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.”


Just Posted

(Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-19 exposure closes Oak Bay pub, restaurant

Penny Farthing, Vis-a-Vis expected to reopen Wednesday after deep clean

Victoria police officers used less-lethal weapons to arrest a woman Sunday night after she allegedly attacked a man with a hammer. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police use less-lethal weapons on woman following hammer attack

Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team called to barricade situation

Greater Victoria School District (SD61) Saturday announced a COVID-19 exposure at Oak Bay High School. (Black Press Media File).
Oak Bay High School subject of COVID-19 exposure

Greater Victoria School District (SD61) said possible exposure happened June 9-10

Victoria police are looking for Delmer Esau who was last seen in Esquimalt June 1. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Search continues for man last seen in Esquimalt

Delmer Esau, 35, hasn’t been seen since June 1

According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stood at 6.3 per cent in May 2021, nearly unchanged from April’s rate of 6.2 per cent. (Black Press Media File)
Unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stagnates at 6.3 per cent in May

Latest figures reflect conditions before lifting of public health measures

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The federal government is announcing that Indigenous people can now apply to reclaim their names on passports and other government documents. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous people can now reclaim traditional names on their passports and other ID

Announcement applies to all individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Métis background

Harvesting hay in the Fraser Valley. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
COVID-19: B.C. waives farm income requirement for a second year

Property owners don’t need minimum income for 2022 taxes

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province's fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Most Read