No headliner wants to be upstaged by a talented opening act. Especially if it’s the Young Dubliners.
Irish-born Keith Roberts, leader of the Los Angeles-based Celtic rockers, says for years the six-member band couldn’t get hooked up with major tours (and subsequently spread the word and sell more albums) because no one wanted to follow their wild, fervid shows.
That didn’t stop Jethro Tull from enlisting them for a recent U.S. tour.
“I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted it would’ve gone as well,” Roberts said recently. “We’ve had Tull fans telling us how they’ve never seen a reaction like this for an opening band. We’ve been getting standing ovations and raucous screaming at the end of every show. Some of them actually say we remind them of early Tull, in terms of whatever feeling they felt when they first saw Tull. Not that the music is necessarily alike, but maybe it’s the energy and the Celtic blend of rock.
“We’ve been a headliner all these years because of our high energy and because nobody wanted us going on before them. That’s not to toot our own horn; it’s just that when you think of an opening band, you’re thinking of someone who’s not using all that much of the stage and that’s not going to be too high intense. Most bands don’t need six guys going crazy with 12 instruments before they come on.”
Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson listened to the Young Dubliners’ fourth album, “Red” (released June 20 on Omtown/Higher Octave), and liked what he heard so much, he gave them the nod to open shows in Texas and Florida.
“We went through Texas, the first time we’ve really been through Texas,” Roberts said. “We did five shows and we sold more albums in Texas than anywhere else in the last three weeks. It was No. 1 on Amazon.com in Texas for two and a half weeks. That shows you that there’s a huge difference going from playing at Pat Murphy’s local pub to soldout halls with Tull.
“We’re a pretty loud band; we’re very much a rockin’ live band, and this record captured that to a certain degree, more so than any other album we’ve done. I think maybe people are surprised when they come along and hear the Young Dubliners first, and they know that the Chieftains have opened for Tull a few times, and maybe they’re expecting some mild-mannered ballad band and then they get shocked when they’re belted over the head with our stuff.”
The Young Dubliners, now on tour with John Hiatt, have garnered a fervent following since its 1994 debut Scotti Brothers album “Rocky Road” – even fans in high places, such as Bernie Taupin, Elton John’s longtime collaborator. Taupin, a Young Dubs champion for years, asked to work with them and eventually provided the words to the title track.
“With Bernie, we had been told for years that he was a fan of the band and wanted us to sign CDs that had been sent to him,” Roberts said. “We never really knew if it was true or not.
“Then he and another producer wanted me to add some Celtic touch to something they were working on, and when I went down to do it, I couldn’t relate to the song that they were working on, but I went through a bunch of lyrics that Bernie offered up and I found the lyrics to ‘Red.’ It hit me right away, ‘man, I could do something with this,’ and put the music together real fast. I brought it back to the band about a week before we were doing the album, and they all dug it. We arranged it and recorded it a week later and sent it to Bernie and he freaked out. He loved it.
“The next thing we know, we’re hanging out with Bernie Taupin at the House of Blues and we’re playing at his 50th birthday party. To be onstage playing to a smallish crowd and there’s Rod Stewart, Rene Russo, Bo Derek, (Elton John guitarist) Davey Johnstone, just a bunch of people. We’re up there going, ‘Holy, Jesus.’ “
For “Red,” Roberts says he and his band mates – Jeff Dellisanti (saxophone), Bob Boulding (guitar), Bren Holmes (bass), David Ingraham (drums) and Mark Epting (violin, mandolin, harp) – wanted the album to be the culmination of everything they had done up to that point.
“We knew we had a great distributor, we knew we had a big label behind us,” he said. “It was just a case of picking some of the songs of the past that we felt had great potential and had maybe improved over the years but never gotten a shot on the records. We basically wrote a bunch of new stuff and took a few songs from the live album; I wanted to give them studio treatment.
“We knew a lot of people would be seeing us for the first time on tour with this album, so the years we’ve put into this were captured on a very focused album with every song being treated in a similar way. We didn’t want to have Celtic songs, rock songs, Celtic rock songs. We wanted it to be a Celtic rock album the whole way through, where you could take any song and have that identifiable sound. Thom Panunzio (U2, Alice in Chains, Bruce Springsteen, No Doubt), being the killer producer that he is, understood that and really guided us through 18 days of recording and keeping that focus.”
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: “I think it was The Pretenders’ first album, the one with ‘Brass in Pocket.’ That’s a great first album to buy.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “It was a band called King, who were huge in England at the time. They were a one-hit wonder band, and they came to Dublin and played at this venue and my dad was working there. Me and my brother got to hang out backstage. Not only was it my first concert, but it was the first time I decided I was going to do this. I’m looking at the crowd, the whole sound check and all the crew putting up the gear, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Jesus, there’s a ticket to ride right there.’ The only hard work I saw them doing was teasing up their hair before the show, and believe me, this King had a lot of hair.”
THE LAST CD I BOUGHT: “I haven’t bought one in years because radio stations give them to me all the time, but my favorite CD right now is ‘The Bends’ by Radiohead. It’s probably the best record ever recorded since I’ve been alive. It’s one of those records where I can’t listen to it enough times; it’s so well written and so well sung. ‘OK Computer’ was like a sequel to a movie, but it didn’t have the unbelievable shock you got listening to ‘The Bends.’ “
BWF (before we forget): Find the luck of the Irish with the Young Dubliners on the Web @ www.youngdubs.com. … The Young Dubliners album discography – “Rocky Road” (Scotti Brothers, 1994); “Breathe” (1995); “Alive, Alive ‘O” (Cargo, 1998); “Red” (Omtown/Higher Octave, 2000); “Absolutely” (2002).
More updates: Joe Henry, Marcus King, Lily Kershaw, Poliça, Sarah Brightman, Jerry Leger, Simple Minds, Grateful Dead, etc