Mick Meehan pulls a tuft of Bali Swag tobacco from its pouch and effortlessly rolls up a cigarette as he discusses his reasons for coming to America.
"I came over here in the early '80s, the same as everyone else," he states in a thick, gravelly brogue. "There was no work. I was in England, which was in bad shape. I moved to New York, and I loved the States and decided to stay. It was fantastic. I worked construction, and I liked to sing a few songs. Still work construction. God knows I don't make enough money with these fuckers."
The fuckers in question are Meehan's bandmates in Celt, which takes the stage at Maguire's Hill 16 every Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m. For now, the group is huddled around a table at that same Irish bar, swapping stories on how such a group of disparate souls came to be in this time and place.
"I played bass with black bands in Detroit," keyboardist Danny McGerry says.
"We've all ended up here differently," guitarist Dan O'Brien chimes in. "I used to play with Tavares. I worked with Peter Noone. Easton [Pollock, drums] was doing an R&B thing in Ireland, like an Al Jarreau type of thing."
After a decade-long stint at Maguire's, the band parted ways from the place right after Saint Patrick's Day last year. But now, Fort Lauderdale's finest and oldest active Irish band is back and sounds better than ever. The connection on-stage among the members of Celt borders on the preternatural.
"We don't even have to look at each other anymore," McGerry asserts. "I hadn't played with these guys for a while, and the first time I walked up on-stage, it felt like putting on an old suit."
Pollock confirms: "I hadn't played with the boys for two, maybe three years, and when I come back to play, it was comfortable, more relaxed. And all the memories come back, even though I was drunk every gig."
The group spread its wings during the past year, performing across the state in cities such as Orlando and Winter Park, along with other venues in Fort Lauderdale, before finally deciding to set down roots at the old home place.
"We're bringing the best Irish band back to the best place," O'Brien says.
Known as Irish Times until five years ago, Celt performs a combination of centuries-old Irish folk songs and modern Irish fare such as Van Morrison and the Pogues.
"I like the fact that we do songs that are 400 or 500 years old, songs that are current, and anything in between," McGerry says. "But everything has an Irish groove. We even added some American songs and put an Irish twist to those."
The occasional American wrench thrown into the Irish machine often turns out to be the best part of the evening: The band's rendition of "All Along the Watchtower," with fiddler Paraic Keane substituting for Hendrix's guitar, is not to be missed.
"Keane loves to get into the jazzed-up stuff," Meehan says. "His father [Sean Keane of the Chieftains] is one of the most traditional Irish fiddlers you'll ever meet. He [Paraic] was trained in classical fiddle, but he got into the jazz stuff. I suppose it's the same with all of us, with our parents. We go the opposite direction, or try to."
Keane, ordinarily a garrulous sort, seems reticent to talk tunes.
"Whatever it is, it's music," he says quietly in an Irish accent somewhat softer than Meehan's. "I just like the arrangement of the notes, you know. I like jammin', regardless of what it is."
That tends to sum up Keane's stage presence as well. The fiddler plays with his eyes closed and says little while the rest of the band guffaws through two hour-and-a-half sets each night.
"People always ask, 'Does it get boring doing the same thing so long?' but of course not. It's exciting just to walk up there. We're entertained, and so's the crowd. Everybody cracks up, because they know what's going on up there. They see us shootin' the shit. And finally someone makes the call, maybe the guitar player or the keyboard player, just not him," Meehan says as he points toward Keane. "He doesn't say shit to anybody."
The combination of old and new does allow for something for everyone, and a packed house on a Saturday night can result in widespread sing-alongs, the occasional extemporaneous jig in the aisle between the bar and the tables, and some powerful craic. This Irish word doesn't translate too well, but think of it as a sort of karmic version of laughter and good times.
Although Celt seems happy to confine its craic-aiding abilities to Maguire's for the time being, plans are underway to bring tunes to the masses sometime next year. O'Brien has his own digital recording studio. A proper studio album is certainly called for -- the band's only recording to date is a live album issued at last year's Saint Patrick's Day festivities at Maguire's. The limited pressing sold out that day and has not seen a reissue.
"We have some plans," O'Brien says. "We'll be doing a studio album real soon."
"It's still in the discussion stages," McGerry adds.
"That's 'cause we're all lazy bastards," Meehan finishes with a nod.
The chemistry on-stage is equaled in the conversation, as the bandmates have a tendency to finish one another's sentences and riff on what each of the others has to say. Admittedly, though, the one who opens his mouth the most is Meehan.
"Something that's underplayed about Mick is his storytelling ability, both in his songs and about his songs," McGerry says. "He's got a great knowledge of history."
"Every rebel song has a story," Meehan says, referring to the types of fight-for-your-rights, workingman's tunes he usually sings, "but politics don't enter into it. I'd be the happiest man alive if we got rid of all the politicians and the lawyers. There's no room for politics in music. Music is pure, end of story."
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