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The Real McKenzies bring Paddy's Day spirit

Raucous Celtic punk band with long Whistler pedigree performs at Merlin's



Back in the summer of 2000, Paul McKenzie of Vancouver Celtic punk band The Real McKenzies had a close encounter of the Seppo kind.

It's an old-Whistler moment that couldn't take place today.

A logger and friend of Whistler founder Franz Wilhelmsen, Seppo Makinen was a legend of Finnish provenance; he led the clearing of all of Whistler's original runs from 1964 to 1980. The last run his team cleared was named after him and is still in use today.

McKenzie knew him and spotted him at the bar of long-gone pub, The Boot, beer in his hand, as The Real McKenzies were onstage performing.

Afterwards, McKenzie went to look for Makinen.

"I walked up to the bartender after and said 'Where's Seppo?' and he looked at me and said 'What do you mean? He died last winter.' So I guess I saw the ghost of Seppo. I got along really well with him, he's still sadly missed."

It's the 25th anniversary of the Real McKenzies this year and McKenzie believes he has spent half that time on the road.

"Yesterday it was 1978 and I blinked my eyes and here I am," he says. "It passes when you're having a good time."

On the horizon is a new album to celebrate the anniversary and McKenzie says he is constantly writing new songs.

"Everybody in the band has got a whole lot of new music. I've noticed that when there is just one writer in a band a lot of the music is redundantly the same. To circumvent this, I say 'OK, boys. Let's sit around the table and pretend we're playing cards and instead me dealing you cards, you guys deal me cards," he says.

"These cards are ideas and songs. The result of this kind plan in terms of recording, we have a lot of diversification in terms of writing. I like that. It gives the guys a sense of belonging."

He hadn't always been this way.

"I was a musical fascist early on," McKenzie says.

The album is due out in the fall.

The Real McKenzies play Merlin's Bar & Grill on Sunday, March 13, at 9:30 p.m. in a pre-St. Patrick's Day party night.

The band has shared the stage with Rancid, Shane MacGowan, NOFX, Metallica and other loud and rowdy performers.

And McKenzie is not above a little trash talk when the opportunity presents itself.

"We've been called the poor man's Dropkick Murphys, but the reality is that we recorded two albums before they even came to be. If we hadn't played Boston, they probably wouldn't have existed. They were in the audience smoking cigarette butts," he laughs.

"The next time I saw them they were the Dropkick Murphys."

Winter is downturn time for McKenzie and the band. He takes on extra work between a busy touring schedule, having retrained as a glass wall maintenance technician.

"When it's happening it's a great job, it pays $85 an hour, but it is also seasonal.

The Whistler show is part of an early return to his favourite seasons.

"Spring, summer and fall are more desirable. It's always really cool having the opportunity to perform in Whistler. It's important to me make people happy and we seem to do that," McKenzie says.

McKenzie says that back in the day they received a ban in Whistler, but that's all patched up now.

"It was at The Boot, too. I'm not really sure what happened, but our reputation preceded us and there was some sort of riot in the parking lot," he says.

"I told an Australian a bad joke and all of his friends freaked out."

Later this year, before the band disappears into the studio to record, they will be touring Canada and Europe.

Around 100 musicians have been in The Real McKenzies over the years and it recently went through another roster change.

"We've got a great line-up; we've fired all the Americans. We've got a group of young Canadians who are fired up," McKenzie says.