It’s the remarkable longevity of this band that stands out for these five guys. That, and the infectious excitement generated by frontman Luke Jardel (acoustic guitar), who makes it seem oh so natural as he draws the audience in to arguably the best Irish/Folk/Rock & Roll fusion show Philadelphia has to offer.
Drummer Ed “O’Kay” Kamarauskas played in the 80’s with Robert Hazard’s band The Vels (Hazard wrote “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” for Cyndi Lauper). “We toured with The Psychedelic Furs,” says Kamarauskas. “We had a guy named Bob Bell (a.k.a. Robert Emmett), and he had an Irish band in the early 90’s called Blood Red Roses. Bob taught me the jigs and reels played by bands like Old Blind Dogs.”
Jardel relates, “I knew Ed Kamarauskas and Bob Bell from other bands, and I met them and bassist Pete McCoubrey in August ’94 in the session tent at the Cannstatter’s Irish Fest. I sang some songs, and they asked me if I was in a band. I had played mandolin in a rock & roll cover band, but after my honeymoon in Ireland, I got back into that heritage. I had learned some songs from Bob earlier that summer. He had a ‘Book of Hooly’ full of old Scottish tunes and cool Pogues music. He played 4-string fiddle and knew all the songs I heard growing up. He took me to school.” Kamarauskas adds, “[We] found Luke… and Bob pieced The Hooligans together.”
“Our first gig was New Year’s Eve 1994 at Walsh’s Tavern,” says Jardel. “We had added Mark Malone (fiddle, whistle, electronic pipes) earlier in ’94. I also played with Joe Kirschen (electric guitar, mandolin) in a band called About Face. There was always somebody new coming in. We played for AOH Division 88-Danny Boyle in the ’95 Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and then my mom passed away on May 1st. I was glad she got to see me on TV being a showman! She finally got all the noise I made in my bedroom. She’d say, ‘Shut that goddam banjo up!’ She didn’t know what I played; if it had strings, she called it a banjo.”
“The band has changed over time,” says Kirschen. “We started as a rock & roll band, and we had a pretty cool take on that. But the [music] scene has changed a lot, too. We had to ‘go with the flow.’ It’s an amazing thing that any band can stay together so long! We all have real jobs, families, lives. Personalities clash; it’s not rosy 100 percent of the time. We enjoy it, and the people who’ve known and follow us see that we’re in sync on stage.” McCoubrey says, “We’re all ‘hobbyists.’ I’m a carpenter and a general contractor with a wife, an 11-year-old and twin 7-year-olds, all boys. It’s hard to get together to learn new material.”
“Everybody else is so much better than me!” says Malone, the father of four girls, and thrice a grandfather. “Ed’s the best drummer I’ve ever worked with, Luke’s the best front-man, Pete’s the best bass player… and Joe’s amazing on guitar! Luke was born to be a frontman; he has that spark, that connection to the audience. I’m a side guy: I do my solo and shut up. I’m surprised they let me stay,” adding, “These are smart guys, and very talented. I would have fired me.”
Malone had played guitar in the traditional Irish band Jack In the Green, when in his 30’s, he picked up a fiddle. “I was interested in my Irish roots, the stories and the music; I had always listened to Irish ‘trad.’ I dug how the fiddle sounded so a pal sold me an old beat up fiddle, bow and case. I was terrible at it. I mean, I can read music and I studied music theory, but this was completely alien to me. I was playing with a medieval group when I met Bob Bell, and he asked me if I played guitar. I had been in Ireland where I bought a [penny] whistle and taught myself to play. I played better fiddle than guitar, so I jumped in with The Hooligans playing fiddle and whistle.”
“The key element is camaraderie, the spirit of the music plus our friendship and our working relationship,” Kamarauskas says. “I love Irish music, how it can go in so many different directions and appeal to such a diverse audience. But I wasn’t knowledgeable about it at first. This is a whole new world musically… We play music—for fun—then get paid, and get away with it! We can party like the audience… I mean, it comes down to Tully and a Guinness! We’re like a bunch of guys on a fishing trip, just a bunch of hooligans going out to play music!” Kamarauskas is studying guitar and working in his in-home studio on various “instrumental projects” fleshing out his musical ideas. He also plays in a jazz and fusion rock band called Crosstown Traffic.
Old Blind Dogs, Planxty, Solus, and Pogues figure prominently among The Hooligans’ influences. “Irish music is so great,” says Jardel. “It’s like the ‘Stones’ [playing a hit in concert]: you can’t do a gig without ‘Whiskey In the Jar’! The audience listens. The people are the sweethearts!” Malone sums it up, “[We took] five guys and [made] something bigger. A band is like a marriage: you compromise, say ‘I can or can’t do that, so let’s work on it.’ Why do this? It’s fun! People say, ‘You guys are so talented.’ There’s no talent to it. Musicians in a philharmonic are talented, I’m persistent. You have to ask, ‘How willing am I to put aside something else for this?’ How much are you willing to learn? It’s about focus and commitment. You have to balance work, home, and the things you have to do versus the things you want to do.” The Hooligans can be found at http://www.hooligansusa.com.