Celtic Connection article - Happy Canada Day!
Friday July 1, 2016
Only getting to write this column every two months means there's a lot more to fit in! Since my last column I've been over to England, we've completed our Spring season at The Rogue and are gearing up for festival season out here on the left coast. We've had some staff changes at The Rogue as well, with fiddler Scherene Auchterlonie and radio DJ Paul Norton replacing Lydia Hol and Linda Bull. I've also been busy booking shows for the Fall season - and getting ready for a trip to Denmark and beyond in August. No rest for the wicked (or the Rogues)!
My England trip was mostly for the football. I arrived in Manchester on the day of United's final game of the season, and was part of the crowd evacuated when a suspicious package was found in the stadium. That was the first time such a postponement had ever happened in England. I then spent a couple of days visiting museums (United's own, the Lowry Museum, and the amazing Imperial War Museum North - which is devoted to the experience of war from the perspective of civilians.)
Whilst in Manchester I found out I was to be inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall Of Fame! Wow! What an amazing honour! I'll be inducted as a Pioneer, along with the likes of Joe Keithley (DOA), Tom Lavin (Powder Blues), The Filliponi Brothers (The Penthouse Cabaret!), and former Spirit of the West band member Linda McRae. Linda was born and raised in BC, but now makes her home in Nashville. She's playing a Rogue gig at St. James Hall on Sunday September 4th with Thad Beckman - Tom Russell's guitarist for the past few years. Linda and Thad first met at The Rogue last November, when I had to put them on the same bill as there were no other dates available to suit them and us. Boy, what a chance meeting and a pleasant surprise that was! They had each played a set and then got together for an impromptu encore. They covered three Hank Williams tunes and had such a great time that they are now touring together! Both are impressive songwriters (Linda works a lot with prisoners in such establishments as Folsom Prison, helping them develop their songwriting skills as a way to help ease the pains of incarceration) and both released fine albums last year. It will be a great concert, with each contributing solo material and with more collaborative material as well. Making it even more special, the event will also be the official ceremony inducting both Linda and I into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame!
After Manchester I headed to London for a few days, to explore such delights as the Borough Market, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese Inn on Fleet Street, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Royal Geographic Society's amazing exhibition Britain From The Air, and a tour of the Royal Albert Hall with Charlie Richmond and Marilyn Williams, Rogue bar staff stalwarts who happened to be in London at the same time! I also made it to FA Cup Final to see United lift the trophy. What an incredible experience that was!
The other highlight of my London trip was seeing Welsh band 9bach at Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush. It's a Victorian / Edwardian hall recently renovated. About the same size as the Wise Hall, but with no "balcony". It has a very ornate white marble stage frieze and a wooden dance floor - with very few seats (I just cannot understand how venues can have so few seats these days. Most Vancouver venues - and Bush Hall - only seat about 5 - 10% of the audience; the rest have to stand - and sway. I think it's weird! At The Rogue we have seats for everyone. Seems a common courtesy to me, but what would I know?)
