An Interview with Irish Arts & Entertainment:
IA&E: Tell us a little about your upbringing in Ireland?
McGowan: I was born and grew up in the countryside in County Cavan. My family was the "Irish Partridge family". Mandolins and accordions were common Christmas presents. I have one brother and six sisters none of which escaped the dreaded, "here, learn how to play this" when a musician in our Dad's band either quit or died. As a result I learned to play Button Accordion, Mandolin, Bouzouki, Pennywhistle and Bodhran by the time I was 10 years old. I guess a lot of people died:)IA&E: When did you arrive in America?McGowan: I moved to Los Angeles in the spring of 1987. Luckily I had lived in Drogheda and Dublin before leaving Ireland. If I had moved here straight from Cavan, I may not have survived. It was a culture shock but it could have been worse.
IA&E: Why did you name your band Finn MacCool?
McGowan: Finn MacCool was believed to possess many positive virtues. Along with being brave, he was said to be tolerant, kind, and fair. It was also said that he treated women as his equal. And of course there's the infamous salmon of knowledge story where Finn, as a young boy, ate from a salmon that was believed to posses the knowledge of the world. This gave Finn an all knowing power which I'm sure came in handy when it came time to make those life or death decisions. And I'm sure it helped keep him one step ahead of his enemies.What was the question again? Oh yes, why did I name my band after Finn MacCool? I love what he stood for.
IA&E: What music are you influenced by?
McGowan: I connect with and love what is at the heart of Irish music. Raw emotion, great storytelling and haunting melodies. One can sense the sheer love of music these musicians and song writers had. It comes through when listening to great Irish music. I once heard, music is what feelings sound like. I agree, you can hear what these people were feeling through the music. It is like, the melodies carry some of the DNA of the people who created them as well as those who lived at that time. One can hear mother Ireland in the music of her children.
IA&E: What person artist/band or album has had the greatest influence on you as a musician/songwriter?
I first must give credit to my parents who obviously influenced my early years as a musician. That foundation is what all of my later musical experiences were built upon. My father worked hard and was a great musician. He expected the same from us. Irish traditional music is very difficult to play well so we had to practice a lot.I believe the late 60's and 70's produced some of the greatest musicians and music. There was real depth and pride in the craft of songwriting. Lyrically, there were very few throw away lines and the melodies were very well crafted. If I had to name one album that I believe summarizes greatness when it comes to music and storytelling I would have to say the soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar, As a musician and songwriter that album is like a text book on how to weave melodies and lyrics. It is a masterpiece and the musicianship blows my mind every time I listen.
IA&E: You have said publicly that you do not perform in Irish bars on St. Patrick's day. Why is that?
McGowan: I don't really perform what is known as "Drinking Songs" with my band Finn MacCool. It's not that I don't appreciate the great melodies and lyrics often found in these songs and more because in too many cases these songs are attributed to getting drunk furthering the "Drunken Irish" stereotype. There is an “alcohol epidemic” in Ireland. At least 100 people are dying there every month from alcohol poisoning. When we glorify alcohol on St. Patrick's day we are sending a message that it is ok to get fall down drunk. I have heard more often that I care to remember, we're Irish, that's what we do. I would rather perform in venues where people in attendance are there to hear the music.
IA&E: Do you have any thoughts on the mayor of N.Y boycotting the St. Patrick's day Parade because of the ban by the parade committee on the LGBT community displaying banners with the word "Gay" on them?
McGowan: I have read the many comments posted on-line and would like to respond by addressing one in particular. It is a comment regarding not wanting kids seeing the word "Gay" on a banner at this "family parade. I feel these folks are missing the point. When kids see a banner in a public parade with the word "Gay" proudly displayed, they will perhaps consciously or subconsciously register that moment, that it is OK to be gay and perhaps will grow up and tell stories to their children of the bad old days when people were teased, tormented, tortured, beaten, driven to suicide, even murdered, because they were gay.
IA&E: Anything new, musically, in store for people who attend your shows in the New Year?
McGowan: Yes. We have added six new pieces since our last show in January. So to those who came to see us last month, it will not be the same show. Among the new pieces we have added is a song titled, Galicia. Galicia is one of the seven Celtic provinces where the culture is still alive to this day) The song takes the listener into the world of a man longing for home.
IA&E: Speaking of home. Where is home for Peter McGowan?
McGowan: Ireland will always be home for me. I love this country. My children are American but I cannot deny what I feel in my heart. And I too long for home