Saturday March 12, 2016, 7:30 pmat the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook performing on the small stage in the foyer.
To the purists this may not really be “Celtic” music but to the rest of us it turned out to be a really interesting “mash up” (Jeff Faragher’s words) of what is a really fascinating mix of musicians, tunes and styles. Breakwater is a quartet of musicians from the West Kootenays that includes Jeff Faragher on Cello, guitar and vocals, AuroraSmith on vocals and Fiddle, Rob Fahie on Double Bass and Ben Johnson on Drums and Percussion. These musicians come from varied backgrounds with impeccable credentials. Jeff is an outstanding classical celloist who has played in a number of local solo and chamber group situations as well being the conductor and soloist with the Symphony of the Kootenays; Rob is originally from the Montreal jazz scene and is also one of the principal bass players in the Symphony of the Kootenays; Aurora is a fiddle player who teaches in Nelson and also performs as a classical violinist in a number of orchestras, including the Symphony of the Kootenays. Ben Johnson is a drummer and percussionist whose primary interest is in Balkan, Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern music. Apart from percussion he plays a number of instruments from that part of the world including Greek Bouzouki, Oud, Saz and many other instruments with unpronounceable names. With that as the kick off point it is hard to imagine the music being anything other than interesting. The central core of the repertoire is Celtic, specifically, fiddle music, to which the group adds music from the classical masters (J.S. Bach, Dvorak), film music (Game of Thrones, Pirates of the Caribbean), pop music(Coldplay), Canadian (Song of the Mira, Log Drivers Waltz), folk music (Bob Dylan’s Blowing in the Wind), Bluegrass and just about anything else that tickles their imagination. The front line of fiddle, cello and double bass is a combination that fits well with the repertoire. To prove the point they kicked off the evening with a J.S. Bach minuet that morphed into the fiddle tune The Ash Plant. This they followed up with a rousing set of Aurora’s fiddle tunes (The Roaring Barmaid / The New Reel / The Tamlin Reel). After that whirlwind performance Aurora knocked it back a notch by singing The Banks of Loch Lomond followed by the band’s exploration of Jay Ungar’s classic tune The Ashokan Farewell (from Ken Burns PBS Documentary on the American Civil War). For the rest of the evening it was more of the same. Lots of fiddle tunes, including two that I noted for later research when I got home. They were The Pelican Reel (by Gordon Stobbe) and Catharsis (by Amy Cann). There were lots of songs including Jeff Faragher’s outstanding version of Song of the Mira with the tag fiddle tune Stolen Apples (another tune I will have to research). All in all it was an evening of fine music in a performance space, the foyer of the Key City, that has lots of promise. It is a more intimate arena than the performance area in the main theatre. It had good sight lines and sound. However, the lighting was really poor, and I do mean poor. It was dim and marred by undesirable tints from the overhead LEDs. They will have to work on that. A black backdrop curtain would also improve the visuals.
Sunday March 13, 2016, 7:30 pmat the Studio 64 (Centre 64) in Kimberley.
The concept of the “Small Stage” at the Key City and Studio 64 in Centre 64 is much the same. The idea is to create a small performance area with a cabaret like atmosphere with available refreshments and snacks. By and large they have both succeeded, albeit with 5 year head start Studio 64 is closer to finalization. Within the past few years Studio 64 has manged to improve the performance area with a large black back drop curtain and a sophisticated lighting system. The lighting and sound are managed by Ray’s music and the results are first class. All that remains to be improved are the sight lines by the installation of a slightly raised stage for the performers. That is in the works. On the other hand the Key City “Small Stage” is only in the first year of development. On the positive side, with the raised stage the sight lines are good but there is real need for a black backdrop curtain and an improved or better managed lighting system. The sound is good but the lighting is very, very poor.
Breakwater performed the same program at both venues and with the better lighting the Studio 64 performance had more appeal. Below are images from the latter concert. You be the judge of the visuals.
Breakwater – two fabulous concerts with great visuals and great music. I’m looking forward to their return to this area. When they do make sure to mark it on it is on your calendar.
THE BLACKTHORN BAND IN CONCERT, at Studio 64 in Kimberley, March 5, 2016 at 8pm. This is the first concert of the Spring season at Studio 64.
I admit it. Celtic music in its many forms and disguises pulls at my cultural and emotional heart strings. And so it should. My ancestors immigrated from Dublin in the mid-1870s to settle in New South Wales, Australia. After I arrived in Canada in the 1970s I married a Scottish lass from Glasgow; My son was born in Australia and has since married into an Irish American family. He carries Irish, Australian and Canadian passports. So, as you can see, there is a lot of cultural baggage there. Celtic music in Australia tends to be predominantly Irish, although in the early days “German Bands” made their mark on traditional music. Waltzes, Varsoviennas, and Schottisches are sprinkled throughout the traditional repertoire. In Canada, Celtic music is different. There is no doubt the principle bonding agent is as Scottish as oatmeal and as a result other musical bits and pieces just seem to stick to an underlying “Scottishness”. The other influences are in there; the Irish, Quebecois, Arcadian, English, Metis, American, and just about everything else that makes up the Canadian cultural mosaic. That mix pretty well describes the repertoire of the Vancouver based band Blackthorn. The band, Michael Viens (vocals, 6 and 12 string guitars, bodhran, percussion and harmonicas) Michelle Carlisle (vocals, flute, piccolo, whistle, fife and alto flute), Tim Renaud (vocals, bass, octave mandolin, 12 string guitar and bodhran) Rosie Carver (vocals and fiddles) provided an exceptionally strong evening of instrumental and vocal music.