9bach is a remarkable band fronted by singer Lisa Jen, who is flanked on stage by keyboardist Mirain Roberts and harpist Esyllt Jones. Lisa lives in Snowdonia and her first language is Welsh. Somehow she has also absorbed Greek rebetika music! Behind the three women are Martin Hoyland (guitar), Dan Swain (bass) and Ali Byworth (drums) who provide a pulsating rhythmic core to anchor the music. All the songs are in Welsh, and they give very brief intros to the songs' subject matter, allowing the audience an "in" to the soul of the songs. The music really speaks for itself, carrying one along on a melodic and engaging rhythmic ride. They have just released their 3rd CD, Anian, which comes with a bonus disc of poems and prose written specially for them by a variety of authors and read by such diverse talents as Peter Gabriel (whose record label, Realworld, houses 9bach amongst many other fine bands), the actor Rhys Ifans, and Canadian-born singer Bonnie Dobson. Lisa Jen spent some time in Australia, touring with the aboriginal group The Black Arm Band, whose singer Lou Bennett also reads one of the poems - Si Hwi Hwi - a song about slavery. Another of their songs, Plentyn, speaks to the abduction of aboriginal children from their families to be raised as "white". Lisa and Mirain were amazed when I told them we had a similarly tarnished history here in Canada. I hope 9bach come over here to present their incredible music some day. Soon. They will find a lot of empathy around here, for sure. Check them out on www.9bach.com
Festival season is now upon us, but there aren't all that many Celtic bands playing the Canadian festivals this summer. Harrison Festival of the Arts has The Paperboys, David Francey, Norah Rendell, and Quebec's Melisande. Vancouver Folk Music Festival has lots of English bands - and we know how separate England has become recently! Oysterband, Martin & Eliza Carthy, Lucy Ward, The Young 'Uns, and also PEI's Ten Strings & A Goat Skin, and Irish quintet I Draw Slow - who play more of an "Americana" sound than Celtic. Oysterband also head over to Duncan for Islands Folk Festival, and the same weekend White Rock's amazing fiddler Kierah kicks off the Mission Folk Music Festival. Dervish play the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in August, along with PEI's The East Pointers and Newfoundland trad. singer extraordinaire Matthew Byrne. For full details of all the BC festivals I'd recommend BC Musician magazine's 2016 Festival Edition - www.bcmusicianmag.com/2016-festival-guide
And then there's Shorefest, where The Rogue presents Canadian bands on our Sunset Beach Stage just prior to the Celebration of Light fireworks displays. Saturday July 23rd, Wednesday July 27th, and Saturday July 30th this year. It's all FREE, and there is a Beer Garden and Food Trucks. Check out the line-up on www.roguefolk.bc.ca
Margaret & I are off to Scandinavia right after the Edmonton festival, and we end the month of August at the Tonder Festival, just over the German border in Denmark. Bands like Shooglenifty, Flook, Rura, Ross Ainslie & Jarlath Henderson, and The Treacherous Orchestra are joined there by Tim O'Brien, and Canadians The Barra MacNeils, Ten Strings & A Goat Skin and heaps more Blues and Cajun performers and songwriters, plus great Scandinavian bands like Vasen and The String Sisters. We get back just in time for Linda McRae's show in September!
For more information on Rogue shows, visit www.roguefolk.bc.ca (you definitely shouldn't miss the debut of young trad. Celtic trio Barrule from the Isle Of Man on October 2nd, for example!)
If you're looking for new CDs of Celtic music you can't go wrong with these:
And The Band Played On -- Four Men & A Dog - celebrating 25 years of making scintillating Celtic music
What Next? -- The Rambling Boys - another Gino Lupari project, joined by Sean Regan (fiddle), David Munnally (melodeon), and Alan Burke (vocals & guitar)
Aupres de Poele -- Ten Strings & A Goat Skin - great young trio from PEI with their second CD, whose title means "around the wood stove"
Anian -- 9bach (see above review)
This House Will Stand -- Oysterband - a double CD. First one is a Best of from the last 16 years. Second disc is a fine collection of previously unreleased songs
The Gloaming 2 -- The Gloaming - Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill, Iarla O'Lionaird and co. with their second beauteous collection
Dinas -- Calan - another excellent young Welsh band with fiddles, accordion, pipes and vocals.
Manannan's Cloak -- Barrule - three young lads from the Isle of Man. Exhilarating Celtic tunes and songs.
Gathering -- Maria Dunn - Edmonton songwriter's latest collection of inspiring songs about the valiant lives of community activists and heroines like Malala
The Source - Afro Celt Sound System - this one is contentious. There are two bands claiming the same name, made up of two halves of the band. Acrimony and litigation is ongoing. Such a shame! If I could only listen to one band - perish the thought! - they would / would have been at the top of my list. The new CD is pretty good, but nothing compares to their work with Iarla O'Lionaird in the late 90s and early noughties.
Have a great Summer! See you at The Rogue in September - and maybe at a festival or two before then.