With St Patrick's Day upon us, it's the time of the year that many people are looking for a good Irish band to party with. While we've got a few good ones here in Tulsa -- most notably Larkin and Cairde na Gael -- it's always good to have another option to check out, especially when that alternative provides as much pure fun as Tulsa's latest pseudo-Gaelic band, Poor Paddy.
A blend of traditional Irish music and sensibilities with punk and rock influences, Poor Paddy consistently provides a solid set of tunes and creates a fun atmosphere when the band shows up to play.
In fact, it's hard to not consider the group simply a party band; although that would be to simplify things too much.
Led by vocalist and guitarist Tom McLain, this version of Poor Paddy appeared just a year ago and has slowly built a reputation around McLain's songs and a fun live show. I say "This version" of Poor Paddy because the current band is essentially a rebirth of McLain's songs and vision, which began with a different configuration of Poor Paddy when he was in Memphis.
After moving back to Tulsa -- he's a native Tulsan -- and settling in, however, McLain got the itch to return to playing music and revive the 30-plus songs he had worked up in his old band's catalogue.
With a posting on Craigslist, McLain called upon some like-minded souls looking to have fun playing Irish inspired tunes. He then joined forces with a new band of brothers (and sister), rebirthing Poor Paddy with a distinctively different take on the music.
The current lineup includes bassist Brian Doyle, who was a friend of McLain's and in for the ride from the start, as well as banjo/guitar player Dalton Williams, drummer Brian Borland. Completing the lineup is Justin Hall on accordion and mandolin and Mike Williams (who has family in Tulsa, but actually drives up from Austin for rehearsals and gigs) on flute and tin whistle. Together, the six gentlemen -- and used loosely -- have formed a fraternal order of loosely organized drinking, music and merriment under the moniker Poor Paddy. Augmented by Nikki Verespej on background vocals and Kevin "The Pirate," it's certainly a colorful group -- both musically and in character.
It's readily apparent, whether witnessing the band performing at Arnie's on a Saturday night or sitting around a table drinking beer and becoming acquainted, that this isn't just a job. Yes, music plays a large part, but the joy of the experience is essential and shines through each of the members' faces and voices.
Tom McLain, for his part, is obviously the leader and visionary of the band. After all, these are predominantly his songs being played and represented with the band, but with a laid back and self-effacing demeanor, he often comes off more like a party director or shepherd of the flock than a typically ego-driven front man.
With a name lifted from a traditional Irish song that appeared on The Pogues' 1984 debut album, Red Roses For Me, McLain has reasoning for reviving Poor Paddy.
"I've been a huge Pogues fan since I was 13 or 14," he said. "They kind of started the Irish/punk thing and the name worked before, so why not use it again?
"Not to sound too self-serving, but I think I'm a pretty good songwriter and a half-assed guitarist, so I surround myself with better musicians to make myself look good," he said with a laugh.
Even if that's really case, the current group might have proven to be more talented than McLain originally surmised. Not only has this group proven to be more cohesive and add a new energy to the tunes, it also came together more quickly than anticipated.
Formed in January 2009, McLain came armed with roughly 30 songs and told the group when they first met that it would probably take about a year to put everything together. Less than three months later, the band debuted on St Patrick's Day with not one, but two shows the same night.
The group officially debuted at C.J. Moloney's St. Pat's party with an early set and followed up with a second gig later that evening at Cosmo's Café.
"Tom told us, 'They won't pay us, but we've got an unlimited beer tab,'" bassist Justin Hall said. "This year, they decided it will be cheaper to pay us."
That original pair of gigs might have been a little rough around the edges, but it was enough to kick start the band and put the wheels into motion. The summer was slow for the band, but after working its way into Arnie's Bar in October, the band has become a monthly regular and patron favorite.
Indeed the response from the audience has been quick and positive with the band's reputation spreading by word of mouth and an energetic and fun live show.
"Pretty much anyone who sees us comes back for another show and tells their friends," drummer Brian Borland said.
Indeed, I stumbled in on the band my first time with an invite from a good friend.
Although Arnie's was packed and smoky that night, the band made an immediate impression -- and a positive one at that.
Obviously inspired by traditional Irish music, combined with some rock and a dash of punk aesthetic, the band was appropriately reverent of the form, yet raucous. Most importantly, it was a fun and inspired return the next time I heard the band was playing.
"Everyone here will admit we're all friends and there are no Prima Donnas in the group," McLain said. "Yes, we're playing music, but first and foremost, we're out to have a good time because when you're having a good time, the audience has a good time. We're not conventional by any means, but people see what we are and enjoy it."
Merely a year after the band's debut at C.J. Moloney's, Poor Paddy returns to the scene of the crime for Moloney's 20th annual St. Patrick's Day party.
This year, however, the group will be playing from 6pm to 9pm, before turning the stage over to Smunty Voje to close the evening. If you haven't heard the band yet and are looking for a fresh face within the local Irish music circle, it's worth your time to check the band out Wednesday night.
Perhaps the best explanation of the Poor Paddy experience, however, comes from the band's biggest and omni-present fan, Kevin (the pirate), who describes it this way: "Poor Paddy is an Irish drinking band, but when it comes down to it, you go there, you go there (to the bar), you hear music, drink and have a good time. Pretty soon, though, you quit talking to your friends and you're all singing 'I'll never drink whiskey again,'" quoting the Poor Paddy tune that Demko has been playing regularly on The Edge's "Locals at 11" feature.
If you haven't heard Poor Paddy yet, there's no better time than St. Patrick's Day to acquaint yourself. Check them out at C.J. Moloney's and you'll be watching for their next show, whether at Arnie's or another local club that's willing to start a party with an Irish drinking band. No matter where the band plays, the fun follows.
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