Paul McKenzie of The Real McKenzies is a real survivor.
The vocalist is the only original member of a Celtic-punk band that’s “broken,” by his count, at least 100 musicians over the past 25 years.
Of the high turnover, McKenzie said: “Some wanted to get a life, a job, a family, or something … Some got absolutely sick of me,” and a couple of band members simply expired. “One died of angina in Regina.”
McKenzie, now in his mid-50s, is still as fervid a punker as that infamous photo suggests — the one of him leaping on stage with his kilt flying up to expose his bare butt cheeks.
The singer of first-generation Scottish-Irish origin (his whole family, according to McKenzie, are Scottish separatists) started his Vancouver-based band in 1992, a decade after The Pogues introduced Celtic punk to the world.
In addition to writing original “blistering punk-rock boot-stompers,” The Real McKenzies perform traditional Scottish songs with attitude.
Although the group has been criticized for not growing beyond its Celtic influences, McKenzie feels these suitably convey both the strange tales the band recounts in music, as well as the “endless drunken revelries.”
The band that performs on Saturday, March 19, at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer, released its eighth and latest album, Rats in the Burlap last year on Fat Wreck Chords. It contains an ode to Scottish farmers (The Fields of Inverness), as well as the esoteric Bootsy the Haggis-Eating Cat.
McKenzie noted the song Midnight Train to Moscow was inspired by a real-life rail journey the musicians took from Helsinki through St. Petersburg to Moscow.
“Boy, what a trip that was,” he recalled.
“We were drinking, dining and talking about Russian literature” well into the wee hours.
When the absent-minded merry-makers failed to get off the train at Moscow, as expected, the conductor sent police guards with AK-47s on board to evict them.
“They threw us off the train! It was 40-below on the platform and I didn’t even have time to put my shoes on!” said McKenzie.
Dead or Alive is dedicated to the memory of the late Dave Gregg of the band D.O.A. McKenzie recalled that Gregg once took an interest in playing with The Real McKenzies. “I warned him” to curb his excesses, he said. But Gregg didn’t, and ended up dying of “massive coronary” in 2014.
McKenzie still drinks beer, wine and “an occasional dram of whiskey,” but avoids drugs because he said they’ve messed up too many people.
He’s in the process of planning a major tour for which The Real McKenzies will open for Iron Maiden. As well, McKenzie is coming up with tunes for his band’s 25th-anniversary album — and luckily, there’s no shortage of bizarre Scottish stories to draw from.
One new song is based on the Overtoun Bridge, near Dumbarton. McKenzie said, “At least 100 dogs have committed suicide there. They don’t know why.”
Another is about a Scottish noblewoman’s efforts in the 1940s to make Australian wallabies a novelty pet on her vacation property. She loaded a bunch of wallabies onto a ship and brought them to Inchconnachan Island, where their hopping descendants live on to this day — threatening native species and drawing tourists.
“It’s a little known fact that there are Scottish wallabies,” said McKenzie who’s obviously fond of odd stories and underdog characters.
The current lineup of musicians includes bassist Troy Zak, guitarists Jonno McGee and Danny Boy O’Rorke, drummer Jeffie Piner, and bagpiper Gordon Taylor — most of whom have survived in the band for a reasonable length of time.
McKenzie is expecting Red Deer firefighters pipe band members to show up at Fratters. “They’ve been coming out for the last two years …”
Tickets to his band’s 9 p.m. show with Montreal punk-rockers BOIDS are $20 from the venue.