Swagger down to Mulligans’ Pub
June 27, 2007
The kilt-clad members of the new Irish rock band Swagger rarely stand still when they perform. They have fiddles and mandolins and guitars made to travel, attached wirelessly to speakers on stage. They regularly cross that sacred line where the stage abuts the dance floor, weaving between a dancing audience, hopping and jigging alongside them.
On a Friday night two weeks ago, Dennis Harrington, fiddle nestled between chest and chin led a charge outside to J.B. Mulligans’ deck, where several patrons were enjoying mid-June’s evening breeze.
"It’s really different than anything you might hear on the radio," explains lead vocalist and mandolin player "Texas" Rick Butler. "It makes you jump up and down and it can make you go crazy."
It’s post-punk and it’s Celtic folk transcribed into fast-paced rock, and it’s the kind of pub music that tends to get people to clap or jig. And finally: "It’s the kind of stuff that kids listen to when they want to get away from their parents’ music," Butler says. "The college crowd really gets into it."
The songs they sing have names like "Black and Tans," "Trouble on the Green" and "Tell Me Ma," and when Swagger band members sing, they take on rough, Irish matter-of-fact accents, and listeners often find themselves singing along with the refrains.
Butler assembled the band in April after he left the U.S. Mecca for Irish punk rock music in Southern California, where bands like Flogging Molly, the Young Dubliners made their mark. Butler was playing for a band called the Limericks there.
Recommended Stories For You
He’s visited Ireland and Scotland and fell in love with the traditional culture and folk ballads, though he sticks to the upbeat renditions for the stage.
He likes to say he has spent "the last 13 years playing bouncy pub songs for pint-yielding patrons."
It took a while for Butler to select his Utah band mates after he and his wife, Melanie, moved to Salt Lake in 2006. He realized fairly quickly that while there may be plenty of opportunities to fly fish (one of his passions), there isn’t much of a scene for Celtic Rock in the state yet.
Most of Swagger’s members hail from Salt Lake, though Harrington works at four Park City middle schools as an orchestra teacher. Harrington, along with Butler, are the only two who have a background in the Irish folk music, playing with Celtic and bluegrass bands since 1998.
Mark Mottonen plays drums for the band and has rock roots, but says it’s jazz music that "drives his musical heart," though he does find the high-energy of Celtic Rock "speaks to his primitive upbringing."
Bassist Stephan Wallace has played at the 2002 Olympics, the Utah State Fair and the Whisky A-Go-Go in Hollywood, Calif., as part of hard rock bands.
Sam Cottrell, Swagger’s lead guitarist, calls himself a lifelong "musical sojourner," and a student of jazz, classical, rock, funk and progressive rock music. With Harrington, he joined American Idol star Carmen Rasmussen, to help her record a country-rock album.
Though playing the Irish music is somewhat new to him, Cottrell can recall his brother listening to the Irish-English Celtic punk bands the Pogues and the Water Boys in the 1980s.
He’s also comfortable around kilts.
"I work for Verizon Wireless and there’s this guy at work who wears a kilt," he says.
It may be the fashion in some circles, but for now the members of the band Swagger save their Irish skirts for the stage.
Catch Swagger live this Saturday, June 30, at 9 p.m. at the private club J.B. Mulligans at 804 Main St. and again every other weekend this summer.
The band is also slated to perform before Mary Beth Maziars on August 22 at the Wednesday night local concert series at Deer Valley.
For more information, visit http://www.swaggertheband.com.