Interview: Young Dubliners

interview by mary gustafson


As I’ve been wandering around the Dubs web site and re-reading what I wrote about them the first time I heard them five years ago, I’m debating with myself what to write now. The Band Bio on their site focuses almost entirely on their latest album, with a bunch of descriptive phrases, well, like this one – “Like a raging Irish rain, The Young Dubliners immerse fans in torrents of hard-rocking melody and rhythm on the band’s new Om Town/Higher Octave Music album, ‘Absolutely’.” – A little too over the top to for me, but it’s a good, if flowery, description of the record. Here’s another one – “. . .’Absolutely’ features 12 songs that capture the hellfire intensity and absorbing musical diversity of the Dubliners’ acclaimed live shows. This auspicious new album is a lyrical triumph as well, with the Dubliners spinning challenging yet optimistic stories that underscore the complexities of modern life.” Wow! That was a mouthful. Again the statement is true. What bothers me is that after talking to Keith Roberts and seeing the Young Dubliners play live the other night, all the fancy words seem out of place. This is a great band with down to earth members who have one hell of a good time on stage and off and trust me, their language doesn’t sound ANYTHING like this. I think Keith may be running a close second to Ozzy with the F word, only his is with an Irish brogue instead of an English accent.

When I interviewed Keith Roberts I tried to fill in the blanks since the last time I’d seen them in March of 1998 and the release of the album “Red” in June of 2000. He told me they spent the entire year of 2001 touring, opening for Jethro Tull, John Hiatt and other bands, then went on to a European Tour which ended up with them playing “. . .305 shows straight.” In 2002

“We put together the ‘Uprooted Tour’ with Great Big Sea from Canada and Seven Nations from Florida in order to introduce our audiences to different types of Celtic and Rock stylings. The idea was to show diversity and we accomplished what we set out to do. Then we went into the studio, recorded ‘Absolutely’ in two weeks, then hit the road again in support of the new album,” Keith said.

I think all of the above would have a tendency to hone the skills of pretty much any band – especially one that has always relied on their live shows for their popularity – and the new album is Great! The lyrics run the gamut from deadly serious to bawdy to ridiculous (see my review of “Absolutely” in this Issue) and story songs have always been part of the Dubs music. They’ve made a HUGE jump musically, vocally and lyrically since the release of “Red.” They’ve also gone back to the original line-up for this album and tour with the return of Chas Waltz on fiddle, keyboards, harmonica, mandolin and backing vocals, joining Keith Roberts on guitar and lead vocals, Bob Boulding on lead guitar and harmonies, Brendan Holmes on bass and David Ingraham on drums.

Unfortunately for all parties, the Dubs bus broke down in the middle of the desert on their way to Phoenix and our scheduled interview ended up being 5 hrs. late and VERY short. I’m not complaining, but I feel sorry for the guys stuck in the bus with a busted compressor. I think it was about 109 – 110 degrees that day and they didn’t have A/C!! I did manage to get a few more questions in before Keith had to leave for sound check and I’d like to thank Keith for clearing up this point for me. I wanted to know if “Irish” music and “Celtic” music were considered different styles or genres. In my head I’m thinking, Okay, there’s the songs you hear on St. Patrick’s day or songs like “Danny Boy,” etc. and then there are the songs you hear from bands like The Young Dubliners, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphy’s, etc. which sound totally different to me.

Keith told me “It’s more a case of all of it being Celtic and then each band adds their twist, whether it’s rock or punk or traditional and in some cases bands actually rip off their sound from other bands.” So, once and for all, Irish music is CELTIC!

I also wanted to know about the political bent of so many Irish bands (or bands with Irish members). Keith informed me that he has a degree in Politics from University College Dublin and could talk politics all day if he chose to.

“As far as politics as a subject for our songs, maybe in the very early days there was a little, but we’re not into preaching. We’re talking about things that happen in everyday life. Some people want to write about political opinions or other political subjects. Young Dubliners is made up of Americans as well Irishmen, so the subject matter covers all bases.”

I didn’t really get a chance to discuss “Absolutely” with Keith, but between the background I’ve included above and the album Review, I think it’s been fairly well covered. I did manage to ask what his favorite song from the album was.

His reply, “At the moment “Brown Dog and Low.” I agreed with both choices and commented on how the lyrics to “Low” are so serious compared to the upbeat music, which he was glad that I noticed. I also asked which was the most difficult song on the album and he Hmmm’d for a few minutes and finally settled on: “Name. We had the music, the album was done and we were down to the wire except for the lyrics to that song. It was literally finished at the lastminute.” As far as I’m concerned the lyrics fit perfectly, so maybe that’s the way it was supposed to be. And then Keith had to leave for the venue where I would see The Young Dubliners play live in just a few hours.