Jack Grisham of True Sounds of Liberty (TSOL) pretty much summed up this year’s Warped Tour experience when he compared the audience to a herd. There they were, 12,000 of them, herded from one large stage to the next for one major-label act after the next.
Contrary to what you might have read in the daily press, Green Day, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and MXPX did not provide the highlights of the day. With the exception of the Donnas, TSOL and Jurassic 5, the highlights were on the four small stages between the two big stages. The “herd” shuttled back and forth between the large stages, stirring dust clouds as they went. They skipped the rousing Red Bennies and Doublewide sets on the Ernie Ball stage. They missed Bif Naked and locals Choice of Reign. They missed All, the Muffs, the Lunachicks, Anti-Flag and Flogging Molly. Admittedly, the cops holding up the line as they screened for “Straight Edge” gang members were to blame for some of that.
Flogging Molly played early in the afternoon, when most of the “herd” was still trying to get in. Most of the herd had never heard of TSOL, let alone Fastway, the former band of Flogging Molly’s frontman, Dave King. King was only a lad of 18 when he became the vocalist for Fastway, a group formed by Motorhead’s disenchanted “Fast” Eddie Clark. The tale is almost too weird:
Fastway had some success in America. Their debut disc nearly went gold in 1983, but they received the most chart action with the soundtrack to Trick or Treat in 1986. After leaving Fastway, King hooked up with Mandy Meyer of Krokus and Asia fame to form Katmandu. After Epic dropped that act, the label asked King to sing for Jeff Beck!
King went from ’80s hair-metal to Jeff Beck to a Warped Tour stage, where he sang and played acoustic guitar in a band whose other instruments include an accordion, a fiddle and, at times, a trumpet and a penny whistle. At the tour’s Salt Lake City stop, Flogging Molly had a small audience singing along to a cover of Tom Jones’ “Delilah.” They were also moshing to Flogging Molly’s mariachi-flavored original, “Sentimental Johnny.”
“I lived the life of a rock & roller when I was younger. Now I’m trying to write as a human being, as myself,” King says of his long musical journey. “I’m not aiming any of my songs at anybody. I don’t think of anybody else except myself when I write. To me it’s not such a huge transition, from that to this. I enjoy it now more than anything I’ve done.
“When I was in Fastway, I was 18, 19, 20 years of age. It got to the stage with record companies and all that. … I just went, I can’t handle this anymore. I started to get introspective about my life, and I said, well, this isn’t what I’m all about. I wanted to get inside myself, and that’s what I tried to do, lyrically, in this band. I was brought up on traditional Irish music as well, and all sorts of music—like punk music and hard rock music, everything. To me this is a mixture of everything from my childhood.”
Images of ships and the sea run rampant throughout Flogging Molly’s album Swagger, and I wondered if King had sailors in his family.
“The sea has always been a fascinating thing to me. When I was a kid I’d walk to the beach. I don’t like the beaches; I like the wildness of the ocean,” King says. “I’d go for walks and sit down and look at the ocean and think, maybe someday it might take me out of here. It’s such a monstrous thing, a very mysterious thing. Dublin is a port town, so I was around the ocean all the time. I think the ocean for me has a lot to do with separation. For me living in America and being from Ireland is a big deal.”
Second to the ships-and-sea theme are references to the working class—not an uncommon theme in Irish music. “I was born in the last British army barracks in the south of Ireland. They decided to turn it into a housing project for poor people. My father was one of the first civilians to move in,” King says. “I was brought up there in an atmosphere of … it was really bad you know? My background is totally from … to me it didn’t even seem working class. It was below that. My father pumped gas for a living. We lived in a place called Beggars Bush.”
There is a song on Swagger titled, “The Ol’ Beggars Bush.” It centers around a woman named Mrs. Moore, who has 13 kids. Her husband runs off, and she is left to rear them in Beggars Bush. The song has this lyric: “She never read a book, but by Christ she understood that the meanin’ of life starts in bed.” Mrs. Moore is not a fictional character, King says. “I loved her very much actually. Her son was my best friend.”
“Sentimental Johnny” is the mariachi song, and King also has an explanation for it. “I met this guy in a bar one night, and his name was Johnny. His favorite song was ‘Sentimental Journey,’ so I changed it to ‘Sentimental Johnny.’ This man was one of the most fascinating men I’ve ever met. He inspired me to pick up a pen and write. He was about 80, and in his apartment he had literally a million albums, and that’s why the line is, ‘Well Johnny it’s two in mornin’ don’t you think it’s time we should go, back to our millions of records, back to our sad little homes.’ I’ve never seen him again.”
The inspiration behind King’s songwriting is important, because songs still matter. Songs are a form of therapy. Songs have memories attached to them. “Songs are very important to me,” King says. “They are the only way I have of communicating with myself about how I feel. ‘The Ol’ Beggars Bush’ and ‘Life in a Tenement Square’—nobody outside of where I was born would know anything about that. But yet, everybody can relate to them because they’re about life.”
It’s too bad so few concert-goers caught Flogging Molly’s Warped performance. A ruddy-faced Irishman came from poverty, lived with arena-rock fame and is now happy to create something much more relevant using old-fashioned instruments. As he travels about the country with the Warped Tour, he will touch a few lives with his songs of ships, the sea, poverty, sentimental Johnny and fertile Mrs. Moore.