On March 17, 2013, The Mahones celebrated their 23rd birthday. We caught up with Finny and Katie McConnell, to talk about how everything started, some of their fondest memories throughout the years, and what the future holds for the band.
Jeff: Before The Mahone’s, there were The Filters . Can you tell us about them, and how it all started?
Finny: The Filters was my high school band. We started in Kingston, Ontario. It was a short-lived band, lasting from 1983 to 1984. It was the third band I had formed, as I have formed every band I have ever been in. The unique thing about The Filters was that we took old songs and updated them, kind of like what The Mahones do with Irish music. At that time, there were a lot of cover bands doing the L.A. hair metal stuff, and they all sounded the same. We took old songs by Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, The Who, The Stones, etc., and give them a punk rock injection.
We were all listening to The Clash at the time, and they were doing the same thing. I was lots of fun, but we were all very different people with different visions, so it could never have lasted. Lead vocalist Gord Downie and guitarist Rob Baker later formed one of Canada’s best bands ever, called The Tragically Hip. After we ended it in 1984, I packed my bags and moved to London, England in early 1985 to study rock and roll on the streets of London where all my favorite bands came from. I met the Clash, Lemmy, Shane MacGowan, and so many more cool musicians while living there for 5 years, and that’s where I came up the idea to create The Mahones after seeing The Pogues at the Hammersmith Palais and later with Joe Strummer at the Electric Ballroom. The rest is history!
Jeff: So it was The Pogues concert your cousin Rory took you to that made you change your opinion on Irish folk music?
Finny: Yes it was. I was raised above 2 Irish pubs in Kingston as a child; Muldoon’s and Finnigan’s. Many famous Irish bands played there including The Fureys, The Clancys, and the Irish Rovers. We never did get The Dubliners to stop by. Anyways, I rebelled against Irish music after that (during my Metal and Rock years), and then came full circle after seeing The Pogues in Hammersmith. So I owe it all the Shane MacGowan (it was his idea to fuse punk and traditional Irish music) for bringing me back to my roots and of course Rory for dragging me down to the Hammersmith Palais to see this life changing gig!
Jeff: What was The Mahones first show like on that St. Patrick’s Day 23 years ago?
Finny: It was just as you would suspect. A drunken night on the lash with lots of mayhem. Out of control people going crazy and one of the best gigs I have ever played. I loved it so much, I have been doing it ever since!
Jeff: What was your set list like back then?
Finny: Pretty much all of The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers hits, with a couple of covers by The Pogues and The Waterboys. I also wrote my first Mahones song for the occasion: a little number called Drunken Lazy Bastard!
Jeff: Why do you think that Irish folk and punk rock are so successful when blended together?
Katie: I suppose it’s because it’s a fresh take on traditional music. It’s wonderful to hear the sounds of the music that you grew up with, traditional Irish bands like The Dubliners, mixed with the sounds of the music you loved in high school (in my case, Rancid, Bad Religion, Against Me!, etc.). It makes me proud to go onstage every night and play music that that’s part of my heritage (Irish) mixed with the music that’s part of my soul (punk).
Jeff: Transcending the age gap has to be a big part of it. It’s awesome that me and my 92 year-old grandmother can sing along to a Mahones song.
Katie: Absolutely! Everyone has a little Irish punk in them – you don’t have to be young or Irish to enjoy The Mahones.
Jeff: In early 96, I can remember desperately trying to find more Mahones material among my group of punk rock tape trading friends. This of course was after seeing Celtic Pride. What was it like as a DIY punk band getting that kind of exposure in a mainstream film?
Finny: It has always been tough to survive as a DIY punk band. Getting in that film was great for us at the time. Our very dear friend Wally High made that happen. We worked with Dan Aykroyd and wrote the words to the song about the film and the Boston Celtics. He asked me to use the lyrics and make a song around them so I did a three part epic number. The film dropped all the Irish music in the end, but kept our song.
We got lucky. We did get lots of press, but unfortunately the film did not do too well. We did get a fantastic song of of it, and we still play it all the time. We actually finally played it on March 15th in TD Gardens in Boston, where we supported Dropkick Murphys for their biggest hometown show. That was an amazing experience for us!
Jeff: Is it true that you were going to have a song on the soundtrack for the Boondocks Saints sequel?
