Tunes Gu Leor
at Wagmatcook Cultural Centre, Wagmatcook, Cape Breton
(9 October 2010)

It was another rainy autumn night in Cape Breton, but that didn't seem to bother anyone at Celtic Colours. There was barely an empty seat in the house in Wagmatcook! And there was no reason why there should be, because the lineup of this concert was a great one: Troy MacGillivray, the Nuala Kennedy Trio, Chris Stout and Catriona MacKay, and the Colin Grant Band.

Grant, also acting as emcee, introduced himself as such, and told the audience that maybe he would "stay and play a tune later, as well." His sense of humor definitely makes him the person for the job of host.

MacGillivray and Alan Dewar started the show with a lively set of jigs, followed by some even livelier reels, which got a lot of shouts and clapping from the audience. In fact, there was a shout or two for every reel he played in the set! It introduced the show really well and showed the crowd they were in for a treat.

Despite having a cold, MacGillivray looked like he was having a lot of fun performing. He followed the reels with some polkas, which he played for his grandmother in the audience. He told the crowd, "I'm going to sit down, like I'm playing for a dance, so if anyone wants to do some steps, go for it." Then, he showed his talent on the piano with the beautiful air, "Niel Gow's Lament for the Death of his Second Wife," a real tearjerker. I'm always amazed by how many chords he can put with tunes and make them sound effortless ... like everyone comes up with them. After the air, he continued with a clog and some reels.

MacGillivray introduced his last set by saying, "Well, it goes by so fast. We made every set as short as we could and cut out as many tunes as we could. This was originally a four-hour set!" He ended with a lively Nova Scotia set of marches, strathspeys and reels, with his sister, Sabra, showing her steps, to which Troy joined her, at the end, while still playing his fiddle!

"Wasn't that a great first set?" Grant asked the audience, before explaining this show was the kick-off to a miniseries, and that there would be another show with the same name later in the week, and these same artists would be getting together to write music just for it.

Following MacGillivray was Kennedy, accompanied by Donald Hay on percussion and Mike Bryan on guitar. She began with a beautiful old Irish song, which can be heard on her latest album Tune In (highly recommended!) and then a song called "The Labouring Boy," to which she also rocked out with a little Casio keyboard -- and looked like she was having a blast doing so. I really enjoyed the choice of rhythm on this song. It made it really fun and interesting to the ear.

Next, she followed the lively, happy song, with "a song of sadness and death." It also had a driving rhythm, but this time, much heavier. Then, she "lightened the mood a bit" with a set of tunes to finish.

I really enjoyed the variety in this performance -- both in the choice of songs and tunes, and in the way they were accompanied. It was really interesting and pleasing to the ear. Kennedy is great at putting a fresh sound to old, traditional music without taking away from the tradition.

Next, Andrea Beaton was welcomed to the stage. She was accompanied by Tracey Dares MacNeil on piano and Darren MacMullen on guitar and mandolin. Like MacGillivray, she kicked her performance off with a rousing set of jigs and reels, including a tune by Cape Breton fiddler Shelly Campbell. She followed this by a set of tunes she wrote, including one called "Welcome Back, Ian" for Ian MacDougall. They can be heard on her latest album, Branches (again, highly recommended).

Beaton got some "woohoos!" from the audience as she kicked into the reels. Then she slowed things down with a tune she wrote for her sister, Allison, and Allison's husband, called "Allison & Craig's Big Day." It is a beautiful waltz, which she played with her eyes closed and an occasional smile on her face, as she rocked back and forth to the lilt of the tune. Her last set was a "good old traditional marches, strathspeys and reels," including a reel for Kennedy called "Fire on the Lino," which pertains to some veggie burgers that were being cooked while Nuala and Andrea played tunes, and they were left in the oven so long they caught fire, and then were dropped on the linoleum floor, which also started to burn! She received a standing ovation from much of the audience.

After intermission, artists in residence Chris Stout and Catriona MacKay took the stage. They began with a beautiful slow tune, with the fiddle tuned down, and a variety of sounds on the harp, including small paddles and a fan blowing against the strings. Stout also made a variety of sounds on the fiddle, by brushing his bow in circles on the strings. I couldn't believe how many sounds they were getting out of just the two instruments. It left the audience hanging with an "unresolved" ending. (I actually heard someone say, "That's it?") This was followed by some tunes that were written by MacKay, one of which was written for Stout, and it pertained to him traveling with his fiddle, and she didn't think he'd make it back in one piece, so she wrote a four-part tune for him. The set also included some lively tunes by Stout. Then, they played a lovely waltz by MacKay and then a tune that I believe was called "Angels," which received a standing ovation.

I really enjoy this duo's transitions between tunes and the way MacKay accompanies on her harp. She can make it sound like it's a guitar or a bass. It's really neat. Both artists are amazing.

Grant said, "this emceeing and playing thing is tricky." Then, he tuned up and introduced "The Colin Grant Band." They are a Celtic rock band, and they kicked off with a loud, upbeat set, heavy with bass and drums. They got the audience clapping to the beat.

Grant followed this with some slower tunes and then a piece written by Jason Roach, the piano player in the band. It was called "Sleepless," which Grant explained how fitting it was for this festival. Next, Grant requested that the audience "diddle" along in his next set and he split them into two parts, and had them do a call and response part.

I'll admit, Celtic rock isn't my favorite kind of music, but I enjoyed Grant's stage presence and humor. He's really good at interacting with his audience.

To end the show, all of the artists gathered on the stage for a set, together. They kicked it off with one of the versions of "The Parting Glass," sung beautifully by Kennedy. They followed this with some lively tunes, the first one written by Kennedy, then "Siobhan O'Donnell's," then one last lively reel. The set got a huge standing ovation.

I'm really happy I chose this show as my first for this year's festival. I enjoyed it as much as the show I saw at this venue last year. It had great variety, and I was really impressed with how multitalented many of these artists are. It was a treat.

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

18 December 2010

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