“We’re nothing without our families,” says Barr. “They keep us in check, and they keep us going.”
“If anyone ever got a big head in this band,” Casey says . . .
Barr finishes his thought for him: “They’ve got the sharp needles ready to pop it.”
Those families have also offered crucial support, since day one, a decade-plus ago. “When I started the band, I’d just gotten married,” recalls Casey. “Imagine going to the father-in-law [and asking] ‘Can we move in with you? I just started a punk band.’ If you don’t get the crap kicked out of you right then, that’s a pretty supportive family.”
Perhaps Dad-in-Law realized what this particular Boston punk band might be capable of.
On the back cover of their first full-length, Do or Die (Hellcat, 1998), the Dropkicks stand in front of the American Legion Post #327 on Mission Hill. There were only four of them then. Original singer Mike McColgan (now fronting the Street Dogs) seems tightly coiled. Casey crouches atop a mailbox. Kelly hangs back, arms clasped behind him. Then-guitarist Rick Barton is wearing sunglasses. It’s nighttime. They look mean.
And the music on that first album, bruising and brutal, suggests that one might not be wrong to be intimidated by them. McColgan’s Savin Hill accent is swamp thick. Barton’s single guitar sounds like 10. The songs are about steel-tough labor unions. About bottles of beer and buckets of blood. About skinheads and torn-up knuckles. About Ireland. And, yes, about families and friends.
It’s been a long 11 years since the Dropkicks first convened in the basement of a friend’s Quincy barbershop with the bright idea of taking the punk/Irish marriage consummated a decade before by the Pogues and supercharging it with the steel-toed kick of British Oi! and the guitar heroics of ’70s hard rock.
McColgan and Barton split from the group after the first and second records, respectively. Barr came on board in 1999. Orrell and Lynch joined up in 2000, broadening the band’s sound. Bagpiper Spicy McHaggis and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Foltz came and went. Wallace and Brennan joined in 2003.
Over the band’s six studio albums, their playing has gotten tighter, the production crisper. There have been flirtations with more radio-friendly pop (e.g., the rollicking single “Sunshine Highway,” from 2005’s The Warrior’s Code), but by and large, the Murphys’ songs have hewed to the same formula: loud guitars, snare-tight drums, visceral melodies, and shout-along choruses, all imbued with the melancholy caste of Irish folk.
The only real change has been that each successive album is subtly but appreciably better.
And what started as a simple street-punk band playing venues like the Middle East and the Rat has slowly and steadily grown into a local legend, a globe-spanning goliath. They played 100 or so shows this past year, and have stomped stages in Europe, Japan, and Australia.
Their catalog has moved about 1.5 million units. Not shabby. And it’s a number that’s increased in recent months, spurred by the success of the titanic sea chantey “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” (long-lost lyrics penned by Woody Guthrie), which was featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2006 film, The Departed. That song has sold more than 250,000 copies digitally.