They kicked off the evening with a set of tunes from their latest recorded CD Open Skies that included the English Victorian music hall tune Country Life, Robbie Burn’s Rattlin’ Roaring Wilie, and from Cape Breton’s legendary fiddle master Dan R. MacDonald’s repertoire The River Bend. That pretty well set the tone for the evening – marvelous four-part harmony singing, interspersed with with strong instrumental tunes featuring fiddle and flutes. Each performer got an opportunity to shine on their own little party pieces; Michelle Carlisle on her original song Open Skies, Rosie Carver on the French Canadian Mouth of the Tobique (one of my favorite French Canadian tunes), Nathaniel Gow’s (Scottish) Petronella and a four section traditional French reel Le violon accorde comme une viole; Tim Renaud shone on the Andy M. Stewart’s mighty ode to the girl of his dreams The Queen of Argyll – it gave Tim a chance to step up to the plate with his octave mandolin, a instrument that always causes some confusion – is it an octave mandolin, a mandola, or a short scale Irish Bouzouki? – most of it depends on how it is tuned. Attached to the song The Queen of Argyll was Rosie Carver’s little dash of Hungarian spice in the tune Paprika, a very interesting tune in an unusual 10/8 time signature. Michael Viens party pieces included Las Vegas in the hills of Donegal and a selection of French Canadian tunes from his childhood in Maillardvile, the French Canadian quarter of Port Coquitlam. It was an outstanding night of music that came to an emotional close with full on audience participation in the grand finale of Loch Lomond and The Dark Island. I don’t know why the lines “you take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland before ye” exerts such strong emotional pull on a bunch of foreigners who have never been to Scotland. Never-the-less that strong pull was there and the audience was singing it’s heart out at the close of the Saturday night concert at Stage 64 in Kimberley. Here are some more images:
Thanks to the organizing committee, the many volunteers, the sponsors at The Burrito Grill and A B&B at 228 (Lorne and Gail Knutson) this was another successful sold out concert.
“The Highland Clearances were horrific events in Scottish history. In the 19th Century Crofters were forcibly evicted from their homes in the Highlands of Scotland and those that survived starvation and death ended up scattered all over the world. “It was an ill wind that blew some good” and this “ill wind” was responsible for the Scots settling in Cape Breton. With the new settlers came all the elements of the Scottish Highland Culture. It included the Gaelic language, music, dancing and story telling and some say this transplantation of the culture is responsible for the very survival of the Scottish Fiddle tradition, not only in Canada, but in Scotland itself. By the time the CBC aired a TV show called “The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler” in 1971 the Cape Breton style of fiddling had been in existence for well over a hundred years. The CBC show lamented the decline of the tradition and predicted the inevitable demise of the Cape Breton fiddler. Boy, were they ever wrong with that conclusion. Within a few short years of the airing of the show the tradition became revitalized and went though a period of explosive growth. As well as a whole cadre of older and younger fiddlers, part of the positive change can be laid at the feet of at least two master fiddlers, Jerry Holland and Buddy MacMaster.” Both of these musicians have since passed away but their children, grand-children, students and disciples have continued to re-invigorated the tradition. COIG (Gaelic for Five) is part of that on going process. Originally this was a quintet formed to promote the Cape Breton Celtic Colours Festival. The original members were all basically Cape Bretoners who have grown up in the tradition and are thoroughly familiar with the traditional fiddle and piano music of the region. The original members were Chrissy Crowley (fiddle and viola), Rachel Davis (fiddle and viola), Jason Roach (keyboards), Darren McMullen (tenor banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, guitars, and Irish Whistle), and Colin Grant (fiddle). Coig performed as a quartet at the Key City without Colin so I am not sure if he is still part of the group.
It goes without saying this was a night of brilliant music with lots of foot stomping fiddle duets, tenor banjo, bouzouki and mandolin leads all backed by Jason’s thunderous Cape Breton piano. The band performed a selection of tune sets from their album Five. Tunes included Bad Day at the Beach, The Oak Tree Set, Choufflé Soufflé, SR (Strathspey/ Reel) Set and others. Rachel Davis sang Bob Dylan’s classic ballad Tomorrow is a Long Time and Dougie MacLean’sShe Loves Me when I Try. On keyboard Jason Roach performed an extended solo set that included Sleepy Maggie. Here are some images from the evening.
