"I started off in the ’60s and I haven’t gone too far," George Millar says with a laugh.
The reference is not to his music. A founding member of The Irish Rovers, Millar continues to work on cassette tape and compact disc – and he laments the demise of both, noting that he resorts to reusing cassettes and was forced to have a CD player installed in a new car.
Why the devotion to dated technology? Millar sings while driving. “That’s how I practice,” he explains. “When you write songs, you don’t really learn them.”
While The Irish Rovers may struggle to keep up with digital-age advances, they have always kept pace with things on stage and in the studio. Since their first folk album hit the shelves in 1966, they have put out close to 50 LPs and CDs (including the recently released Up Among the Heather), as well as charting singles in the U.S., Canada and Ireland. And that’s in addition to hosting television shows and near-constant touring.
But after more than 50 years, The Irish Rovers are on their final tour, wrapping up with a nostalgic swing through California – where American audiences were first introduced to the band – before traveling through Canada, the U.K. and Ireland.
Millar points out that they won’t quit writing and recording. And they will turn up to perform at special events. It’s just that their days of roving are now numbered.
The Irish Rovers first toured California in 1966. Their performances were lively enough to land them a deal with Decca. It was a single from their second album that made them a global sensation. Millar still marvels at “The Unicorn.” The charming story of Noah and the mythical animals found its way onto the charts alongside The Beatles and more psychedelic hits, such as “Incense and Peppermints” from Strawberry Alarm Clock.
Shel Silverstein had written the piece and recorded a version in 1962.
“We cleaned it up a wee bit,” Millar points out. “Glen Campbell’s guitar gave us a more modern sound.” Yes, that Glen Campbell – at the time a session musician just a few weeks away from solo success.
But the Irish Rovers made “The Unicorn” theirs – so thoroughly Irish in tempo and character that it has been listed as a prime example of that nation’s folk style.
“Irish songs have an infectious beat,” Millar says. “We can be singing a sad song and people are smiling and clapping along – and that’s OK.”
THE IRISH ROVERS 8pm Wednesday, March 6. Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $44-$66. 649-1070, goldenstatetheatre.com