at St. Matthew's United Church, Inverness, Cape Breton
(6 October 2007)

The venue was St. Matthew's United Church in Inverness and it was my first visit here. It's not a large building and the pews are theatre style, so everyone had a pretty good view of the front where the performers stand and sit to do their thing.

Opening the afternoon event were fiddler Gabrielle MacLellan and her husband Tom Daniels, who is a music professor at St. F.X. with a jazz background. Larry Graham, the emcee of the afternoon show, explained there would be many familial connections and briefly related his ties to the Inverness area. The transitions were smooth and the show moved along at an even pace.

Gabrielle puts out great tone on her fiddle with a genteel touch. She and Tom delivered Jerry Holland's "Memories of Herbie MacLeod" waltz in fine form. "Niel Gow's Lament for the Death of His Second Wife" followed. Under Gabrielle's delicate bowing, the tunes took on a unique and fresh sound.

Tom's guitar accompaniment is not traditional; it may not even be accompaniment but a melding of styles that interpret Cape Breton music, keeping it strongly Cape Breton but adding a new dimension. It was an interesting and enjoyable combination. They ended with a group of strathspeys that were smooth and flowing like the hot aromatic gravy being ladled at the community halls this weekend. (It was Thanksgiving here.)

Family history is a living occupation in Cape Breton, and emcee Larry Graham explained to the crowd that he and Gabrielle were double third cousins once removed, leading into the next act who were brother and sister Ciaran and Fiona MacGillivray, who come from their own background of musical talent and were part of the Cottars in recent years.

Their strong points are moody vocals and instrumental cues to tug at your hearts and tear-ducts. Their dramatic timing showed in their signature song, "The Briar & the Rose," and in the political dirge by Ciaran and yet again in the instrumentals with whistle, mandolin and drums. Ciaran's strong interpretations of "a bunch of jigs" rates as one of the best parts of the show.

When the MacKenzies of Mabou came on stage, the pipes rang out from Kenneth and the sound of the keyboard from his brother Calum swept the inside of the church like the autumn wind blowing against the Inverness hillside. Their father Ronald came out to provide some Gaelic singing and light-hearted banter. The sound was very traditional, seamless and seemingly effortless; these guys were so good.

Next up were the MacGillivrays from Antigonish County: Sabra, Kendra and Troy. The two sisters and brother exchanged positions on keyboard, fiddle and bodhran and were a pleasure to listen to with their rich, traditional sound. Troy did two piano solos, one light and one heavier, and I couldn't decide which was the better one. Kendra is a vibrant fiddle player and Sabra, sedate on the bodhran, offers a good, strong, musical contrast.

The venue -- with stained-glass windows, afternoon sunlight streaming in behind the players, the alcove decorated with coloured leaves and wide pews with the slanted seating -- made this an especially wonderful show. The music may not have been heavy on dance tunes, but it was light and lively mixed with sweetly played waltzes, and delivered by lots of local talent with lots of kinship in the mix.

review by
Virginia MacIsaac

27 October 2007

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