Musical Notes (pun intended). Darren McMullen is a “highly sort after multi-instrumentalist, switching between, guitars, mandolin, bouzouki, banjo and whistle”. His arsenal of instruments is only restricted by travel requirements. In this instance he did not play guitar. For most of the audience that may, or may not have passed unnoticed….. when was the last time we have heard a musical ensemble that was not guitar based? Actually it was refreshing not hear a batch of guitars thumping away. After all there is more to music than three guitars and a thudding back beat. Without guitars and with the addition of bouzouki, banjo and mandolin the music had a whole different sonic ambience. On this trip his arsenal was restricted to just the Irish tenor banjo, mandolin and Irish bouzouki. There is only so much excess baggage that you can cram onto a plane. Darren plays a 19 fret Irish tenor banjo tuned GDAE played mandolin style with a pick. It requires a different musical approach to the usual Bluegrass and Clawhammer styles of banjo playing. This instrument is not necessarily a chordal instrument. Rather its strength is in single linear melody lines and leads. When played solo it does not have a pleasant sound. However, in ensemble situations its loud percussive notes adds rhythm and punch to melody lines. It is particularly effective when played in unison with other melody instruments such as fiddle and accordions. Darren also plays a Bruce Weber Irish Bouzouki. For those unfamiliar with the Irish bouzouki it is a mandolin styled instrument (“a mandolin on steroids”) that originally started out as the Greek Bouzouki before Irish musicians adopted it in the mid-1960s. Darren’s instrument is a custom built instrument designed to have a high tight sound that doesn’t conflict with the bass register of Jason’s Cape Breton style piano. Last but not least is hisMark Franzke Dog Boys custom built A- style mandolin.
This was a night of exciting Canadian Music and one that may be repeated in the future. There are already rumours that the band will be back. If so Coig is not to be missed.
Here is a YouTube clip just to give us an after taste of the concert:
“Everybody” knows that the standard tuning for guitar is EADGBE (low to high) and most guitarist are aware that there is more than one way to tune a guitar (or any stringed instrument for that matter). One of the most popular non-standard tunings is DADGAD. The December 2015 edition of ACOUSTIC GUITAR published the following article that profiled the DADGAD tuning and four of its famous advocates and performers. Here is an except from the internet download of the article:
The DADGAD Way: Davy Graham, Pierre Bensusan, Sarah McQuaid, and Daithi Sproule Talk Tuning
A few years before George Harrison put world music on the pop charts with his 1967, Indian-inspired “Within You Without You,” from the Beatles’ landmark Sgt. Peppers album, another Brit, the late folk musician Davey Graham, had already invigorated western acoustic guitar music with his brilliant cross-cultural contribution, DADGAD tuning.
Inspired by Graham’s travels in India and Morocco, and his subsequent introduction to the region’s lute-like oud, DADGAD revolutionized the folk genre by allowing the guitar to mimic the piping, or “droning,” sound that defines authentic Celtic music. The D-based, open-string DADGAD effectively transforms the guitar into a modal—rather than chord-driven—instrument, thus allowing for easier shifts between minor and major keys, with the open strings on either side of the treble and bass strings serving as the drone generator.
Embraced by such British folk greats as John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, and Martin Carthy, the genius behind DADGAD tuning is that Graham had offered up something akin to a tonal Rosetta stone: It was now possible to do justice to traditional Irish music on the guitar, particularly the outpouring of works by blind, 18th-century harper and composer Turlough O’Carolan. It wasn’t just Celtic music acolytes from the British Isles who appreciated the versatility and range that this alternative tuning provided. Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Paul Simon, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Wings’ lead guitarist Laurence Juber, Jimmy Page, among many others, gave DADGAD a chance. (Page termed it his “CIA tuning,” for Celtic/Indian/Arabian.)
DADGAD has found its way into genres including classical, blues, gospel, and jazz, and into the hands of acoustic guitarists everywhere. As one of DADGAD’s most notable practitioners, French-Algerian-born Pierre Bensusan, advises “DADGAD is not a genre—it’s a tuning.”
Multi-award-winning guitarist, singer, and composer Pierre Bensusan, lauded by the LA Times as “one of the most unique and brilliant acoustic guitar veterans in the world music scene today,” is regarded as one of music’s greatest exponents of DADGAD. Almost every performance and recording of Bensusan’s is a celebration of DADGAD tuning. Currently on a world tour to mark his 40-year career, Bensusan’s style includes Celtic, folk, world, new age, and chamber music.
His Take on DADGAD: Bensusan has described DADGAD as a tool that “helped me to be identified, and to identify myself. It gives me confidence.” Introduced to DADGAD by a friend who had learned it from Graham, Bensusan was experimenting with different tunings at the time, anxious to settle on one that he could make his own. DADGAD won out.
Bensusan realized that embracing DADGAD meant he would have to relearn the guitar if he wanted to translate the new tuning style for an across-the-board repertoire of music normally played in standard tuning. It was a guitar lesson to-do list that included taking a second look at the neck, the chord shapes and positions, the sounds, and the intervals. He mastered the task and highlighted the journey in Pierre Bensusan Presents DADGAD Guitar. Published in 2000, it is primarily a songbook featuring comments and DADGAD selections from James Earp, Laurence Juber, Doug Smith, Bill Mize, David Surette, Eileen Niehouse, and Peppino D’Agostino, among others.
