To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Irish political prisoners’
hunger strike the Casement Group of Melbourne, in association with
Australian Aid for Ireland (Sydney), brought out one of the premier
stars of Irish republican music.
Gary Og, formerly of the band Eire Og, has been touring all over
Australia and his reception has been nothing short of rapturous.
Despite having never toured these shores before, Og’s reputation as one
of the best in the business has proceeded him.
I was lucky enough to have an interview with this iconic figure of
Irish Rebellion music prior to his gig in Melbourne. Here is what Gary
had to say on everything from Australia’s climate, to the Irish peace
process. I would like to thank Mick McGoldrick of the AAI and Steve
Lawlor for making this interview possible.
Matt Clark: Gary, welcome to Australia. What do you think of the place?
Gary Og: It’s a great place. Good fun and great weather. Obviously I’ve
not seen a lot of it because I’ve been playing, but I’ve certainly
enjoyed my time here. It’s certainly a lot warmer than back home.
MC: How did you come about touring Australia?
GO: Well I guess I’m easy enough to track down. The boys sent me a
couple of emails and persevered with me and eventually I made my way
MC: Where in Glasgow are you from?
GO: I’m from the South side of town, the Gorbals area.
Traditionally it’s been a huge Irish community, maybe not so much
anymore, but certainly in the past. Many people who were just off the
boat from Ireland in the past, settled in the Gorbals.
MC: Obviously the majority your songs
are of a republican nature. At what age did you form these political
opinions? Were you influenced by your parents?
GO: Um, actually I wasn’t influenced so much by my family. It was more
by pure chance. As I went along I just started opening my eyes to
certain things, I was probably around 16 years of age. I went to
Belfast a lot of times when I was younger and I saw a lot of things
there. Also, I was involved in Eire Og (his former band) and one step
led to another.
MC: Who are your musical influences?
GO: Bob Dylan for sure. Basically lots of guitar folk bands. Paul
Brady, Christy Moore, Deccy McLaughlan. I’ve got a large collection of
Dylan albums. I think he’s brilliant.
MC: I’ve read on the internet that you travel almost monthly to Ireland. What are your favourite parts to visit?
GO: I don’t actually get across as much as I’d like to, or as much
as I did in the past. When I was involved in Eire Og I’d get across
monthly because we were playing a lot of gigs there. I love the North,
Belfast and Derry especially. I certainly like visiting Derry, it’s a
wee bit more relaxed.
MC: You’ve already played a gig in Sydney, a couple of days ago.
How did that go? Was the crowd mostly made up of Scots and Irish or
were there Australians as well?
GO: There were plenty of Aussies there actually. The gig went well.
About 600 folk came out to support, which is fantastic. We had a great
night, the crowd was enthusiastic and seemed to be having a great time.
I think we set the record for most bar sales that night as well!
MC: (Laughs) I dare say they’d like to get you back then!
GO: (Laughs) Hopefully!
MC: What part, if any, do you believe Australians can play in Ireland’s struggle?
GO: Bobby Sands said “Everyone republican or otherwise, has their
part to play”. I think if people just take the time to find out what’s
going on in Ireland, to see what’s happened and still happens over
there, that would be fantastic. Just basically becoming aware of what
goes on, opening their eyes and just finding out a little more.
MC: What do you think of the IRA decommissioning and turning in its weapons?
GO: I think it was inevitable really at some point. I’m not a huge
fan of the IRA surrendering its weapons. It reminds me of the story
with the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and the American general,
who said to Villa: “give me your gun and I’ll give you this gold
watch.” So Villa gave him his gun and the American gave him his watch.
As soon as the American had the gun he pointed the gun at Villa and got
the watch back! Once you give up your weapons you’re at a serious
disadvantage. But I think that you also have to explore every possible
option, which is what they’ve done.
MC: Do you have faith in Gerry Adams
and Sinn Fein, that they will be able to create a lasting peace and to
end Britain’s occupation of the North?
GO: I have faith in them, absolutely. I think they’ll try everything in
their powers to get Britain out of Ireland. These are people which have
devoted their entire lives to the struggle. I don’t think for a minute
that they’re sell outs. Whether or not it will happen, well, we will
just have to wait and see. But certainly I think they’ll be giving it
their best shot!
MC: Which 3 songs would you most like to be remembered by?
GO: Gee, that’s a tough one! Wow….ummm. I guess I’m most well known
for “Go on home British soldiers”. I think that’s the song people most
associate with me. As for the other two… hopefully I can add two more
in the future and hopefully I can write them as well!
MC: Where can people buy your CDs? Do you have a website?
GO: I’ve been working on a website for about 6 years (laughs). I
hope to have one up one day! People can buy my CDs online at Sinn Fein.
I’d recommend that people buy them there so they make a bit of money out of it as well.
MC: Finally, and a little off topic, what do you think of Celtic’s season so far?
GO: It’s alright. Obviously getting knocked out of Europe so early was
bitterly disappointing. But I don’t think you can complain about being
top of the table. Unfortunately I don’t think people will remember it
as a good year for Celtic, more will remember it for how poor Rangers
were, which is unfair in my opinion. They’re playing exciting football,
and they’re fun to watch and top of the league as well!
MC: Gary, thanks for taking the time to talk to me this evening. Good luck with the gig!
GO: No problems at all, Matt. I hope you enjoy the show.
For the record the show was brilliant. Gary played an outstanding
set, with the crowd very receptive. The set-list was as follows:
No Time For Love
Dirty Old Town
Boys of Wexford
Men Behind the Wire
Boys of the Old Brigade
I Believe in You
Back Home in Derry
The Legend (Nelson Mandela)
Irish Soldier Laddie
Paddy from Mullingar
On the One Road
Black and Tans
Merry Ploughboy/Auf Wiedersehen to Crossmaglen/Tiocfaidh ar la
The Ballad of Pearse Jordan
Broad Black Brimmer
Fields of Athenry
Let the People Sing