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The Drovers, 1998 at Chicago's Annoyance Theatre
L to R: David Callahan, Paul Bradley, Mike Kirkpatrick and Merritt Lear
|Genres||Celtic music, psychedelic rock, progressive rock, folk|
|Labels||Tantrum Records/Thermometer Sound Surface|
|Associated acts||Big Hat, Black 47, Big Buildings, Fairport Convention, Pentangle (band) Boiled in Lead, Joker's Wild|
The Drovers are a Chicago-based rock band whose original songs are influenced by Irish traditional dance music.
Founded by Irish traditional fiddler Sean Cleland in 1988, the group recorded four albums and soundtrack music for the motion pictures, Backdraft and Blink. Songwriters Mike Kirkpatrick (guitar) and David Callahan (bass, vocals) drew from Irish rhythms to craft songs that became increasingly psychedelic over a 12-year period until the band ceased performing in September 2002. Kirkpatrick, in particular, created uniquely Irish compositions, often including reels and jigs of his own invention. Callahan's songs, while obviously influenced by Celtic/American folk music, tended toward a less ethnic-sounding psychedelia.
Driven by the powerful fiddle playing of Cleland, his successor, Chris Bain and multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, Kathleen Keane, the group is remembered for its unpredictable, incendiary live performances as the "house band" at Chicago's Cabaret Metro during the early to mid 1990s. They exported this act and won ardent fan bases in Upstate New York and New York City, the rust belt, and Midwestern college towns from Oberlin, Ohio to Omaha, Nebraska. Even though they gained worldwide exposure through the release of 'Blink (1993), in which they appear onscreen as themselves, the band toured exclusively in North America.
The Drovers' 1991 first studio album, World of Monsters, featured Keane on flute, vocals and button accordion and Jackie Moran, in addition to Cleland, Callahan and Kirkpatrick. "Book of Songs" brought the Drovers their first commercial radio exposure. The songs, "Boys and the Babies" and "When Fortune Turns Her Wheel", would later be re-recorded on the Blink soundtrack.
The follow-up to Monsters was the 1993 EP Kill Mice Elf, noted for the epic, acid-drenched "She's as Pretty as Brian Jones Was". The disc includes contributions from vocalists Yvonne Bruner (Big Hat), Atalee Judy and Chantal Wentworth, and cellist Eric Remschneider.
In 1995, the Drovers were at the top of their game, sharing bills with some of the 1990s' most interesting bands, such as The Coctails, Yo La Tengo, Steve Earle, Ani DiFranco and Poi Dog Pondering. The continuous touring left them little time to record, so when they released the Steve Albini-produced Little High Sky Show, their increasingly psychedelic sound took many fans by surprise. The album includes Minneapolis musicians Robin Anders (Boiled in Lead) and Linda Pitmon (Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three, Baseball Project), plus Chicago percussionist Doug Brush.
The next five years were spent recording a full-length in their custom-built studio. The final album was never released but for a limited run they sold only at a few final shows.
The Drovers were one of the first independent rock bands to introduce a version of the street team marketing tool now widely adopted in the music industry. Their "campus rep" initiative was launched in 1991 for the college rock club circuit, copying practices used by the Mondale presidential campaign to activate registration and turnout at universities.
While never officially dissolving, the Drovers eventually stopped performing and Callahan formed the Stroby Alliance, a band with the Swedish artist, Anna Liljas, as well as former Drover Tim Larson (www.theowneroperators.com). He also sat in frequently as bassist/mandolinist with Chicago rock band, Big Buildings. In 2015 he released a new single under the name Half Sky (halfsky.bandcamp.com), and has been touring in Sweden since 2015.
Kirkpatrick is producing and teaching music.
Bradley co-founded Eventric, a provider of concert tour logistics support solutions.
Keane, Bain and Moran continue to tour and record as solo artists in the Irish traditional music world.
Cleland started the band bohola (www.bohola.com) with piano accordion player Jimmy Keane and released four albums on the Shanachie label. He is now the director of The Irish Music School of Chicago (www.irishmusicschool.com) and teaches and performs throughout North America and Ireland.
The Drovers are featured in the suspense film, Blink (1993), which stars Madeleine Stowe as a blind woman who plays fiddle for the group, and becomes entangled in a murder investigation where her blindness and subsequent surgery to correct it are at the forefront of the storyline. The film co-stars Aidan Quinn and Laurie Metcalf. The Drovers' music comprises the vast majority of the film's soundtrack.
In addition to the core six musicians: Cleland, Keane, Kirkpatrick, Callahan, Moran and Bain, the group also recorded and toured with Stone Damon, Ike Reilly, Emily Pitcher, Merritt Lear and Tim Larson.
On January 15, 2013, Kirkpatrick, Callahan, Moran, Keane and Bain announced that they would reassemble with Kathleen Keane returning to her role as lead singer and instrumentalist. In addition to the planned release of their back catalog and new music, a comeback performance is scheduled for 3/15/13 (St. Patrick's weekend) at Abbey Pub in Chicago.
- World of Monsters – 1991
- Kill Mice Elf – 1992
- Little High Sky Show – 1995
- Soundtrack from the motion picture Blink – 1994
- The Inner Flame – 1996
- Plus – 1997
- The Drovers – 2001
- Archives – 2013