It’s the middle of a St. Paddy’s night gig at Quinns Almost By The Sea, and singer-songwriter Irminsul is bouncing like Sid Vicious at his electric harp, guesting with well known Celtic band Creacialtie. The place is full of sweaty, dancing and writhing islanders doing what you don’t usually see – kicking it to Irish rebel music. After the gig and the final night’s whiskey, Irminsul talks with fiery violinist and Big Island music icon Joanie Collins, who was also sitting in with the band.
A year later, Irminsul had the conversation still in mind and he gave Collins a call. They decided to try the unthinkable. Putting their talents together and pulling adventurous musos in with them, they established The Kona Rogues. Because, well, they were rogues in almost every sense of the word. Breaking all norms and traditions, and doing everything they were told not to do.
On the wave of their new debut release, Batten Down The Hatches, lead singer and harpist Irminsul was philosophical about it. “There are so many meanings to that old phrase,” he said while looking out over Kailua Bay and slowly rotating a beer glass on the table. “It’s almost a sick f****** joke on an island that gets hit by hurricanes.” We laughed. “But at the moment, it’s an advisement to put your preconditioning about listening to live music on the Big Island on hold, your fears and trepidations, expectations, and nail that suckers shut.”
“Be open to what comes next, because this ain’t your granddaddy’s Celtic music.”
And it isn’t. The Kona Rogues pour this music out like lava shooting out of a tube. Lives of learning and playing Irish/Scots/Manx/Welsh music and their songs of rebellion and overthrow, now squeezed through the modern sensibility of electric high octane rock bordering on punk. Singing out unabashedly for social justice, for the dispossessed, for the country-less. Again, all the stuff you’re not supposed to do here.
Irminsul spent years of his life playing in Celtic bands, playing solo, and writing music. Collins has a similar training in Celtic music and plays for a wide array of ensembles including the Kamuela Philharmonic. Seishi Saegusa is an island icon himself, playing a hundred different styles and just killing it. Todd Oldham has played with some of the greats in the music world, on almost every island.
Their rise has not been without controversy, which almost never shadows Big Island bands. “We got a fair amount of flack from traditionalists who just think it’s not possible to perform original, modern Celtic rock on this island” mused Irminsul. “But thanks to some groundbreakers like Creacailtie and The Kilt Lifters, that was completely wrong.”
Preceding the album release, The Kona Rogues have been streaming on Bandcamp and Soundcloud and will be in rotation on 15 college stations after reopening from the current health situation. They are also in the planning stage for a short tour in California and Japan.
– Patti Jorgensen, for Big Island Music Magazine