As children, Will Millar and his brother George were spoonfed tales of wonder and mystery. The stories were of mystical, magical creatures and eerie ghosts.
"My Irish granny filled my head with ghost stories. Like stories of the deformed boy in the garden of the Hells Fire Club, who was seen by many. Years later, they found a deformed skeleton," Millar recounted, in a thick brogue. "Or how, during an exorcism, the window blew out in a hole shaped like a cat's head."Such stories became a natural part of the music - and magic - known for more than 25 years as the Irish Rovers, a group formed by the Millar boys, their cousin and a boyhood friend.
"What would have happened to us if we'd been fed on geography and geometry, I wonder, instead of the morsels from storytellers?"
The Irish Rovers, well-known for hits like "The Unicorn," will perform at Kingsbury Hall Wednesday, March 6, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $14 and $17 ($10 for University students) and are available at the box office or at SmithsTix locations.
When these Irishmen began roving, spending as much as half a year on the road, they were all living in Canada. Born in Ireland, their families had resettled, but they'd never severed ties to relatives and friends in their old homeland. Indeed, they maintained their brogues, their history and their love of the music and spirit of Ireland, Millar said.
Now, they are scattered around. Millar spoke to the Deseret News from his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, where he keeps busy working on television shows and painting "for the joy of it." Jimmy Ferguson is in Vancouver. George Millar is in California. Joe Millar is in Vancouver. And Wilcil McDowell is making records in Northern Ireland, where he has a home - when he's not at his other home, in Vancouver.
The men who used to be together and on the road all the time, now relax and view their road trips as a way to express their mutual friendship - and sheer love of the music.
"We never got a chance to get sick of each other. We have the music in the blood. Little kids came out to see us. Now those little kids come out with their own kids. We make music anyone can enjoy.
"I love the music," Millar said. "But I hate the bloody traveling. We'll be doing a lot of driving this trip; the stops are all one-nighters. That's just part of the job."
Touring, now, means four months a year. The rest of the time, they go their separate ways and pursue other interests. Millar's television work right now ties his love of the "auld tales" into a show about the "Restless Ghosts of Ireland." When he can, he goes back to Ireland.
"Maybe we keep alive an Ireland that no longer exists," he laughs. "There's no doubt that Boston and New York Irish are more Irish than the Irish themselves."
Political they are not. Their views are perhaps best reflected in "The Orange and the Green," where the storyteller - a youngster caught between his parents' different religions - says, "And me bein' strictly neutral, I punched everyone in sight."
"As singers, we're almost expected to keep up that fight. Well, I can't," Millar said. "I don't know what the hell we're fighting about."
The more their music changes, the closer it gets to its roots, he said. "I like to do old Irish love ballads. Music, but no singing."
Ireland has contributed a lot to music. Blue grass derives from Irish music. Wherever he travels, Millar said he hears songs that have a different name for tunes that came from Ireland 200 years ago. "Little Beggar Man" was the "Red-Haired Boy." "Kisses Sweeter than Wine" was the "Old Gray Cow." "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" was "Johnny, I Hardly Knew You."
And speaking of songs associated with wars, Millar is working on a trilogy of songs about the Fighting 69th, a regiment of Irish immigrants who had to fight each other at Shilo and Gettysburg.
The Ireland the Rovers love and cling to is the birthplace of music and poetry. "The Irish took the English language and made art out of it," Millar said with satisfaction. And more than a little pride.