- 29 Apr 21
Bruce Springsteen, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the Boston Red Sox, religious experiences, T%@*p and a punk rock pudding purloiner are all up for discussion as Ken Casey tells Stuart Clark why the Dropkick Murphys still mean the world to him.
He’s a Queens Park Rangers fan, sure, but otherwise Mick Jones from The Clash seemed like a decent skin on the few occasions we’ve met him. It now transpires that beneath his gentlemanly demeanour lurks a man willing to rob people of what’s most precious to them.
The extent of his foul deeds has finally been revealed by the Dropkick Murphys on their new Turn Up That Dial album.
“Our producer, Ted Hutt, who used to be in Flogging Molly, was telling us a story during pre-production,” explains Murphys founder Ken Casey. “He was in one of these multiple studio complexes with a common kitchen area. Ted put his pudding in the fridge, forgot to stick his name on it and came out to find Mick Jones tucking in. We asked, ‘What did you say to him?’ and he went, ‘I told him, oi, Jones, that’s my fucking pudding, put it down!’ which we knew was bullshit because Ted’s the nicest, most genteel Englishman you could ever meet. We said, ‘Really?’ and he went, ‘Nah, I told him ‘it’s an honour to meet you, that’s my pudding, I hope you enjoy it!’ The other guys went to lunch and when they came back I had ‘Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding’ waiting for them!”
No trifling matter, Jonesy should have been taken into custardy where no doubt he would have crumbled… okay, I’ll stop there. Did Ken ever get to meet the Westway warrior?
“No… actually, yes! We smoked a joint together before a Big Audio Dynamite show in Boston. The fact he would do that with some teenagers who were just hanging around means he must be a pretty good guy.”
‘Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding’ is but one of nine rabble-rousers on a record that with one notable exception is defiantly upbeat.
“Al Barr’s dad, who we all loved, died two years ago just as we were going out on a tour that he insisted on doing because he didn’t want to let people down,” Ken explains. “That’s the character of the guy right there. It was really hard to see him grieve. He wrote this beautiful song, ‘I Wish You Were Here’, which even though this is a ‘Hey, let’s go!’ record had to be on there.”
Last May saw the Dropkicks and their good pal Bruce Springsteen raise almost a million bucks for Feeding America, Boston Resiliency Fund and Greater Boston’s Habitat for Humanity with their socially distanced gig in the home of local baseball giants, the Red Sox.
“It’s just the Dropkick Murphys here, sneaking into Fenway for a little concert,” Casey joked from his position in the middle of the diamond.
“You can see from our faces that we were having the time of our lives,” he beams today. “I’m trying to concentrate on what I’m singing but really I’m thinking, ‘I want to slide into home plate now!’ People say, ‘Doesn’t it suck playing with no fans’ and I go, ‘I love the fans but I’ll trade the infield grass at Fenway Park for them any day!’
“My grandfather used to bring me to games there when I was five and a seat on the bleachers cost around a dollar. There were no assigned seats so there was just a bum’s rush to get as close to the pitch as possible. Whether you like baseball or not, places like Fenway, which is the oldest ballpark in America, have a history that’s undeniable.”
How did they manage to get The Boss to join them on the giant screen from his home studio?
“We’ve been lucky enough to be friendly with Bruce for the last twelve, fifteen years. He’s joined us on stage; we’ve joined him on stage; he’s sung on a few of our records and generally been a great friend to the band. I said to our manager, ‘We should ask Bruce to play Fenway with us’, and then forgot we’d had the conversation until a few days later when I got a call saying, ‘Hey Ken, Bruce here, what are we doing?’
“If I found out that Axl Rose was a jerk – I don’t know him by the way – it wouldn’t ruin my ability to listen to Guns N’ Roses because they’re a hard rock band with loads of attitude. If Bruce were a jerk, I’d have to burn his records because everything he’d told me had turned out to be a lie. Same if Joe Strummer had turned out to be a jerk. Luckily those two guys could not be more what they’re supposed to be on record and on stage. Y’know what, even a nice guy can become jaded by this business. You’ve been at it fifty years, just want to chill and some idiot like Ken Casey comes up and says how much he loves you!”
Who’s he done that to?