The pitfalls in the beginning, he notes, included fighting against “a ready disposition to fall into all the predictable trappings of such a modal tuning as DADGAD”—notably by doing the obvious, such as playing almost exclusively in the key of D. “If I wanted a key change, I’d simply use a capo,” he writes. But as Bensusan discovered, relying on capos limited the possibilities for chord voicings, which he recalled, “got me right back to the point of really learning the fret board. There is certainly nothing wrong with using a capo—sometimes you have to. Still, though, with a limited understanding of the fingerboard, it was very easy to get stuck in the ruts of standard positions and chords.”
Another challenge: the disposition of the open strings. While DADGAD tuning is famous for its open, ringing strings, that’s not always a plus: It can get in the way of the music, Bensusan advises. “You want to be able to control the sustain and the length of the sound,” he says. Bensusan’s goal was to make DADGAD “completely disappear. I don’t want there to be any active consciousness of the particular tuning I happen to be using. And I certainly don’t want my audiences to be distracted by it. You have to play the instrument—the music—not the tuning.”
Player Tip: “Virtuosity is not showing off what you can do on the guitar,” Bensusan told Acoustic Guitar last year. “Virtuosity is making the guitar and the musician completely transparent, and having the music just speak out. This is a high, high standard of virtuosity for me. The music is using you as a channel. So you have to be ready for it. Technically, you have to be ready. You work your ability, your tone. But when you play, all of this has to be forgotten.” Visit pierrebensusan.com for more information on his work, concerts, numerous songbooks, and more.
SARAH MCQUAID : She Wrote the Book on DADGAD, Literally
Born in Spain, raised in Chicago, and now living in rural England, Sarah McQuaid’s music is an eclectic mix that, as noted on her website, segues from original compositions “to a 1930s Cuban jazz number, a 16th-century lute piece, or an unexpected contemporary cover.” Regardless of the genre, the tuning is always in DADGAD. McQuaid is the author of The Irish DADGAD Guitar Book, described by the Irish Times as “a godsend to aspiring traditional guitarists.” She has developed two workshops: “An Introduction to DADGAD,” for players with little or no experience, and “DADGAD Song Accompaniment,” for experienced DADGAD guitarists. Her workshops have been held at music schools, festivals, arts centers, private homes, and other venues in the UK, Ireland, the United States, Holland, and Germany.
Her Take on DADGAD
“In my teens, I was a big fan of Windham Hill Records artists like Michael Hedges and Will Ackerman, and also of Joni Mitchell,” McQuaid says, “so I was tinkering around with different tunings all the time. Then, when I was 18, I went to study in France for a year, and quite by accident wound up singing and playing guitar with a traditional Irish band. At a festival gig somewhere in France, I got to chatting with a French guitarist, who said to me, ‘You know, most of the Irish guitar players these days are using DADGAD—you should try it.’” She did, and never looked back. “I tuned my guitar to DADGAD straightaway, started experimenting with chord shapes, and it was a real eureka moment—suddenly I could make all the sounds I’d been trying to make for years,” McQuaid says. “I loved the fact that it freed me up from the limitations of major and minor [and that] I could play in all these weird modal scales.”
McQuaid has been playing in nothing but DADGAD for more than 20 years. “I write all my own songs in DADGAD, and I play everything from Elizabethan ballads to blues in DADGAD,” she says. “It’s a wonderfully versatile tuning, especially when you get out of the mentality that you have to play in D all the time: E minor, G, G minor, A, A minor, and B minor also work beautifully, to name a few. “I love the way it encourages you to focus on notes rather than chords,” she adds, and “to work with the song, interweaving the guitar melody with the vocal melody so that it’s a case of the guitar [in duet] with the voice, rather than merely accompanying it. I don’t think there are any two songs that I play the same way in DADGAD.”
Player Tip: “Don’t forget that lots of other keys besides D work beautifully in DADGAD! E, G, A and B, to name just a few—all work really nicely and offer great scope for expanding your repertoire of chord shapes and picking patterns,” McQuaid says. “Also, remember that sometimes it’s nice to just suggest a chord by playing a note or two, rather than filling out the full shape.”
A guitarist, singer, and composer of traditional Irish music, crowned “a seminal figure in Irish music” by the Rough Guide to Irish Music, Dáithí Sproule began using DADGAD tuning not long after Graham introduced it to the folk music world in the 1960s. A native of Derry, in Northern Ireland, who now calls Minnesota home, Sproule began his career with the traditional Irish music group Skara Brae, collaborating with fellow DADGAD pioneer Michael O’Domhnaill of the Bothy Band. Later he became a founding member of the internationally known Irish band Altan, considered one of the best in the world. He continues to perform with Irish music greats, including box player Billy McComiskey, fiddler and composer Liz Carroll, and flute and fiddle duo Dermy and Tara Diamond. He continues to influence a new generation: Sproule’s “The Death of Queen Jane” was featured in the 2013 Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis. Sproule has taught at the University College Dublin and the University of Minnesota, and is a DADGAD guitar instructor at the Center for Irish Music in St. Paul, Minnesota.
