The Dropkick Murphys know how to amp up an MMA crowd.
Al Barr was surprised. The vocalist, as well as the rest of the members of Celtic-tinged punk rock collective Dropkick Murphys, has steadily watched mixed martial arts since the 1990s and always kept a close eye on former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and The Ultimate Fighter 1 winner Forrest Griffin. When the singer saw Griffin enter the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, for his co-main event bout with Hector Ramirez at UFC 72 in June 2007, he was proud to hear one of his favorite fighters walk out to the band’s anthem “I’m Shipping Up To Boston.”
“I was always a fan of Forrest, but when he came busting out to our song,” Barr says, “that was a surreal moment. It was one of those things where you’re watching the fights, and then all of a sudden, your phone is lighting up because everyone’s calling you about it.”
The Massachusetts-based group is a fan of Griffin, and the fighter shares the same affection for the band. In fact, during the taping of The Ultimate Fighter 7 in 2008, the light heavyweight left the set one night to attend a Dropkick Murphys concert and meet the group backstage for the first time. “He was really humble,” Barr says. “He’s a great guy. A real stand-up guy, for sure.”
Aside from Griffin, some of Barr’s other favorite fighters include Georges St-Pierre, Rashad Evans, and Boston native Kenny Florian. Speaking of Florian, the proud musician was slated to see the lightweight and others at UFC 118 last year in August when the UFC made its Beantown debut. But sadly, Barr had to change his plans at the last minute. “I had a ticket to go to UFC 118, but a family obligation came up,” he says. “However, our lead guitar player Tim Brennan and bass player Ken Casey, they both were at the event, and they said it was very exciting, for sure. I have not seen a live fight yet. It’s funny. Everyone is like, ‘You gotta see one live.’ I mean, honestly, I’d love to, but we’re always on the road. I’m just grateful seeing it, whether it’s live or recast.”
Life on the road is just the nature of the beast. Formed in 1996, Dropkick Murphys (in addition to Barr, Brennan, and Casey, the group is also comprised of guitarist James Lynch, keyboardist Jeff DaRosa, bagpiper Josh Wallace, and drummer Matt Kelly) developed a massive underground following due to their high-energy performances and Celtic-infused rock hybrid.
By blending traditional Irish music into edgy punk resonance, the troupe has created a signature brew that has brought them overwhelming success. That is evident with their seventh studio album Going Out In Style, which debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart and became Dropkick Murphys’ highest first-week showing in the band’s history.
Going Out In Style thematically follows the life of fictitious Irish immigrant Cornelius Larkin as he fights in the Korean War, migrates to Boston, works as a laborer, and falls in love with a sweetheart whom he grows old with. Featured on the record are Fat Mike of NOFX, Chris Cheney of The Living End, and “The Boss” himself, Bruce Springsteen. The physical disc also contains Larkin’s obituary, which was written by author Michael Patrick MacDonald.
Simply put, Dropkick Murphys are innovators, and the seven-piece did it again when they launched a one-of-a-kind concert series entitled the Shamrock ‘N Roll Festival in September. The traveling tour had a 10-date run in the East, was comprised of two stages (main and acoustic), and focused on likeminded artists who put a new perspective on traditional Irish music. In addition to the tunes, the band’s good friend Micky Ward (professional boxer and inspiration for the Oscar nominated film The Fighter) did a meet-and-greet session with fans.
Also, unlike many of the other popular music festivals like Warped Tour, Mayhem Fest, and Country Throwdown, the band believes the Shamrock ‘N Roll Festival is something that touches many different demographics.
“The idea behind the festival was to have something that’s like family in a sense. You’ve got two stages, so you’re gonna have your more rock ‘n roll stuff and your more folk stuff, and we’re hoping it appeals to the old and young,” Barr says. “We’re hoping by providing a safe, clean environment, it kinda becomes a family event and something all ages can enjoy.”
In order for Dropkick Murphys to perform one of their trademark high-energy shows, however, they need to stay fit. For Barr, that includes building up his cardio, working out, and doing yoga.
“When I was younger I did karate. I made it within the brown belt level, so I did it for about four years,” he says. “Martial arts is something I’m definitely glad my folks introduced me to as a kid. It definitely gave me self-confidence, and it was something that helped me out of a lot of jams that I think kids go through every day.”
Nowadays, Barr isn’t worried about being a karate sensei, yoga master, or a mixed martial artist. He’ll continue dropkicking the music business with Celtic-tinged punk music and leave the ultimate fighting to friends like Forrest Griffin.
The Dropkick Murphys released their seventh album Going Out In Style in March. While the entire 13-track collection is a powerful masterpiece, here are four songs that will have you jamming out.
“Going Out In Style”
The album’s energetic title track showcases vocalists Al Barr and Ken Casey trading lines over smashing punk rhythms and a lively bagpipe melody.
One of the more mainstream assessable compositions, this empowering pop-punk ditty encourages people to fight for their dreams and to never give up.
“Take ‘Em Down”
This labor union anthem is an invigorating folk-based sing-a-long where Barr and Casey harmonize in unison against unfair working conditions.
“Peg O’ My Heart”
The Dropkick Murphys give this romantic classic an exhilarating punk rock makeover. Bruce Springsteen even provides his stamp of approval by lending his trademark vocals.