from?

Finny:  For me, it started back in the 1980s when I was playing in punk bands in London, England. I saw The Pogues over there and loved what they were doing. When I returned to Canada after living in London for 5 years, I started The Mahones. It was 1990, and our first show was on St Patrick's Day. It was the fusion of punk and Irish music that inspired me. There were no other bands around at the time, so it was The Pogues, The Who, The Waterboys and The Clash that were the original inspiration for The Mahones in 1990. Later, bands like Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly came around and a scene was born. All it really is, is punk rock and Irish folk smashed together: Irish punk!

B.K: Born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1990 in Kingston, Ontario – how big of an underground scene was there for this sound?

Finny: There was no scene in 1990. We were on our own. There was Black 47 in New York, but they were more like a funky-dance Celtic band. The Tossers and Blood or Whiskey both started around 1992. DKM arrived in 1996, but weren't that Celtic sounding until their 3rd record, Sing Loud, Sing Proud . I think Flogging Molly came in around 2000. All of these bands are amazing bands, and I have a tremendous respect for all of them. We were alone on the Irish punk island in the early years, and people didn't really know what to make of us. Honestly, we emptied a few Irish pubs back in those days, even in Boston!

B.K: How does the band sustain the same passion and intensity with nearly a quarter century in the rear view mirror? The road must take a toll?

Finny : You have to love, live and breathe the music you play. That's what we do. This is all I want to do and The Mahones give 200% at every show, whether it's to 10 or 10,000 people. Everyone gets the same show. Our motto is “Give it all you've got, or forget about it!”  We haven't slowed down - we make more records now and tour a bit less, but that's natural. We're more selective now about our shows because we have paid our dues, and now it's our time to do the best shows we can. That's our focus now.

B.K: Has the instrumentation changed over the years?

Finny: It's always been the same. It just changes on every tour. Sometimes I'm in a fiddle mood, sometimes its tin whistle, banjo or mandolin. We always have the guitar, bass, drums, and an accordion. The rest we rotate as we please. We like to keep it fresh for every tour and in the studio, we can use it all, so we do. That is the fun of being in a band. Doing what you want, when you want.

B.K: Is this a band that embraces rehearsing?

Finny: No, we never rehearse. We only rehearse on our own, before meeting for tours. Even in the studio, we learn the songs and record them then and there. We all live in different cities (Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston), so we only see each other on tour. Don't get me wrong, we're a very tight live band but that's because we are all experienced players and know our craft. The master tour set list (usually about 40 songs) is sent out by me to the band and everyone is ready and prepared when we meet up. I rehearsed for many years while learning to play guitar, so I spent enough of my life in the garage. Now it's straight to the stage and we never let anyone down.

B.K: How has the band sustained through tough economic times?

Finny - Hard work. Touring and doing everything DIY - from owning our own record label (Whiskey Devil Records), our own booking agency (Whiskey Devil Tour booking), managing the band ourselves, producing our own records, and financing all our own tours. We even did fan fundraising for our new album for the first time. Basically, we offered our fans very cool and exclusive stuff to raise money to record and it worked. The fans loved it and so did we. It seems to be the way of the future for making music for many bands. Selling directly to your fans is amazing, and it was great to have them involved in the making of our new record The Hunger & The Fight (Part 1)!

B.K: Bassist Joe Chithalen passed in 1999 and the band performs fundraising concerts annually on his behalf. Are people still generous in support?

Finny: Yes they are. We do it every year in Kingston for Joe's M.I.L.L. It is a musical instrument lending library for people who wouldn't necessarily have access to instruments otherwise. We do three shows every year, and every Christmas we donate a brand new guitar. We loved Joe very much and we think of him all the time. It is really great that they set up Joe's MILL in his name. Our dear friend Wally High was very much involved is setting this up, and when he passed, I realized I had to step up. It's very special to us, and we'll always do our best to help with fundraising.

B.K: The band has a healthy summer schedule. Does the same occur through the winter months?

Finny: We are always busy in the spring, summer and fall. We try not to tour anymore in the winter, as it can be very dangerous on the roads in the snow. We go to Florida, California, and other warm places, but we try not to work in the winter. Way too dangerous. It's also nice to be home with our families, and we're making a new record this January (The Hunger & The Fight (Part 2), and that will keep us busy.

B.K: What’s been a couple highlights throughout the years?

Finny: There have been way too many to list. Playing shows with Shane MacGowan, touring with our pals Dropkick Murphys all over the world, having Simon Townshend from THE WHO record on our new record. ..there are so many wonderful stories and memories. We're putting together a book next year for our 25th anniversary, and I'm hoping to include all of these amazing moments from the band's history. I just have to sit down this winter and try to remember all of them! We have had a great career so far, and we look forward to the next 25 years!

B.K: What has been the most difficult period for the band?

Finny: The loss of some of our band members and close friends has affected us the most. Losing Barry Williams and Joe Chithalen hurt me the most. I loved those guys, and they were my brothers. I can't tell you have much I miss them both. Also our dear friends and family members Colm McConnell, Joey McConnell and Wally High. It really hurts to lose the ones you are so close to. We love them all so much and think about them at every show. I sing about them all in our songs.

B.K: Is song writing a communal effort?

Finny:  Not in The Mahones. I am the main songwriter and always have been. Lately, Dominc Whelan, Sean Winter and Katie McConnell have all started writing music and lyrics for the band and I love it. It takes the pressure off me to come up with all of the material as I have done most of it in the past. Katie co-wrote the lyrics for 6 songs on The Hunger & The Fight (Part 1). As it turns out, she is an amazing lyricist, so I am very happy to have her be part of the creative process now. Katie has also designed and done all of the art work for our last 6 album covers.
She's an amazing artist.

B.K:   When in studio does the band go a live sound as opposed to days of overdubs and refinement?
Finny: In the studio we record the guitar and drums live (me and Dom), then we overdub the accordion, bass, fiddle, tin whistle, banjo and vocals, etc. This has been our production process for the last 5 records, and we work very fast this way. Every band has their own way of recording, but this is how we like it, and we give it all we've got every time!

Editor’s Note: The Beach Celtic Festival is held annually in Kew Gardens, traditionally the weekend after Labour Day weekend. This year special guests The Mahones will be appearing late afternoon on Saturday September 6, 2014. www.thecelticfestival.com.

www.themahones.ca