The Westies: with the tender side of a fist
The Westies were Hell’s Kitchen’s most notorious Irish-American gang. Between the late 60s and mid-80s, they were responsible for more than 100 deaths and a myriad of other crimes. Quite the accomplishment when their numbers never boasted more than 20. An accumulation of political power and criminal master-mindedness lead the Irish gang to undeniable notoriety as the most feared men of the Irish mob. Less organized, highly reckless, and infinitely more hazardous to New York’s west side, the romanticized tragedy of this Irish lore has not been lost. In fact, it has been resurrected. A new group of hardened individuals have adopted the moniker, their intentions entirely more pure. They still manage to sink into the ever-dark, tragic, and romantic notions that result in poetic allure. Through music this time, not with the hot end of a sly piece of metal.
Folk-Americana powerhouse, The Westies, are resurrecting the thrill and terror of those darkened Hell’s Kitchen alleyways with biting lyrics that leave a shimmer of sweat above your brow. Described as a, “collective of musicians that rotate in and out depending on availability,” the show is undeniably visual and hard-hitting. Michael McDermott heading the vagabonds, with wife Heather Horton on co-vocals and fiddle. The two are the tellers of folklore gone awry. Weaving reality into fable, they sing sweet lullabies of haunting love and sorrow. John Pirrucello (guitar, pedal, mandolin), Chris Merrill (bass), Dan Ingenthron (keys), and Robert Dicke (drums) round out the Westies. All around, a kitchen-sink of undeniably polished musicians hailing from Nashville and beyond. The Westies synchronize smoky vocals with flowing instrumentals that lead you on an ever-enchanting stroll through grittier times.
McDermott (traveling under an Irish tough alias-Johnny Darkstar-which is a greatly underrated decision that never came to full fruition) writes deeply and darkly. He’s never known anything else but the life of rock, “all I ever wanted to do was write songs and tell stories, like my grandparents and parents did from a long Irish lineage. With that lineage came a proclivity for drink, for mayhem, and a wee bit of crime. It’s a fire that took some time to temper. ” Drawing from his own personal inspiration and having a handful of extremely talented individuals hailing from impressive corners of music, the picture they paint is calmingly frightening. These are adrenaline pumping nighttime stories, singing you to the ghostly beyond. But, more importantly, the outfit has the ability to entertain in an organically beautiful fashion. The Westies tell stories of a late grandfather who was shot, not killed, by the infamous Jesse James. An heirloom, passed down to each son, inspires one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs, Death. Somber melodies, praising good friends gone. Raconteur family man McDermott banters with his wife, Heather Horton, and actively jives the audience with spitfire sarcasm and wit. This Irish family of drinkers, gypsies, malefactors, and lyricists are bound together for eternity. Sure to set their lore immortal as the original heathens of Hell’s Kitchen did so many years ago.
-Cole Scott, junior editor, On Tour Magazine