Irish Rovers. Irish-Canadian pop group formed in Calgary in 1964 by the brothers Will Millar (singer, banjoist, guitarist) and George Millar (guitarist), a cousin, Joe Millar (accordionist), and Jimmy Ferguson (singer). Joe Millar was replaced in 1967 by Wilcil McDowell but returned in 1969, now playing bass guitar. All members were born in Northern Ireland between 1938 and 1947.
Under Will Millar's leadership the Irish Rovers began their career at the Depression in Calgary and appeared at other coffeehouses throughout North America (notably the Purple Onion in San Francisco and the Ice House in Los Angeles, recording its first LP, The First of the Irish Rovers, Decca DL-74835, at the latter venue). They moved into concert halls and nightclubs on the success in 1968 of their recording of Shel Silverstein's children's song 'The Unicorn'. 'The Unicorn' eventually sold some 8 million copies world-wide and was followed by a lesser hit, 'Whiskey on a Sunday'. The group subsequently toured Australia in 1969 (and again in 1974) and appeared at the Canadian pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan.
The group starred 1971-5 on CBC Vancouver TV's 'The Irish Rovers,' one of the most popular variety shows of its day, and thereafter appeared in many CBC specials. Though it did not have as consistently high a profile in later years, it performed for audiences in many parts of the world and in 1979 received the PRO Canada's Wm Harold Moon Award for international achievement. It had its second substantial hit, 'Wasn't That a Party?,' in 1980 and was seen in the CBC TV mini-series, 'The Rovers' Comedy House,' in 1981. The group was known as just 'the Rovers' in this period.
Over the years the Irish Rovers have balanced their repertoire of traditional and novelty material with contemporary songs by Will Millar, Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, and others. In 1966 Peter Goddard suggested that they 'whistle, hoot and sing their way through songs with the subtlety of a shillelagh' (Globe and Mail, 16 December) but in 1978 noted that they 'are only Irish in passing these days and we're to think of them, now, as singers of international songs' (Toronto Star, 20 January). The album Hardstuff (Attic ACD-1253), issued in 1989, continued to reflect this duality, with titles by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, Randy Bachman, and Tom Northcott, on one hand, and several tunes featuring Ireland's Chieftains as guest performers, on the other.
The group's discography also includes LPs 1968-71 for Decca (The Unicorn DL-74951; All Hung Up DL-75037; Tales to Warm Your Mind DL-75081; The Life of a Rover DL-75157; On the Shores of Americay DL-75302) and 1972-82 for its own Potato label, released by Attic (eg, The Irish Rovers - Live LAT-1028; Emigrate! Emigrate! LAT-1029; Irish Rovers in Australia LAT-1038; Tall Ships and Salty Dogs LAT-1086; The Rovers LAT-1095; No More Bread and Butter LAT-1118; It Was a Night Like This LAT-1149, Party Rovers LAT-1205). Compilations have been issued by Decca, MCA (Irish Rovers Greatest Hits, MCA2-4066), K-Tel, and Attic (Silver Anniversary, ACD-1303).