His Take on DADGAD: “I first heard of DADGAD in the late ’60s on the sleeve notes of a Bert Jansch solo album. His playing, in whatever tuning, was of course inspiring,” Sproule recalls. “I used it then occasionally to accompany songs. Around 1973 or so I accidentally discovered it worked well for me in accompanying Irish dance music—reels, jigs, and so on—and I began to use it a lot for everything. . . . [And] it works well for instrumentals I compose myself.” Among the benefits of using DADGAD, Sproule notes, is the “very versatile tuning enables us to get an immense amount of variety in voicing. I generally don’t use full chords in DADGAD and I think this suits Irish music, which is really a genre that has developed as a purely unilinear, non-chordal music. It complements the melody and doesn’t trap it—at least the way I try to play. It truly has a literal quality of openness. “Since the tuning comes down to D and A with built-in droning, it magically reproduces the situation of the Irish Uilleann pipes, on which so much of our music was formed—and those pipes have D and A drones.”
Player tip: “Standard tuning—which I also love—as most people play it, boxes a melody in, traps it,” Sproule says. “DADGAD is quite literally an open tuning—it harmonizes, resonates, but doesn’t tie things down. “Resonance is one of the beauties of the tuning—it makes us aware of the sound of the strings we are not actually playing.” In 1996, he told Acoustic Guitar: “The way I put chords to songs is totally intuitive. I can’t really describe how I do it. Most of the time, I’m not playing full chords at all. I’m playing basses and bits of chords and there are always droning strings in the background. You could break it down into chords, but it’s not a matter of chords. It’s a matter of varying the bass lines and the harmonies.”
We all know the names; Spirit of the West, Ryan’s Fancy, Great Big Sea, The Rankins, Leahy and The Barra MacNeils. These are just some of the names that have become familiar over the years. Spirit of the West came out of Vancouver and were more Rock than Celtic; Ryan’s Fancy, a group of transplanted Irishmen living in Newfoundland; Great Big sea was a Pop/Rock/Celtic band from Newfoundland who dominated the Maritime music scene for more years than one could dare or care to count; Similarly, The Rankins with their signature vocals also had a grip on the scene for many years; Leahy and the Barra MacNeils have always had a significant niche in the Maritime Celtic scene. With the exception of Ryan’s Fancy all of these bands have performed in Cranbrook. Although they haven’t performed in Cranbrook (yet) I think we can safely add Coig to list. Their website (www.coig.ca ) describes them as “Còig ( “Ko-ig”. Scottish Gaelic for ‘five’) as an electrifying line-up of 5 solo acts. Originally formed as a promotional band for the Celtic Colours International Festival, these five award winning performers decided to continue to play as the Còig ensemble whenever possible!
WINNER of the 2014 Canadian Folk Music Award for Traditional Album of the Year
WINNER of the 2014 Music Nova Scotia Award for Traditional/Roots Recording of the Year.
The band consists of Colin Grant – fiddle; Darren McMullen – guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, whistles, vocals; Rachel Davis – fiddle, vocals; Chrissy Crowley – fiddle and Jason Roach – piano
Fiddler Chrissy Crowley, from Margaree, Cape Breton has an impressive list of awards, nominations, and international appearances. Chrissy embraces her Celtic roots and makes them her own, through original compositions coupled with contemporary arrangements of traditional tunes.
Darren McMullen, from Hardwood Lands, NS, is a highly sought after multi-instrumentalist. Easily switching between guitar, mandolin, whistle and banjo with Còig, this “Swiss-army knife” keeps the rhythm sound diverse, and is sure to impress with his lead playing of his various “on-stage weapons”.
Rachel Davis from Baddeck, Cape Breton spends her time switching from international festival stages to small local dances at home. In a genre that sees many performers pushing the envelope and testing new waters, her style of playing traditional tunes in a traditional way is a refreshing reminder of why the Cape Breton fiddle style drives so hard, and is so sought after.
Colin Grant from Sydney, Cape Breton has been touring steadily as a solo performer, as well as with Sprag Session. His respect for traditional style, combined with his drive to take the Celtic fiddle to new places results in an exciting sound that is as much Buddy MacMaster as it is Ashley MacIsaac
Jason Roach, from Chéticamp, Cape Breton is one of the most impressive piano players you will ever hear. With a style all his own, and an unparalleled intensity on the keys, you’ll have to remind yourself that there’s other players on the stage.
With a combined total of over 30 nominations and awards, each of Còig’s talented musicians have released their own successful solo albums, and have toured both at home and abroad before coming together as this exciting super group. Their much anticipated debut album “Five” was released in June, 2014 to rave reviews, and has earned the band the 2014 Canadian Folk Music Award for Traditional Album of the Year, and the Music Nova Scotia award for Traditional/Roots Recording of the Year”.