“Too many! Bruce, Joe, Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers, the Sex Pistols. We did the Pistols’ 25th anniversary show at Crystal Palace. It was a big deal for them, they were in the best of moods and hugging us all backstage. A couple of years later we were opening for them on their American tour, went in for our hugs and got a, ‘Whoa, that was a party, this is work, stay in your own lane!’ It was a totally different animal.”
Recent years have seen Boston Irish culture reduced down to Whitey Bulger, the Winter Hill Gang leader who’s inspired numerous films and TV shows including Brotherhood, a three season Showtime series which rivalled The Sopranos in this writer’s affections.
“The premise – one brother a high-profile politician, the other an infamous mobster – was so close to the bone they had to film Brotherhood in Providence, Rhode Island,” Ken reflects. “In that respect it’s extremely accurate, but it’s not like everybody here is robbing banks. A great Boston film that isn’t all Whitey Bulger and gangland killings is Good Will Hunting. It had elements of showing the rougher side of south Boston, but was more about the experience of a working-class kid who despite all the shit thrown at him manages to succeed.”
How would Ken describe the Boston Irish experience?
“You had the colonial vibe from the Mayflower landing here followed by a huge influx of Irish people who had a chip on their shoulder because they had to fight harder to get their place,” he proffers. “And when they did get it they weren’t letting go. Boston’s a big city but it’s also a small city with Irish families who had loads of kids and are related to everybody else. There’s six degrees of separation in New York and LA, but only three here.”
The pair of gloves on the bookshelf behind him are a reminder that when not fronting America’s foremost Celtic punks, Casey can be found promoting fights under the Murphys boxing banner. His charges include Danny Bhoy O’Connor who’s considered one of the world’s finest welterweights.
“I had my first virtual boxing card coming up on April 9th but the main event just got Covid,” he rues. “It’s a shame because we were planning on doing something as a tribute to Marvelous Marvin Haggler who’s just passed. Growing up here he was our guy. We also had Micky Ward who fought with such heart and spirit but he lost a bunch of times whereas Marvelous was the undisputed World Middleweight Champion for seven years. Anyone who deserved a crack at his belt got it – and until Sugar Ray Leonard came along then regretted it. Another great, great fighter was Steve Collins who was fighting out of Boston for a while. I’m lucky to have been around when both of them were at their peak.
“I’m 51 and don’t go to clubs anymore, so for me boxing is a big social thing. The ranking system for fighters nowadays is bullshit; a lot of them aren’t given the opportunities they deserve. I think I’m going to get smaller and concentrate on local guys rather than having to deal with the politics you get further up the chain.”
Dave Grohl went on a sake binge to celebrate Donald J. being slung out of the White House – how did Casey celebrate?
“I haven’t had a drink or drug for thirty years, next Wednesday actually, so it wasn’t with alcohol,” he confides. “I celebrated Trump losing by my blood pressure coming down!
“This could easily have been a ‘screw you, Donald Trump’ record but he’s sucked enough life out of me, he’s not getting any more! Even before the pandemic, the idea behind this album was ‘here’s to better times.’ I have best friends who grew up blue collar Boston Irish, which means Democrat, who’ve been swindled by this snake oil salesman’s lies. People have family members they’re not talking to because of this; it’s done terrible things to relationships in America. The guy craves attention so my attitude is let’s not speak his name. Be wary that this doesn’t happen again but at the same time don’t talk about him.”
Unless he’s hiding it well, Casey still seems as enamoured of Dropkick Murphys life as he was in 1996 when they rehearsed for the first time in the basement of a friend’s barbershop.
“It’s pretty amazing to have become so ingrained with the city of Boston and the sports situation here,” Ken concludes. “The parades when the Red Sox win a title and we’re on a float playing as we go through neighbourhoods we know and love and there’s tickertape coming down. In 2004 when they won their first World Series in eighty-sixty years in St. Louis, I was able to go out on the field and celebrate with the players. I called my then 86-year-old grandfather who’d waited his whole life for this moment and said, ‘Can you hear that? We did it!’ When they won it for the first time at home in 2013, we played on the field at the start of the game and my daughter who does Irish step dancing was on there too with her school. Those are religious experiences.”
• Dropkick Murphys’ Turn Up That Dial is out tomorrow, April 30.