Sunday, June 11, 2017

Celebrating Cape Breton's heritage and connections through music: Celtic Colours Live volume 4

Cape Breton lies in the far north of Nova Scotia, in Atlantic Canada. There are parts of the island which do not look lot like Scotland, and places where it looks very like. Places where it sounds like Scotland, too: Cape Breton is almost alone as a place outside Scotland where Scottish Gaelic is spoken. Spoken and sung, that is. When immigrants -- some seeking a better life, some fleeing political and economic strife, some driven from their homes-- came over from Scotland, they often brought with them few material goods. They did, however, bring their songs, their tunes, their dances, and their stories.

They found First Peoples tribes on Cape Breton, and across the years, as more people from Scotland came, so too came folk from Ireland, from the United States, from central Europe, from Scandinavia, from other parts of Canada. The heart of Scotland’s culture beat strongly through all this, sharing influences and being influenced by landscape, weather, and life on an island as well as crossing paths with people from these other backgrounds. So a unique culture emerged, connected to Scotland but different, one that could -- and still does -- celebrate the distinctions as much as the connections.

Every year in autumn the people of Cape Breton invite the world home to experience this. For nine days in October each year beginning just before Thanksgiving in Canada, concerts and cultural events are staged all across the island in communities large and small, in purpose built concert halls, churches of many faiths, school houses, fire halls, pubs, historic sites from one end of the island to the other. This is the Celtic Colours International Festival.

The music is both focused and diverse, There are tradition bearers from Cape Breton, and rising stars. There’s always good representation from the other provinces of Atlantic Canada, from Ireland, from the United States, from across the rest of Canada, and naturally from many parts of Scotland. Both tradition bearers and rising stars are part of these strands of music as well.

You may be reading this in summer and thinking: Why am I hearing about this now since it happens in October?

One reason is the recording Celtic Colours Live volume four. Through thirteen tracks recorded live as they happened in venues across the twentieth anniversary season of the festival in 2016, you will get a fine feeling for what the music of Celtic Colours is like.

In a concert from the Acadian part of the island in Belle Cote, Le Vent du Nord kicks things off with rousing Quebecois style. Fiddle tunes from Andrea Beaton and Liz Carroll hold a lively dialogue among Cape Breton, US, and Irish strands, from an event recorded at the Dangerous Duos concert in Mabou.

That Dangerous Duos concert, by the way, is a good taste of what Celtic Colours does so well -- not only do old friends get to meet up and play music together, but people who don’t usually play together join up. Scheduled or not, the results are always well worth the hearing. There are several other collaborations from the Dangerous Duos evening on Celtic Colours Live volume four.

Speaking of collaborations: the whole of The Unusual Suspects band could be seen as that. In Scotland, musicians Corrina Hewat and Dave Milligan had the idea of creating a folk orchestra, with players from the varied regions and traditions of the country. Not an easy task to pull off -- but they did it, and have kept it going for some time. They’ve brought it to Celtic Colours before, too, where they become The Unusual Suspects of Celtic Colours by adding top Canadian musicians to the mix, folk such as, in 2016, Wendy MacIsaac, Lisa MacNeil, and Daniel Lapp. Scottish and CB tunes made up the band’s Finale Set, which is what appears on record for this album. Not quite as high energy as being there, but almost.

There is plenty of high energy music on the recording, and at the festival itself. There are quieter times too, though, and these are well represented. Top Scottish storyteller in song Archie Fisher joins up with CB guitarist Cyril MacPhee for the Buddy MacDonald song We Remember You Well. Newfoundland trio The Once. who are Geraldine Hollett, Phil Churchill, and Andrew Dale, bring their original song Gonna Get Good. Scotland’s Dougie MacLean joins up with Canada by way of Scotland guitarist Tony MacManus for the song Talking With My Father -- listen out for that guitar on this track.

There’s more -- Gaelic song from students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Irish fiddle from Liz Doherty, Americana and Canada meeting up in the work of April Verch and Joe Newberry, and of course Cape Breton music and artists through it all.

It is no easy task to make a live recording work. This one does on all counts, with the music, the hints of audience sound, the occasional tapping or step dancing feet, and the sense of presence in the venues. Congratulations to Jamie Foulds, who recorded, mixed, and mastered the tracks, and Declan O’ Doherty, who produced.

If you happen to be reading this in summer, you’ll want to know that the Celtic Colours Festival will be announcing the artist line ups near the end of June, and tickets will go on sale in mid July for the festival, which will take place in 2017 from 6 to 14 October. In addition to half a dozen or so concerts each evening of the festival, there are talks, workshops, art exhibits, farmers and craft markets, community meals, storytelling times, music sessions, ceilidhs, events for children... keep your eye out on the festival web site for information about all these things.

One other thing: For every ticket sold for the 2017 festival, there will be a maple tree planted on Cape Breton Island.

You may also wish to see
Scotland’s Music a Different Way: The Unusual Suspects.
Sounds of Cape Breton
Cape Breton Music: Remembering Raylene Rankin
Celebrating Canada and Newfoundland: The Once
Canada’s music: Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy
Tony McManus: The Maker’s Mark

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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