The band is a little different from Canadian Celtic bands of recent years. Coig is essentially an instrumental band of musicians steeped in the instrumental traditions of Cape Breton. Their does not seem to be any attempt or intent at crossing over into the Pop/Celtic mainstream. Here is a taste of Coig, and remember that in Cranbrook you heard it here first.
I would like to thank Angus MacDonald for bringing these sounds back to us from his recent visit to Prince Edward Island.
A Celtic Christmas – A Winter’s Ramble with Harpist and Singer Keri Lynn Zwicker : The rehearsal at the Key City Theatre, Saturday December 6, 2014 12-1:30 pm.I have always felt that there was something missing from Christmas. In recent years my attendance at a Winter Solstice celebration in Vancouver gave me pause to think but I was still unable to arrive at a conclusion. At the Symphony of the Kootenays (SOK) rehearsal on Saturday it finally clicked. When the Bodhran (the Irish Frame drum) roared into life within a rousing Celtic tune I had an epiphany. What has been missing all these years is the essential pagan element of the season’s celebration. The season has been diluted and polluted with so much tinsel town garbage over the years that we have forgotten, that despite the Christian overlay, from the beginning of time the Winter Solstice (Christmas) is essentially a pagan festival. The SOK, Harpist Keri Lynn Zwicker and the Bodhran player Nathan McCavana restored some of that essential pagan essence to the music of the season. Sure, it was Christmas music but with a primordial pagan pulse that gives new life and vitality to a musical landscape that, over the years, has become kinda blah. After all, how many times can we listen to I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas and still be emotionally stirred? Here are some images from the rehearsal.
and now for the essential pagan element : THE BODHRAN – here is the wikipedia entry:
“The bodhrán (/ˈbɔrɑːn/ or /ˈbaʊrɑːn/; plural bodhráns) is an Irishframe drum ranging from 25 to 65 cm (10″ to 26″) in diameter, with most drums measuring 35 to 45 cm (14″ to 18″). The sides of the drum are 9 to 20 cm (3½” to 8″) deep. A goatskin head is tacked to one side (synthetic heads or other animal skins are sometimes used). The other side is open-ended for one hand to be placed against the inside of the drum head to control the pitch and timbre. One or two crossbars, sometimes removable, may be inside the frame, but this is increasingly rare on modern instruments. Some professional modern bodhráns integrate mechanical tuning systems similar to those used on drums found in drum kits. It is usually with a hex key that the bodhrán skins are tightened or loosened depending on the atmospheric conditions.” Frame drums are found all over the world and the wikipedia articles goes on to list around 40 different regional variations. Nathan’s Bodhran is a little different fron the traditional in that it is tear dropped shaped. Like a lot of modern players, Nathan uses “bamboo bundles” as a beater. He also uses a small condenser clip-on microphone to re-enforce the sound (after all he is competing with a symphony orchestra). Also note the black “electrical tape” trim around the top. This is used to reduced unwanted overtones.
The final pagan bonus in the rehearsal and one that may not have made it to the actual concert was Nathan’s rousing rendition of THE POGUES The Fairy Tale of New York with its classic line “And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day” – a far cry from I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas:
Somewhere along the line this music got tagged with the label “Scottish Baroque”. Of course Baroque music it isn’t but the label is a convenient way to distinguish it from the usual run-of-the-mill Celtic pub music. Mind you, it would not be out of place in some low-ceiling inn in the old country. In the ambience of the dance studio in Centre 64 it was right at home. The musicians are from all over the map. Radio broadcaster Bruce MacGregor is from Inverness Scotland and is reputed to be one of Scotland’s finest fiddle players. After hearing him it is not a reputation I would care to dispute. I have added his name to my list of favorite fiddlers that includes the Irish fiddler Martin Hayes and the Irish American Liz Carrol. With them he shares a clean, clear, solid, almost classical tone, a great sense of musical dynamics and a wonderful choice of tunes. Christine Hanson is originally from Edmonton, Alberta but has been resident in Glasgow for the past 15 years. Her prairie roots come though from time to time in her choice of country waltzes. Christine’s instrument of choice at the moment is a handcrafted Carbon Fibre Cello. This came about when an airline company carelessly “dropped kicked” and nearly destroyed her traditional wooden instrument during one of her tours. The Carbon Fibre instrument she is using was probably built by Luis and Clark in Boston – check the link Luis and Clark Carbon Fibre instruments . There are other manufacturers out there. The German company Mezzo Forte comes to mind but Christine’s instrument has the look of a Luis and Clark. Conservative musicians and patrons may shudder at the concept of a “plastic” instrument but I guess the proof is in “the pudding”. The instruments look and sound wonderful and I suspect as the supply of endangered tone woods become scarce we will see more of them. Beside looking and sounding good Carbon Fibre instruments are more robust than their traditional wooden counter part. For travelling musicians this is a definite plus.The vocalist/guitarist Andy Hillhouse is from Vancouver where he is the manager of the music festival at Harrison Hot Springs. His instrument is a Lowden Guitar from Belfast Ireland. Hand made Lowdens are the instrument of choice of a number of top performers and are pretty rare in North America. Andy only managed to get together with the other musicians for the first time at 4:30 that same afternoon. With that in mind his performance was pretty astounding.
