THE LIFE OF THE ROVER © Hamish Burgess 2013.
Signed and numbered Limited Edition Giclée print of 300 on water-colour paper, 24 x 24 inches, plus a white unprinted border.
Original Celtic art by Hamish Burgess, a print from the original painting, which used stained watercolour paper, with acrylic paint colours, and acrylic black ink outline. A piece commissioned by George Millar, founder of the legendary Irish Rovers, for the cover of the triple CD anthology “The Irish Rovers – 50 Years“, available now at The Irish Rovers online store.
Hamish created the art after the style of the ‘Book of Kells’ (c.800AD), combined with a modern twist (Celtic art pun intended) to tell the band’s story, from the lads’ origins in Ireland, through forming the band in Canada, and up to the present day. Within the piece are 26 historical references to the group, and 11 songs they recorded, that were significant in their career.
Starting at top left, the heads on the letter ’T’ represent George Millar meeting Jimmy Ferguson in Toronto in 1963, where the Irish lads first got together and played music. Jimmy sadly passed away in 1997, but is shown here in a star in the shape of a cross, looking down on the story and smiling.
The series of grey spirals represents the Millars’ hometown Ballymena. Known as ’The Seven Towers of Ballymena’, with four churches, the Castle of the Adair family with their arms of three red hands, the Town Hall and the Braidwater Spinning Mill, where George & Will’s father Bob Millar worked. The spiral connects to Bob’s accordion, as he was a big musical influence on the young Millar boys. The accordion has become a signature sound of the band, played since the early days by Wilcil McDowell, and at one time by retired original member cousin Joe Millar, who became a singer and bass player in the band. Will Millar completed the famous original line-up as frontman for 30 years, and is now a successful painter with scenes of Old Ireland.
The capital letter ’I’ ends with a pony’s head. George Millar was promised a pony when he left Ireland, but never got it, so here it is.
The blue trisceles signify heading across the waves to Canada, as all the members of the band did.
The spiral coming off the figure five shows the logo that was on the door of the band’s original station wagon.
The capital letter ’R’ ends with George’s dog, Ruby, an Irish Red Setter. Above her head the brown stacked knots represent Phil’s Pancake House in Calgary, one of the band’s first musical breaks. That connects to another big break, The Purple Onion folk club in San Francisco.
The blue and white knotwork represents The Ice House club in Pasadena, melting into the colours of the 1960’s Decca Record label. The label discovered the band and recorded their first album there.
Moving on, the band had three successful television shows. The traditional grey and red Celtic piece is a movie camera, the spirals being the film reels and the lens, and the key pattern is the camera body. The lens connects to a representation of three 1970’s and 80’s TV station logos in Canada and Ireland, CBC, Global and Ulster Television.
The grey Celtic spiral represents The Virginian television series, on which the boys guested for three episodes as singing bankrobbers. Viewed sideways it becomes a Colt 45 revolver.
Five years into their career, The Irish Rovers had a hit single with ’The Unicorn’. Starting in the top bar of the numeral ‘5’, ’There were green alligators, and long-necked geese…’ and moving to the numeral ‘0’, clockwise from the bottom ’…humpty back camels and chimpanzees, cats, rats and elephants…’ and back to the head of the ‘5’ ’…but as sure as you’re born, the loveliest of all was the unicorn’. The unicorn’s spiraling horn is entwined by a traditional Celtic tree of life, with some berries that the unicorn’s tongue is after.
The B side of the Unicorn single was ’The Black Velvet Band’. Sitting between the numerals is a young colleen, ’Her hair hung over her shoulder, tied up with a Black Velvet Band’.
To the left of the ‘5’ the upright amber piece with a Celtic cross, represents an early band song ’Whiskey on a Sunday’.
Another signature song, ’The Orange and the Green’, is shown in the numerals ’50’. Between them is ’Puff the Magic Dragon’, holding a pink crystal ball with the reflection reading Lily, ’Lily the Pink’.
Inside the numeral ‘0’ are brothers George and Will Millar, playing their instruments and sitting on a toadstool. In ’The Irish Rovers’ TV series on CBC there was a Leprechaun skit, with the lads sitting on a toadstool of these colours. These heads are actually straight out of the Book of Kells and just happened to look like certain people.
Between the numerals are symbols representing World Expos that the band played at in Japan, Australia and Canada.
Below are pub signs. The lads owned several pubs across Canada, The Unicorn Pubs and The Rose and Crown Pubs.
Bottom left is the band’s Christmas hit, ’Grandma got run over by a Reindeer’.
Next to that in the coil of rope is Maddie, George’s old red setter and namesake of his publishing company Red Maddie, and the Rover Records label logo. She is wearing a grapefruit on her head, as in the hit song Tom Paxton wrote for the band, after a memorable night in their company, ’Wasn’t That A Party’. Nearby is the cat that was ‘talking back’ in the same song.
Centre is ’The Drunken Sailor’ the band’s traditional show closing song, a recent internet hit with 19 million hits on YouTube, and title of a recent album.
The band returned to the TV screen in recent years with two specials on PBS Television, represented by the small black and white spirals.
Bottom right is a great song by George Millar, the recent ’Whores and Hounds’, a current stage favourite.
The story comes to the present day with a new piece of music George just wrote, the first two bars of ‘Rovers Farewell’.
All prints signed and numbered by the artist in pencil at the bottom.
The print you receive will not have the artist’s name across it, as in the photo. That is for internet viewing only.
Aloha and mahalo for looking.