Based in Montreal and originally from Kingston, Ont., the Mahones are considered among the finest Irish-rock exports North America has produced.
Singer-guitarist Finny McConnell finds that somewhat amusing, given that until recently, his 23-year-old group hadn’t tested its mettle before those who matter most — the Irish. McConnell, who was born in Dublin but raised in Canada, now sleeps comfortably knowing his group can pass muster in the Emerald Isle.
“We never played Ireland until two years ago,” he said from Montreal, his home base for the past two years. “And to be honest with you, I was always a little worried about what they would think of our interpretation. It turns out they just loved it.”
The Mahones dabble in a mélange of musical styles, from traditional Celtic music to punk rock. When McConnell, who is joined in the group by drummer Dom Whelan, accordionist Katie McConnell, multi-instrumentalist Sean Winter and bassist Paul Mancuso, formed the Mahones in 1990, he chose a name that would properly reflect his vision for the group.
The Mahones’ moniker is based partly on Pogue Mahone, both an Irish saying (meaning “kiss my arse”) and the early name of what went on to become popular group the Pogues. McConnell said he also liked that it sounded something like the New York punk legends the Ramones.
McConnell’s original musical inspiration for the band was Irish folk institution the Dubliners. He taught himself how to play 30 of their songs from a songbook, and went from there. By the time he could really play the music, he adopted a rock-inspired approach, inspired by bands such as Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, the Who and the Clash.
The end result: a group tailor-made for bars.
“We love playing nightclubs,” McConnell said with a husky laugh. “We’re built for that kind of thing. People like to dance and drink to our music, and that’s part of the Irish culture. The Irish invented drinking music, and we’re just keeping it going through the generations.”
The Mahones are bringing Celtic-rock bedlam to the entire world, it would appear. Last year alone, The Mahones played concerts in 30 countries, with another few dozen on tap for 2013, McConnell said.
“I have been touring Europe for 15 years, and in North America for eight years before that. In my years of touring, I have completely lost track of where I’ve played and where I haven’t.”
During their time on the road, McConnell and his bandmates developed a relationship with some ther Irish-influenced rock and punk acts, such as Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys.
The latter group met McConnell and the Mahones on tour five years ago, and the groups have been touring together on and off, including as recently as November.
“We’re like family now,” McConnell said. “We’re beyond musical comrades.”
In the quarter-century since he first took up arms with his group, McConnell has seen the Celtic rock community flourish.
By his count, there’s hundreds of bands that fall under the “paddy rock” banner.
“It’s a huge scene, but it’s very underground. You don’t hear the Murphys or the Pogues or Flogging Molly on the radio, yet they’ll sell 2,000 tickets in a concert hall. It’s a big scene, it’s just in the underground, like punk was in the old days.”
The Mahones with MD Wren and The Sick Kids and Gypsy Hacks & Insomniacs
When: Saturday, 9 p.m.
Where: Swans Nightclub (Store Street entrance underneath Swans Pub)
Tickets: $11at Lyle’s Place, BC Smoke Shop, Ditch Records and ticketweb.ca
Note: The Mahones also play Duncan’s Garage Showroom on Sunday
© Copyright 2013