The Fiddle / Cello / Guitar combination turned out to be a wonderful vehicle for their selections of Strathspeys, Airs, Laments, Reels and Waltzes. The guitar provided the rhythm foundation, the cello the bass lines, rhythm and counterpoint to Bruce MacGregor’s fiddle that was over the top of it all. My personal favorites of the evening was the traditional Her Mantle so Green, a tune that Christine picked up in a wee back bar in Ullapool Scotland from the playing of Cathal MacConnell of Boys of the Loch fame. Andy Hillhouse chose some traditional songs to sing and play but the standout was the great narrative song Beeswing by Richard Thompson. This is a song that defines what a great song should be – good melody, a great, great story line and very appropriate accompaniment. From the many, many tunes that Bruce played though out the evening the standout for me was the final set of the evening that included Miss Lyalls Strathspey and The Kings Reel. I have been thoroughly indoctrinated into these tunes by young local fiddle player Angus MacDonald. It is a pity that Angus has gone away to college. He would have enjoyed Bruce’s performance. Besides the wonderful selection of tunes Bruce came to fore with his story telling. His “real job” as a radio broadcaster obviously comes in handy when he launches into tales of J. Scott Skinner. For those that do not know J.Scott Skinner (1843-1927) was the preeminent Scottish Fiddler of the late nineteenth century. The other story of note was the one about his father’s revenge on a local firm of lawyers. Here are some images from the evening. Sorry about the less than satisfactory quality – the lighting was awful. To get rid of the horrible green tint I had to Photoshop the images down to greytones
This was a wonderfully unique evening of music. The “cabaret” setting was great, the ambience and the audience were perfect. The evening was only marred by the less than perfect lighting.
The East Kootenays are not exactly the center of the Celtic universe, and yet, over the years we have been treated to some of the finest Celtic musicians that the planet has to offer. We have seen the likes of Andy Irvine (a legend in Irish music), Ron Kavana, the Irish bands Dervish, Four Men and a Dog, and Danu ; the Alberta band Celtara;The Harbour Trio (with Don Ross) from down east; Cape Breton fiddlers Natalie McMasters, and in a week or so, Ashley MacIsaac. This list does not include those musicians that have a little bit of green in their repertoires and performance styles. The ones who immediately come to mind are Dehli to Dublin (D2D) and that incredible acoustic guitarist MartinSimpson. Now we can add to the list the band that has just performed at Centre 64 – Caladh Nua (“new harbour” or “new sheltered place”). This quintet of musicians include Lisa Butler (vocals and fiddle), Paddy Tutty (fiddle, viola and bodhran), Derek Morrissey (button accordion), Colm O’Caoimh (playing a beautiful cedar top Lowden guitar) and on Irish tenor banjo and Irish whistle, probably one of the tallest Irish speaking men on the planet, Eoin O’Meachair. Just to set the mood and get the feet tapping the band kicked off a night of brilliant music with a set of reels followed by a set of jigs. For the first traditional song of the evening Colm provided some light opening guitar textures for The Cruel Lowland Maid followed by Eoin joining in with some nice chugging banjo rhythm behind Lisa Butler’s vocal. Colm’s guitar playing threw me for a bit. At the beginning I thought he may have been using an open tuning. As it turns out he plays in standard tuning and uses an unorthodox “baseball bat grip” technique that guitar teachers warn you against. They claim it is awkward and inefficient. Yet it works well for Colm and his playing is a study in how to add magnificent bass lines to highly rhythmic accompaniments. By the way, Lisa’s voice is very reminiscent of Dervish’sCathy Jordan and Eoin’s banjo playing brings back echoes of the legendary Dubliners. That pretty well set the pattern for the evening. Lots of dance sets, solo pieces and great songs scattered in between. For me the standout performances of the evening were the reworking of Bill Monroe’sThe Goldrush coupled with the tune Terry Teagan; My choice of the vocals was Lisa’s The Banks of the Lee and Colm O’Caoimh’s outstanding outstanding interpretation of Richard Thompson great narrative song Beeswing.
For the last set of dance tunes the band offered a free CD for the best dance performance in front of the band area. A young dancer responded with a spontaneous performance that was out standing. I only know her as “Joe the Plumber’s Daughter”. I always hope for at least one “Money Shot” from each performance I cover. Here it is for the Caladh Nua concert and an outstanding shot it is, if I do say so myself.
Here are some more images from the evening.
Thanks should go, first of all to the musicians, then the volunteers and staff of Centre 64 and the Kimberly Arts Council. Thanks to the sponsors Pedal and Tap for feeding the musicians and Mountain Spirit for the accommodations. Thanks to Terry for the lights and thanks to Ray and Marty for the sound and also to Keith Nicolas for the being the MC and chief organizer.
