IRISH SONGS – IN HONOUR OF ST. PATRICK’S DAY
8. WASN’T THAT A PARTY – 1980, written by Tom Paxton
In the 1980’s The Irish Rovers briefly renamed themselves The Rovers and had enormous success with this single. The subject matter is neither Irish nor nostalgic, but it had large cross-over success in the Country Rock genre.
The Irish Rovers had formed in 1963 and named themselves after the traditional Irish
folk song, The Irish Rover. The signature sound of the band is the accordion, pipes and guitar. All but one of the band members were from Ireland, the last hailing from Scotland. Before the family emigrated to Canada, founding band members had performed in Ireland as “The Millar Kids”.
Meeting other musicians of Irish descent and immigration in Toronto, the band quickly formed in the early 60’s and were received well playing in various folk song festivals, clubs and hootenanys. At one point they became regulars at Calgary’s Depression Coffee House, a well-known folk club that had contributed to the start of Joni Mitchel’s career.
In 1966 they headed for California and recorded their first album. While recording their second album in 1968, Canadian folk singer/songwriter Glen Campbell suggested Shel Silverstien’s 1962 folk song The Unicorn Song. Glen Campbell actually played guitar on their original recording. Also in 1968, the Irish Rovers were named Band of the Year at the JUNO Awards.
By the 1980’s after performing literally for decades hosting their own television shows, the band’s sound had evolved away from traditional Irish and well into the Country Rock genre, which accounts for the large success of Wasn’t That a Party. It was written by Tom Paxton, who was already an award-winning fixture of this genre. In 1968 Paxton had licensed his song, My Dog’s Bigger Than Your Dog to the makers of Ken-L Rations Dog Food for use in a television commercial.
During his career Paxton travelled in circles with the likes of Woody Guthrie, John Denver and Pete Seeger. John Denver recorded one of Paxton’s songs, Whose Garden Was This in 1970. Paxton was highly regarded as an important writer of songs with both environmental and social topics, highlighting such issues as the plight of anti-aparthied activists; the effects of energy production and consumption on the environment; and the as-yet-not-socially-acceptable topic of mental health – depression in particular, after a friend took his own life. However, it’s been suggested that Wasn’t That a Party is a light-hearted reference to “conditions that arise” after stage performances. *Can be found on “At the Pub: A Celtic Celebration”.