"Throughout the years, these international ambassadors of Irish music have maintained their timeless ability to deliver a rollicking, rousing performance of good cheer - one that will soon have you singing and clapping along. Their songs have become anthems of revelry and joy among generation after generation of fans." - BELFAST TELEGRAPH
2011 marks the 45th year for The Irish Rovers as recording artists. All band members hail from Ireland. Founding member George Millar is from Ballymena, original member Wilcil McDowell is from Larne, John Reynolds from Belfast, Sean O'Driscoll from Cork, Ian Millar from Ballymena, and percussionist Fred Graham is also from Belfast. The Rovers’ freedom to produce their own music, combined with their years of experience, original compositions, and an All-Ireland Champion in their ranks, has contributed to their longevity.
The story of The Irish Rovers (aka The Rovers) is one for the big screen; three award-winning television series, topping the music charts again and again, several appearances as musical bank robbers on “The Virginian”, and more than 45 years of touring their music around the world. The lads were also the inspiration for one of the world 's best-known party anthems. The boys in the band have lived large.
The band regularly tours Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia, and in 2010, released Gracehill Fair (Rover Records), which, as for most of their albums over the last two decades, was recorded in both Canada and Ireland. The album includes some new original rollicking drinking songs for which the band is best known, as well as a selection of beautiful original ballads. In September 2010, the lads returned to their roots, while filming in Northern Ireland for their DVD/television special, "Home in Ireland".
Canada’s Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau personally asked the band members if they would “please become Canadian” so that they could officially represent Canada around the world. By 1989 they had recorded 25 albums and had represented Canada at no less than five world Expos - Montreal (1967), Osaka, Japan (1970), Okinawa, Japan (1976), Vancouver (1986), and Brisbane, Australia (1988). In recognition for a quarter century of contributions to the International music world, The Irish Rovers won the Performing Rights Organization's (PROCAN) 'Harold Moon Award'. Their next album, "The First Thirty Years” was recorded at the notorious Irish Rovers Free House “The Unicorn” at Vancouver’s, Expo86. In ‘89, their “Silver Anniversary” Collection Album featured songs written by Randy Bachman, Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance.
The Irish Rovers perform with original members George Millar, and Wilcil McDowell. Will Millar left the group in 1994, and sadly Jimmy Ferguson passed away in 1997. In 2005 Joe Millar also retired from the band, while his son, Ian (who inherited his father's golden tones) took up the family ranks. Big Sean O'Driscoll joined the lads in 1995, the charmingly hilarious John Reynolds has been playing with the band for over 20 years, and drummer, Fred Graham has been touring with the lads since 2007. Founding member, George Millar is the songwriter for the band, who since '95, has released nine more albums including "The Irish Rovers' Gems", "Come Fill Up Your Glasses", "Down by the Lagan Side", and "40 Years a-Rovin'" Also recently, their recording of "Drunken Sailor" has gained mammoth attention at various sites on YouTube.
The story of the Irish Rovers starts in 1964 in Canada, where the 16-year old George Millar and 23-year old Jim Ferguson, both new emigrants from N. Ireland, met in Toronto at an Irish function. They sang together ‘til dawn; and so the Irish Rovers were launched. George’s cousin, Joe Millar, immigrated to Canada the following year. Joe, who played button-key accordion and harmonica, and also sang traditional ballads, was recruited as he stepped off the plane. After several engagements around Ontario, the trio made their way to Calgary, Alberta, to join forces with George’s brother, Will.
"Will, was presenting a children’s TV show called Just 4 Fun. We went on the show and sang, Whiskey You’re the Devil,” Millar recalls. “There were these little five-year-olds sitting on the floor in front of us. Of course the switchboards lit up with people going, ‘Please don’t be putting those songs in our children’s ears.’ That’s how we began.” CALGARY SUN.
The Irish Rovers became regulars at Calgary's popular Depression Coffee House, then headed off to “Americay”, landing at another famous folk club - “The Purple Onion”, in San Francisco, where they headlined for an unprecedented 22 sold-out weeks. The folk clubs of California became the learning grounds for the young Rovers, and (through old-fashioned hard work and a wee bit of Irish luck) they were offered a recording contract with Decca Records in 1966.