Katie: I guess so. It wasn’t definite. Basically, they reached out to us years ago, and the message went into Finny’s spam folder! He was still using a desktop email system, and I guess it had high security. He found the email after the movie had already come out, and we were both so disappointed! We ended up getting contacted by the people working on The Fighter shortly thereafter, though, and that more than made up for it.
Jeff: The band has also had their share of rough times. In 1999 bassist Joe Chithalen passed away. Can you talk about who he was as a musician and person.
Finny: Joe was one of my best friends and the best bass player I have ever played with, hands down. He was not just a musician, he was a music man. He could play anything and play it better that anyone. He was one of the kindest people I have ever met and I will never forget him. I have many photos on him in my office and on my wall at home. I just loved that guy, and I miss him terribly.
There is a music instrument lending library in Kingston which was set up in his name. It lends instruments to young musicians who otherwise might not have access to them. Every year, The Mahones return to Kingston to raise money for this wonderful charity. We all loved Joe, and we will always keep his memory alive in The Mahones. He was the best!
(If anyone would like to know more about the instrument lending library, go to joesmill.org.)
Jeff: Are there any particular moments that stand out in your career?
Finny: Oh man, there are so many. Touring with Dropkick Murphys and Stiff Little Fingers, and having some of them record with us on Angels & Devils. Playing so many festivals around the world and meeting so many of my heroes at the shows. Meeting members of my favorite band The Who last year and going to 3 shows on the Canadian Quadrophenia Tour.
Hanging out with Shane MacGowan for 3 days straight on the lash, having over 20 bands from around the world record songs for our 20th Anniversary Tribute cd, and getting our song Paint The Town Red in the climatic final fight scene of the Oscar winning movie The Fighter.
Plus, winning best Irish Punk albums of the year in 2011 and 2012 for The Black Irish and Angels & Devils! So many great moments and stories to tell. They will all be in the book for our 25th Anniversary in 2015!
Katie: There are many! Playing at the Olympia in Paris, and more recently at TD Gardens in Boston with Dropkick Murphys immediately come to mind – those are two nights I’ll never forget!
Jeff: It almost seems as if the Mahone’s have decided to go on a nonstop world tour for the past several years, while putting out two beloved albums back to back. I’ve even seen a three-hour set list. What keeps you motivated, and how do you pull this off?
Katie: We love what we do. Sometimes I really don’t understand how I got so lucky, and when I think about it, I walk around with a big smile. I love what I do, and I love the people with whom I travel, and the people I get to meet. I love playing this music. I can’t believe how blessed I am. It’s really easy to keep going when you’re so grateful to have been given these opportunities.
Jeff: From playing with legends like Jake Burns, touring over 30 countries, having your own tribute album, to seeing your music in the mainstream, while staying true to the DIY ethos, is it safe to say that you’re happy with where The Mahone are?
Finny: I am very happy with where The Mahones are now, but I do hope to make it bigger and better, still. We plan to keep on putting out the best music we can make and to give 200% at everything we do, from live concerts to recordings.
We love our jobs as professional musicians and we know we are very lucky and would not be able to do this without the support of our fans around the world. It would also be nice not to have to worry about money all the time, but frankly, I would do this for free. That’s how much I love this music, and I will keep playing until the end, just like my hero Ronnie Drew. Music is the greatest gift, and I plan to treasure it forever!
Jeff: What’s been your favorite country and venue to play?
Katie: Ireland. Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing everywhere we’ve had the chance to play, but going back to Ireland was so exciting for me. I had always dreamed of going (my family is from Ireland, but I’m many generations Canadian), and I was in tears when the ferry pulled in. Plus, the better part of Finny’s family still lives there, and they throw one hell of a party. We had So much fun with them. They’re wonderful, loving people.
Jeff: Any hints of what’s in store for later this year?
Katie: So much is currently in the works. There will be a new album very, very soon, but I’m afraid that’s all I can say for the time being. There are videos coming out, tours to be announced, and we have a few surprises in store.
Jeff: Sounds great! Well, from all of us here at Punk.ie, we would like to wish you a very happy birthday. Thank you guys for taking the time to answer some of our questions. Is there anything you would like to add?
Katie: I can’t thank you enough for your ongoing support. So much love to you. x
Finny: Thank you Jeff and to everyone at Punk.ie. Thanks for all the support and the great reviews and we hope to see you this summer.