“It’s like in Pearl Jam and The Chieftains got together with a cup of U2,” says Young Dubliners front man Keith Roberts of his Los Angeles-based Irish rock band.
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“We enjoy blending sounds together. Irish tourists would probably be horrified at our instrumental arrangements, but we are doing it for pure musical joy and for what’s pleasant and exciting to the ear. And we like to make our tunes as epic as possible.”
Roberts was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and moved to America as a young man to become a journalist. On arriving in L.A., he became part owner of the Fair City Pub in Santa Monica where the starters of the band played weekly gigs.
“So much of the musical beginnings of a lot of these different genres in America can be traced back to Ireland and the immigrants coming over. It’s tribal music and there’s something infectious about the melodies.” – Keith Roberts
“We thought we were going to just be playing Irish music in pubs, but we realized that L.A. world was unfamiliar with that,” Roberts recalls. “When we finally got the bar, the Saturday nights were off the hook. We got this following of young people. We almost became this weird indie phenomenon and started selling out the venues real fast.”
The first time the band members realized how well they were doing was when they bused their fans down to play at sold-out Club Lingerie in Hollywood.
“Suddenly we got an EP, suddenly we got airplay, suddenly we had to tour,” says Roberts. “One of our bar backs became our crew and we just went. We came to find out our original record label was a bit notorious and there may have been some Mafia connections.”
After 30 years as a band, The Young Dubliners are still hitting the road hard with tour dates scheduled this year from Alaska to Ireland and back again.
“Many of my songs have been inspired by the road, but unbeknownst to the band, I’ve lately been trying to marry touring with fishing,” says Roberts. “Next week in Alaska I’ll spend two days off fishing for salmon. Last year I told the audience up there that I loved fishing. Next thing you know they are throwing frozen, freeze-wrapped fillets on stage. We’ve come a long way from women throwing underwear.”
Roberts grew up fishing the Irish Sea and listening to Scottish rock acts like Big Country and The Waterboys.
“I was always into playing rock growing up, but really started to appreciate Irish music when I was homesick in America,” he says. “Possibly my single biggest influence was the first Big Country album. Electric guitars playing Celtic riffs — it blew my mind.”
The Young Dubliners are legendary for the high-energy improvisation and jamming of their concerts.
“We’ve certainly been a very tight, cohesive unit for many years now,” he says. “We take great pride in our live show and push ourselves in the studio to make the best records we can. We are our own worst critics and take nothing for granted. Nobody will ever shoot us for standing still.”
As the group approaches its fourth decade, Roberts believes that the enduring popularity of Celtic music in America will only continue to grow.
“I think you hear an awful lot of our music in country, bluegrass, rock, dance, pop and everything,” he says. “So much of the musical beginnings of a lot of these different genres in America can be traced back to Ireland and the immigrants coming over. It’s tribal music and there’s something infectious about the melodies. Last night we played to a big crowd in Missoula, Montana. To hear them all singing along and dancing all night is what motivates us. There’s nothing like it and we would certainly miss it if it all stopped tomorrow.”