After Thoughts: Have you ever wondered why Bluegrass, Old-Timey and Celtic musicians, while reworking essentially the same common ore body of traditional material, come up with such distinctly different outcomes? Some of it has to do with the instrumental configurations employed. Bluegrass with its standard instrumentation of guitar / banjo / dobro / standup bass/ mandolin and fiddle approach the music in a different way to the Celtic reliance on fiddle / accordion / flute / Irish Bouzouki / bodhran combinations. In fact there is no standard Celtic configuration. Often musicians just take what is available and blend or bend it into the notion at hand. Even the guitar (not a traditional Celtic instrument) is approached in a different way with the use of odd open tunings ( DADGAD, Dropped D or open G) that enable accompaniments that would not work in a Bluegrass setting. The banjo in Celtic music is an entirely a different beast to its American cousins. It’s a four string instrument tuned like a mandolin (GDAE) and played with a plectrum to duplicate or enhance the melody line of the tune. Old-timey music is closer to the Bluegrass tradition in material and temperament than to its Celtic roots. The vocal traditions are similar but, of course, reflect their own specific cultural and geographical conditions. I think the big difference is how each tradition handles the instrumental music. Celtic music is more emphatically dance music so therefore there is a tendency to string together a whole “swack” of tunes to keep the dance momentum going and that imposes a different set of conditions. Bluegrass and Old-timey music tends to stay with a single tune that allows for the performers to indulge in more significant variations and solo opportunities. The end result is that the these traditions favor more “open” tunes with lots of space in the melodies for altering the melodic line and a reliance on standard chordal cadences (IV-V7-I) to keep everybody on track. In Celtic music the melody is king and very few Celtic musicians will tamper with the melody on the fly. The only musicians who immediately comes to mind who willing favor melodic variations are the American fiddler Liz Carroll and Cape Breton’s Ashley MacIssac. Because of the harmonic modal nature of Celtic music the standard IV-V7-I cadences may not work (a dominant 7th chord may lead you in the wrong direction). As I said melody is king in Celtic music so that it is imperative that the performers know the tunes inside out so that when one melody ends the new melody is picked up immediately. There is no reliance on the chordal cadence to keep you on track. The secret of a good performance lies in how smooth the transitions from one tune to the next is a accomplished. It can be so smooth that the audience may not be aware or it can be like a racing car shifting gears. Maybe that’s what drives the dancers.
Treat your self and click on the above link for some of the most amazing foot stomping joyous music you are ever likely to hear. The musicians are Troy MacGillivray on keyboard and fiddle and Tim Edey on button accordion and classical guitar. This is an extended 12 minute set of about eight tunes that includes Silver Spear, Moving Cloud, Road to Errogie, MacArthur Road, Lad Obeirne’s and the great Quebecois tune Mouth of the Tobique (at minute 7:18). This is an amazing set of great tunes, blazing runs, stomping rhythm (just listen to the audience), great variations, instrument switching, and some sly capo repositioning by Tim. These guys are so good that they sound like they are from another planet. The two musicians are obviously having great fun and Tim’s comment mid set “what’s the next hymn Troy” is priceless. This link was passed to me by local fiddle player Angus (‘Gus’) MacDonald. It is from the Cape Breton Celtic Colours Festival that is held every fall in Nova Scotia. ‘Gus’ has been taking fiddle lessons from Troy MacGillivray………….. This is amazing stuff.
Oak Republic at the Stemwinder Bar and Grill (Kimberley Ski Hill), Saturday & Sunday February 16/17th, 2013, 3-6 pm.
OAK REPUBLIC?? Where did that name come from? As it turns out the band’s Bouzouki player Shawn Robertson is a big admirer of the great Canadian guitarist Don Ross. Don is famous for his aggressive finger style playing that has been labelled “Heavy Wood”. Considering the nature of the band’s music “Heavy Wood” would seem an appropriate name for the band but, in deference to Don, the band moved on looking for another name. “What’s a significant heavy wood. Let’s see; say what about Oak? Now that’s a step in the right direction. What’s a name for a collection of citizens? How about a Republic? By George Jay, you’ve got it. The OAK REPUBLIC is what we are.” Under that name Jay Toner (guitar, vocals), Allyson Blake (fiddle and vocals), Shawn Robertson (guitars, mandolin, vocals and Irish Bouzouki), Murph Martin (electric 5-string bass) and Paris Parisean (drums) performed at the Stemwinder Bar and Grill at the Kimberley Ski Hill on Saturday and Sunday. Their music is a mix of the old, new and not so new Irish, country, classic rock, folk and anything in between. They kicked off their Sunday set with Ewan McColl’s classic Dirty Old Town. This isa song that was given a new lease of life when the Irish Punk/Rock band The Pogues recorded it a few years back. Then it was onto some Ben Harper, U2, Johnny Cash, an original Typsy Gypsy (written by Jay and Allyson when Allie first came over from Ireland), Whiskey in the Jar (an Irish traditional song that has been given a new lease of life by a number of Heavy Metal bands in recent years). Also included where the ever popular Wagon Wheels and CCR’s Bad Moon Rising and a song that was new to me, John Lennon’s Working Class Hero.The crowd obviously showed their appreciation by dancing, an activity that was fraught with danger if you were not wearing ski boots.