To most, North Wildwood is known for being a shore town, complete with beaches, boardwalks, surf and sand. This weekend, however, we celebrate North Wildwood’s other identity — as host of the largest Irish Festival on the East Coast. With that designation comes performances by a lineup of stellar Irish bands, including Birmingham Six.
“This is the first time we are closing the street stage,” says Paul Wiese, lead vocalist of Birmingham Six, of their Friday night performance. “It should be a very fun and hydrated crowd at that time.”
Expect a fun show. Weis, who comes from a punk background, switched over to Irish music over a decade ago.
The Wildwoods’ annual Irish Fall Festival is by no means a small affair. The “largest Irish …
“There’s not much difference in terms of structure of songs and even the stories — not to simplify either genre,” Weis says of punk and Irish music. “There are tons of stories in Irish music. Stories of famine, war, division — and the stories are compelling. It’s similar to punk rock in that it can be political and angst driven. It wasn’t that much of a jump in that regard.”
Birmingham Six is named for the original Birmingham Six — six Irish men who were wrongly convicted and imprisoned in 1975 in England for the Birmingham pub bombings. The men spent 16 years in prison before their convictions were overturned in 1991.
“I was a big fan of the Pogue’s song ‘Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six,’ so I researched them,” Wiese says. “When I heard the story of people beaten into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit, the injustice spoke to me. This was another way to keep on their story, and really, the story of a lot of Irish.”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by at least one of the families of the original Birmingham Six.
“A few years ago, I got a message on Facebook asking about the name,” Wiese says. It was from the daughter of Richard McIlkenny, one of the original Birmingham Six.
After that came a message from Derm Farrell, grandson of McIlkenny.
“He called and said ‘This is great that you’re honoring our grandfather,’” Wiese says. “He came out and a spent a few weeks with my family.”
While the band continues to honor the past, they do it in the most fun way possible.
“Crowds can expect to hear some traditional stuff in a way they haven’t heard it before,” Wiese says. “Almost a rock (sound) — not quite punk — faster than traditional Irish music.”
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The band will play a mix of things — traditional Irish tunes as well as originals —including “If I Ever Leave This World Alive” by Flogging Molly, “Wild Rover” by the Pogues and “Whiskey in the Jar,” a traditional Irish folk song.
“We’ll also fill our sets with our own songs,” Weiss says.
With three albums under their belts, there should be no shortage of material.