Cavan band to replicate Johnny Cash's legendary prison gigs
Anglo Celt Newspaper – Thursday, 7th March, 2013 10:48am
How would you feel about spending three nights in Mountjoy Prison, three in Wheatfield Prison and another in Loughan House? Milltown musician Paul McCann, and his fellow bandmates can't wait to briefly give up their liberty in order to recreate Johnny Cash's legendary prison concerts.
"It came to me one day," Paul tells the Celt, "what about doing a gig in a prison?"
Conscious that the Johnny Cash tracks went down a treat when his band played them at weddings, Paul added his wife and a few musician pals to the line-up and have an authentic Johnny Cash and Carter Family tribute act. Although they had a band, they had nowhere to play.
In 1968 'the man in black' played up to his rogueish reputation with a concert in San Quentin State Prison and over the years continued to play other jails including Folsom Prison, which had already been the subject of one of his biggest hit singles.
Acting more out of hope than expectation, three months ago Paul sent off emails to the Prison Service about the possibility of emulating his hero. He was thrilled to get such positive responses upon meeting the governors of the country's major prisons.
"They were all incredibly enthusiastic to the extent that the governor of Mountjoy said to me, 'We would have come back to you earlier but the problem we are having is that we have three prisons – the men's, women's and training centre – and they all want you. How do you feel about doing three dates in Mountjoy?'"
The seven piece are booked in to play the first of the gigs later this month in Loughan House, before heading down to Wheatfield in April and Mountjoy in May. Having got the prison governors onside the prison project has expanded beyond Paul's wildest dreams.
"The whole thing has become very exciting because I emailed John Carter Cash, who is Johnny and June's son telling him what we're doing and he's emailed back saying that he's interested in what we're doing and he'd be interested in joining us if he could work it into his schedule.
"Everything's been hugely positive. We have actually been talking to a couple of TV production companies about possibly documenting it, so it has snowballed from what was initially a ridiculous idea," says Paul, a reservations agent in the Slieve Russell Hotel.
In preparation for the Wheatfield concert Paul was shown around the prison in person. Just days later got to see the gritty reality of daily life in Wheatfield, while watching the TV documentary – 'Life on the Inside'.
"I was surprisingly comfortable when we were there, and when I was watching it on television I was going – Oh my God, I am insane!"
Paul's love of Johnny Cash was sown through his mother Maisie's record collection, and it was recently nurtured by his wife, Blathnaid, who bought him a whopping 63-album Johnny Cash set as a gift last Christmas. His admiration for Cash, means he will limit his performance to a "slight bit of impersonation".
"I have a lower barritone, bassier voice, and a good range to get some of Johnny's stuff but I genuinely don't think anyone could ever sing songs the way he sang them."
So does he think the inmates will be a tough crowd to please?
"There is a part of me really excited; there's part of me really terrified. I feel very comfortable when I am on stage most of the time, but it's going to be an hour and 15 minute set and I plan on banging out the tunes. Hopefully we'll be good enough they'll not tear us to shreds!"
The prison staff urged Paul to ensure that the female band members are comfortable going in because "the nastiest people in the country" will be there and could potentially shout some unsavoury comments.
"We've all been playing music for years so there's very few things that haven't been shouted at us," he quipped.
Paul hopes that once they complete the prison gigs they will be able to line-up gigs in more familiar venues, and have a captive audience in the figurative, rather than literal sense.
Cash tribute band serving their time – .Irish Examiner
Get Rhythm are touring Irish prisons, much as Johnny played the penitentiaries in the US, says Jonathan deBurca Butler
By Jonathan deBurca Butler
LAST night, the inmates at the Loughan House open prison in Blacklion, Co Cavan, were entertained by Johnny Cash tribute band, Get Rhythm.
The local eight-piece played to 150 men for more than an hour and did the ‘Man in Black’ proud. The concert was the first in a series of prison shows for the band over the next five weeks, including at Wheatfield and Mountjoy prisons.
“It started out as a simple idea of just a handful of friends getting together to do a few Johnny Cash tribute shows,” said Get Rhythm lead singer, Paul McCann, on the morning of the first concert. “We said, in a throwaway manner, at first, it would be great to do some in a prison, but it just seemed such a ridiculous idea.
“I thought about it more, though, and the prison audience was always the natural audience for a lot of Johnny Cash’s material and, of course, he toured prisons for years. So, we got onto the Irish Prison Services to see if it was possible, and the governors eventually got back to us. I was completely surprised. I didn’t think it would be a runner at all.”
The 33-year-old McCann says the prison governors have been “very enthusiastic”. Such was the interest of the Mountjoy governors in their proposal, for example, that the band will play three dates there — one for the men’s prison, one for the women’s, and one for the training centre.
“I’m very excited about the whole thing,” says McCann. “We’ve been playing music for 15 years, so we’ve played to some incredible crowds; we’ve played to some … different crowds.
“I’ve never played in a prison before, so I don’t know what to expect, but it’s a fantastic set we’re doing, so we’re just planning on getting in there and rocking the hell out of it and we hope they enjoy it.”
The idea for the prison concerts is based on Johnny Cash’s fondness for playing penitentiaries in the US. In 1968, ‘the Man in Black’, who cultivated a bad-boy image for himself, enhanced that reputation with a concert in Folsom State Prison — an institution that was the subject of one of his most famous and successful songs, Folsom Prison Blues.
The concert was recorded and released as a live album, and it has remained one of Cash’s most popular.
Cash, who had played his first prison concert in Texas in 1956, later played and recorded in other prisons; most famously, perhaps, in San Quentin.
Due to the security nature of the venues, organising the gigs has involved more than the average pub concert.
“As I said, everybody has been very supportive of us, but everything is obviously very tight,” says McCann.
“We went down to Wheatfield, to have a look around with the governor, and we talked through where we could possibly play and what we needed to do. Obviously, we can only bring in equipment that we have down on the list. If it’s something we haven’t mentioned before, it won’t be coming in.
“But they said they were happy enough from a security point of view as long as eight of us came in and eight of us left.”
Not only have Get Rhythm’s upcoming prison ‘terms’ been noticed by the media, they have also got the attention of one member of the late Cash’s family.
“I emailed John Carter Cash, Johnny’s son with June,” says McCann.
“I told him what we were doing with the prisons and, chancing my arm, I basically said to him that if he happened to be in Europe, it would be great to do something together.”
Carter Cash apparently loved the idea and sent the email on to his management company, who are talking to Get Rhythm about a collaboration.
For now, McCann and the band are focused on the prison concerts. McCann, who classes himself as a “massive fan” of the country singer, says that Cash’s enduring popularity is due to the universality of his message and the empathy he has for the man with no friends.
“We play in a wedding band and that, initially, was how we got the idea for the tribute shows going, because we saw how people responded to Johnny Cash’s songs,” says McCann.
“Whenever you play one, the floor fills up with teenagers, people in their 20s, middle-aged people, grannies, everyone; it’s amazing the effect he has. I think, maybe, the outlaw image that he portrayed appeals to people, too.”
For Get Rhythm’s sake, we hope that continues.
Check out the lads on You Tube…..