Irish Rover still calls Oak Bay home

George Miller and his mates celebrate a half century of music with Victoria concert

The Irish Rovers Fred Graham

The Irish Rovers Fred Graham

“There was green alligators and long-necked geese,

Some humpty-backed camels and some chimpanzees.

Some cats and rats and elephants, but sure as you’re born,

The loveliest of all was the unicorn.”

The Unicorn engages all ages. Sung in diverse locales from elementary school concerts to rural pubs – often with gestures, though perhaps not the same ones – the tune spans generations. It seems fitting that the Irish Rovers, who made the famous song, also bring those generations together.

They celebrate five decades of folksy fun that people laugh and dance to despite the, at times, downcast lyrics.

“We’re a family act. We don’t curse, of course, and most of our songs are pretty easy to understand. Or then again, maybe because of our accent they don’t understand a bloody word we’re saying,” said songwriter and producer George Millar. “It’s just fun music … your toe starts tapping on its own despite the lyrics of a poor Irish patriot hung and drawn and quartered.

“People are singing along and clapping,” he added. “Irish music is just happy.”

That joy is the backbone of five decades of fellowship and fanfare for The Irish Rovers.

“You have to enjoy what you’re doing, and if you don’t, you shouldn’t be doing it. Usually the pressure’s gone after all these years,” he said. “Luckily the band likes each other, we get along well and we like the music. We’ll keep going ‘til we sputter.”

In the midst of their final world tour, the lads return to Vancouver Island to celebrate 50 years with a pair of concerts in Victoria and Nanaimo. One might think they’d retire after five decades, and while the lure of the bed at home beckons, that’s not the plan, according to Millar, who has homes in Oak Bay and Nanoose.

The lilt of Ireland still in his voice, Millar recalls, “It has been since I was 16 years old.”

“Every year we look back and say ‘maybe we’ll give it one more year and see how it goes,’” he says. “We’re never sure, we’re booked right now through 2016 … to finish off the American part of the tour.”

It all started in 1964 as they worked their way up to better clubs and a North American circuit starting with Colorado ski resorts that offered worldwide exposure with the amount of global visitors on those slopes.

While 50 years have passed, they’ve carefully crafted little change.

“We haven’t deviated too much … We just stayed doing what we were doing,” Millar said. “When I write [songs] I write them to sound old. They have to have that antiquated sound. We haven’t deviated from our plan of music for all those years, I think that’s why people keep coming back to us.”

Changes to the industry would perhaps have kept The Unicorn extinct these days.

“Recording techniques have changed. The Unicorn we recorded on an eight-track machine and Glen Campbell played guitar in 1968,” Millar said. “He became an international success after that … he called us his lucky band.”

Then it became No. 2 behind a Beatles tune.

“How did a little song without drum or piano slip onto the music chart?” Millar asked. “I don’t think a thing like that could happen today.”

After decades of touring, now Vegas is calling. The stages of Nevada hold the promise of a place where “we could plunk ourselves down a few weeks at a time,” Millar said, emphasizing that must be a little easier on the back.

Whether Vegas pans out or not, the Irish Rovers will keep a hand in with CDs, DVDs and events like big folk festivals.

“Our fans are still coming out to see us, you don’t have to be a certain age in this career … In Celtic music you can lose a bit of your hair and your belly can come over your belt,” Millar said with a chuckle. “lt’s been a wonderful life. Sounds like a Christmas movie but it’s true, the people have been great. The fans give me a chance to do something I like to do, and at the end of the day I get paid for it too.

“Life is awfully short … you do have to take it by the neck and just go with it. Enjoy it.”

 

cvanreeuwyk@oakbaynews.com

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sidney Jon Blair said he would have died if a van and car had collided at the intersection of corner of Resthaven Drive and Brethour Avenue in early December. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney senior urges motorists to slow down on Resthaven Drive

Jon Blair said community must become more pedestrian-friendly

Tarpaulin-covered tents sit next to one of the ponds in Beacon Hill Park. The location of the Meegan community care tent has still not been nailed down, as Victoria council rejected the recommendation offered by city staff. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Location of care tent for Victoria’s Beacon Hill campers still not settled

Council roundly rejects Avalon Road site, road’s edge on Cook Street appears the top alternative

Bob Joseph, author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, will be available for a Q&A through the Vancouver Island Regional Library Jan. 28. (Courtesy of Vancouver Island Regional Library)
Q&A on the Indian Act with Bob Joseph open to Greater Victoria residents

Bob Joseph is the author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy, Everett Bumstead.
The tree-planting life on Vancouver Island featured in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)

Most Read