The Irish Rovers, The Unicorn 45 years ago, The Irish Rovers released their debut album, appropriately titled, “The First Of The Irish Rovers” (Decca, 1966), recorded live at “The Icehouse” in Pasadena. The liner notes introduced these new, young recording artists: "Irish music is the history and character of the Irish people recorded in song. The special message of this music is conveyed with authority and skill by a refreshing new singing group, The Irish Rovers."- JUDITH TANE
The success of this first release lead to a second. This included a sweet little song with words written by Shel Silverstein, that they had been playing in the clubs, called “The Unicorn”. It was at this point that their pal, All-Ireland Champ Wilcil McDowell completed the legendary lineup. One evening while driving to their next concert on tour, the lads realized, that it was in fact their recording of "The Unicorn" playing on the radio. They leaped out of the van and tossed their clothes as dancing Rovers filled the street. That little song became a multi-milion seller, and beloved by a generation. For five young adventurers from Ireland, life was about to change. In 1968, The Irish Rovers were named Canada's, "Folk Group of the Year", by the predecessor of the Juno's. The following year, they received a Grammy nomination for “Folk Performance of the Year”.
During the 1970s, the Irish Rovers hosted the most popular Canadian variety show of its time. CBC-TV's, “The Irish Rovers Show” ran for 6 seasons, winning an ACTRA Award for Best Variety Performance. Between rousing Irish folk songs, Will, George and Jimmy might leap about in leprechaun costumes, then play host to their friends, Irish music legends The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem who would return several times throughout the Rovers' various television incarnations. The lineup of guest stars on the show included many other music heavyweights like Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Vera Lynn and Carl Perkins. In '72, Attic records produced a live album at CBC television studios in Vancouver, Canada.
When Wilcil McDowell was asked if anything really stands out for him doing The Irish Rovers Show, he quickly said, "Yes, one in particular. At one time when we were filming one of our shows, Johnny Cash was on tour, and this was in the early 70's. We thought it would be very nice to have him on the show because Johnny Cash had come over and toured Ireland, and he was immensely popular over here. So we asked him to come on, and the budget wasn't all that great, you know for the guest stars in those days, and we just wanted Johnny to come on with his guitar, and the little house band to back him up. But he landed in, not only with his guitar, but with The Tennessee Three, Carl Perkins and the complete Carter Family! Meanwhile, the producer and our manager are going up the walls "We can't afford this - there's no way". So they approached him and said to Johnny, "We told you what our budget is and we just can't afford this." Johnny said to our manager and the producers, "Don't you worry about it. Ireland has been very good to me. Just consider this a part of the favor returned."
Throughout the 70's, the Rovers often filmed on location throughout Canada. The CBC also sent them to Ireland for a musical tour of their homeland.
In 1981, the group starred in their second television series, "The Rovers Comedy House", a 7-part CBC series of comedy, shenanigans and boisterous Irish music.
The Rovers enjoyed life to such an extent, that their notorious partying inspired their next hit in ‘81. They soared to the top of the pop and country charts with "Wasn't That A Party" which their friend, Tom Paxton wrote after he witnessed one of the band's famous post-show parties. Another hit, "Grandma Got Run-Over By A Reindeer" became an anthem of the Christmas season. Several chart topping and award-winning albums included “The Rovers” (1980), “No More Bread And Butter” (1981) and “It Was A Night Like This” (1982).
From 1984 to '86, The Rovers starred in their third television series , "Party With The Rovers". The show was set in a traditional pub with celebrity guests performing each week. This time, the roster again included friends, Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, as well as Lonnie Donegan, Andy Gibb, Rita Coolidge, Ronnie Prophet, Boxcar Willie and many more. The series was a co-production between Canada, Global TV and Ulster Television in Ireland, and was syndicated around the world. Photo immediately above, taken at Carnlough Harbour, N. Ireland, Sept. 2010.
"As The Irish Rovers came onstage, the crowd proffered a fantastic surge of cheers and applause that morphed into clapping and stomping as the band opened with their namesake song, "The Irish Rover"...whoops and cheers from the crowd echoed those onstage from Rover founder, guitarist and singer, George Millar. In his wonderful lolling Irish accent, he encouraged the crowd to sing along to traditional songs like "Drunken Sailor," "A-Rovin'," and their most famous, signature song, "Unicorn," which swept a wave of nostalgia through the audience. A number of people could even be seen joining in with the hand motions they learned as children." - THE PIONEER TIMES
With front men, John Reynolds and George Millar, The Irish Rovers continue to tour the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.