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The Drovers

It was chaos. It was inexplicable. It was in no way controllable, although attempts were made. It was and – God help us – still is, a frame of mind. We had the unbelievable good fortune to stumble upon an audience. We lucked into two Hollywood movies. We had fights on stage, in front of the assembled peoples. Maybe they thought it was part of the show. Maybe it was the show.

Things were said, things were done. Everything gone wild. Was it the music? Was it the personalities? Was it the audience? Was there a difference? The real story of the Drovers should probably never be told. As we somehow made it through one show and the one after that, we also slipped through one career-crunching, business-breaking, and in some cases, life-threatening situation after another. Maybe we thought we were immune. Or bullet-proof. Or non-valent. Some elements of the Drovers make little sense, in retrospect. None of us had ever been in a rock band. Some had never been in any type of musical organization and had never played in front of an audience. Only a few of us had ever thought about music as a possible career. When originally hired, I was informed that I’d be playing keyboards and percussion. I don’t really play either, but since the band actually owned those instruments – and given the festive atmosphere – it seemed reasonable enough. Many people have been in the Drovers. At one point I counted up to about twenty-five. Many of those people I have never actually met and it’s likely that they’ve never met each other. Some came from Ireland and some came from the audience. Some will not be informed of their membership in the Drovers until they read these notes -it’s the Drover way. So, why the constant personnel changes? If you took a poll of those involved the consensus answer would probably be “management.” And management could be very difficult to deal with. Odd decisions were made. Opportunities were missed. Some people objected and eventually left. Even then, good fortune kept showing up in various guises. So did talented people. There were some very interesting versions of the band that lasted only a few months – or weeks -and a handful of what may have been our best songs got lost in the scuffle. But never mind those bollocks, it was a very festive atmosphere that increased, even as the number of shows and amount of time spent on the road increased. A cautionary tale: a certain luminary of the Chicago rock scene – an absolutely beautiful young lady who must forever remain nameless – decided it might be fun to go on tour with The Drovers. This luminary was intimate friends with some other luminaries who were famously involved in the “darker side” of the rock-music scene. After three days on the Drovers tour, our luminary had had enough and left abruptly, visibly shaken by the experience. Apparently, it’s okay if every day is Halloween, but when every day turns into St. Patrick’s Day, something is seriously, seriously wrong. Upon returning to Chicago, the luminary gave up the rock lifestyle, took a turn toward the healthy, and is now even more beautiful than she was then. So, on behalf of the band, I’d just like to say, “You’re welcome.”

Audience So who was in the audience? On one occasion, before a show, I walked out of the dressing room and overheard two Music Industry Types talking about different bands and the audiences they attracted – this band has a “metal” audience, another band has a “punk” audience, another has an “alternative” audience, etc. So I asked them what kind of audience the Drovers attracted. Industry Type #1 looked at me incredulously and bluntly suggested that I take a look around. I did. There were all different kinds of people, seemingly from all different walks of life –Irish music fans, punk rock fans, fans of the “jam” bands, tattoos, piercings, some leather jackets, some flannel shirts, the occasional suit and tie combo (very nice), boots, sandals, sneakers, high heels, really high heels, no shoes at all, tee-shirts, sweaters, tie-dye and camouflage (two of my favorite colors), kilts, jeans, casual dresses, dressy dresses, shorts, short shorts, occasional nudity and, although Mohawks were often visible, there was no consensus hairstyle. Industry Type #2 then said, “You guys don’t have any one type of audience. You have an audience of misfits.” As if on cue, my fellow Drovers then ambled out of the dressing room and none of them were dressed alike, either.I thought, “Guess that makes us a band of misfits.” And so it was. The house was packed, there was a festive atmosphere – it as a good night.Recording Almost all the Drovers recordings were done “live in the studio” – meaning we were all playing together at the same time. We rarely did more than one or two takes. We recorded, mixed, and mastered on analogue tape, mostly. The kind of analogue tape that fell apart after a few years – those of you in the biz will know exactly what I’m talking about. Tapes were baked, not all recordings were salvaged. Some of the later tunes/songs were recorded digitally. At least one song was recorded, in part, on a 4-track cassette deck. Which is which? As with all things Drover, it’s probably better to not ask. Rehearsals were rare. The Drovers fever-pitch touring schedule, up to 250 shows in a year, allowed for little else. Recording conditions could be bizarre –in addition to various recording studios, there was a construction site, a garage, a warehouse or two, and basements of varying cleanliness. In one instance, we piled out of the vehicle, ran into the studio, recorded a song, climbed back in the vehicle and went right back to the tour. Sometimes we would have to choose between a good recording of a bad performance and a bad recording of a good performance. And there were many weird problems – on two of the tunes, the microphone for the bass.

About The Drovers

Mike Kirkpatrick

Mike Kirkpatrick has been making music for the better part of four decades. Most of that time was spent fronting the Chicago-based folk rock band, The Drovers. The Drovers toured all over North America and Ireland in the ’80s and ’90s. There were many players that were called Drovers at one time or another. But, (in addition to Kirkpatrick), the main players consisted of David Callahan (bass, vocals), Sean Cleland (fiddle), Kathleen Keane (flute, accordion, whistle, vocals), Winston Damon (trombone, percussion, sax thumb piano) and Jackie Moran (drums, bodhrán).

Their first CD, entitled World Of Monsters was released in 1992. An EP, Kill Mice Elf, was released in 1994; the Steve Albini production piece Little High Sky Show appeared a year later.

The Drovers spent the rest of the nineties away from the studio and playing shows. When they weren’t gigging in and around Chicago, they were playing festivals like the Guinness Fleadh line-up or contributing to various compilations such as the Blink soundtrack. ~ Leon Jackson

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