Irish Echo, March 4, 2009, Page 11

Irish Echo clipping July 2-8, 2008, page 20

Joe Hurley is a hard man to categorize.

The amiable musician will try to help you, though, with statements like: "I grew up an Irish Catholic Londoner with New York City roots."

Defining the work is somewhat trickier. "It's not genre specific," he said. "Musically, I'm not fond of boundaries, or don't believe in them."

Even the line between the two New York bands he fronts is blurred, sometimes deliberately.

Nonetheless, Rogue's March "started as a Irish rock 'n' roll band with a heavy punk vibe," whereas Joe Hurley and the Gents' gigs at the Downtown Manhattan venue Joe's Pub "encompass everything from old pub sing-along music hall to piano ballads."

The novelist Colum McCann has said of Hurley: "He's an old seanchai in a rock star's shoes, a poet of microcosm with a stereoscopic vision, a baladeer with a whole lot of landscape in his voice. He sings out from the anonymous corners where the best stories are told. Chalk one up for the old songs, newly told."

The New York Times' Stephen Holden would agree on the last point, at least. His review of the Judy Collins 50th anniversary tribute in October singled out Hurley's interpretation of "Send in the Clowns" for special praise.

There are plenty of new songs, too. "Rockaway" is about the death of his father, who grew up on that New York City peninsula. "Desiree" and "Irish Breakfast in a Greek Diner" are similarly confessional.

The new work will appear soon on the first Joe Hurley and the Gents CD, "Long Night's Journey into Day," just one of several projects for the musician in 2009. Another is the plan to record the songs from the musical "Oliver!" at the Dickens House in London this summer.

Hurley's attention is focused now, however, on the upcoming St. Patrick's Day season. He's due to sing with the Chieftains next Thursday at the Count Basie Theater (leader Paddy Moloney is a fan, describing Hurley as a "brilliant songwriter and truly charismatic performer") and then on Saturday, and the following Tuesday, he'll host the 10th Anniversary Irish Rock Revue at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street.

After eight years, Hurley had wearied of the amount of organizing involved in the event and almost abandoned it. But the campaign to save St. Brigid's Church in his East Village neighborhood revived his enthusiasm and he dedicated the Irish Rock Reveue's 9th year to that cause. This year's beneficiaries are Gilda's Club (on the first night on March 14) and the Humane Society (the second on March 17).

It all began as St. Patrick's Day approached in 1999.

"We thought we'd make it a bit more special," Hurley recalled. "We'd do some of the great Irish classics like 'Teenage Kicks' and 'The Boys are Back in Town.'"

He invited a few friends for the evening. "I like nothing more than impromptu, off the cuff, off kilter collaborations, generally on the spot," he said.

"It was originally going to be a one off," he added. "It's grown and grown."

Now, Hurley said, the artists have made it a celebration of New York City's cultural and ethnic diversity through the medium of the Irish rock 'n' roll songbook.

Hurley was exposed early on to a more traditional songbook, one that featured "I Met her in the Garden where the Praties Grow," "Tis the Last Rose of Summer," and "Give me back the Wild Freshness of Morning."

"My grandfather John Monahan was a great singer," he said.

He was from Tuam, Co. Galway while Hurley's maternal grandmother was from Ennis, Co. Clare.

"They'd live with us for periods of time, and would make sure to remind us that we were Irish first and foremost, teach us the songs, the history, what they'd been through, and what the English had done," he said.

Hurley's parents – his mother was a former top model and his Irish-American father worked on international computer projects – settled down to raise their family in Chislehurst in Bromley, Southeastern London. The marriage wasn't a successful one, and later each member of the family would come to live in the United States. Hurley's mother, now a painter, and his sisters still live in this country.

Some of his first impressions of New York were via a famous cop show. Watching "Kojak" with his father on Saturday nights ahead of "Match of the Day," he said, "was a thrilling thing."

Many of his other youthful memories involve music in one way or another. He recalled singing with 40,000 swaying fans "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles, the favored hymn at Upton Park, his "spiritual home." (He remains deeply attached to and involved with Premiership team West Ham United. His "Bleeding Claret & Blue" is popular with fans world-wide.).

Hurley said that on the road up North they had a riposte to Liverpool FC's famous anthem, "You'll Never Walk Alone."

"We'd sing 'You'll never get a job' and they'd sing back 'you'll never reach the station.'"

He also liked to belt out "Maybe Because I'm a Londoner" both at Upton Park and with his mates down at the Rambers Rest.

And there was this punk movement: "My cathartic escape from the world – it was absolutely the most exciting thing I'd ever heard."

Yet the influence of Hurley's County Galway-born grandfather remained strong.

"He had a beautiful voice, full of heartache and longing," he recalled. "Singing along with him was an incredible feeling."

From a young age, he wanted "to feel his sense of yearning bitter-sweet melancholy, to feel his deep connection to 'home.'"

Hurley knows what that feels like now.

"When I land in Heathrow, I feel 'home,'" he said. "You never lose that place in your heart. And London was the only place where we were a family, where we lived as one family."

He added: "I have another 'second' family in London, my best friends since I was a kid. They are a very real family to me; they're the ones who are always there, and always have been and will be. I used to book my flights back so I'd arrive on a Saturday morning and be picked up by Clive or Marc or Paula and whisked straight off to East London to see West Ham play."

For more information on the Irish Rock Revue at Le Poisson Rouge on March 14 and 17, go to www.roguesmarch.com.