A Tale of Four Islands
at Inverness Education Centre & Academy,
Inverness, Cape Breton
(12 October 2012)

After another fine meal at the Yellow Cello and a sudden squall in Baddeck, we headed west on the Cabot Trail toward Inverness under steel-colored skies and surrounded by mist-covered highlands.

We'd been pretty pleased with our concert selections so far this week, choices borne out by the presence of Joella Foulds, artistic director for the festival, at each. This was the first concert we attended this week where Joella didn't make an appearance, but fortunately her absence didn't signal any reduction in the quality of the show.

Heavy rains, coupled with a sodden lawn for parking, did make me worry about getting my car out at the end of the night, however, and ensured I'd have soaked sneakers for the duration of the evening's performance.

The show began with local bagpiping talent Kevin Dugas, who said he'd spent many days in these selfsame halls in his youth. Now he filled them with the martial sounds of Scottish battlefields, translated to a school gymnasium stage.

Dugas was joined by Andrea Beaton on keyboard and Maxim Cormier, who also had a brief spotlight performance, on guitar.

Next, Andrea returned to the stage with her father, Kinnon Beaton. It was a fine, two-generational pairing, with daughter again providing keys as her dad showed what he could do with a fiddle.

The fond family banter made the set even more special, not that the Beatons need extras with such fine music at their command.

The focus switched next to Denmark, home of the Fionia String Band. Like the Beatons, Fionia is a two-generational affair -- in this case, featuring two fiddles and a keyboard -- and their music is a blend of Scandinavian and Celtic-Canadian traditions.

Led by fiddler Jes Kroman, formerly of La Bastringue, the band also features award-winning fiddler Michael Graubaek and pianist Theis Juul Langlands. Their lively set included the music to a song by Hans Christian Andersen -- they played the music, which was not by Andersen, but dropped the words penned by the famous folklorist -- and did not employ a trampoline, which Kroman said they considered.

After a frantic closer to their set, the Fionia trio was joined by the Beatons for a group set of Cape Breton tunes, featuring Andrea on steps.

Next in the lineup was Daniel Lapp, an old favorite from Vancouver Island whose unique use of fiddle and trumpet never fails to please.

Partnered on stage by Adam Dobres on guitar and Adrian Dolan on keyboard, mandolin, accordion and synth, Lapp crafted aural landscapes, using bent notes and electronics in a funked-up set. "This is a new thing for us," he said, and he promised the show would "explore some new territory -- sounds that we love and textures that we love."

He and his band proved it with music unlike anything I'd heard before. Much of it was a bit mellower than I was used to on a Celtic Colours stage, but it was a fascinating journey nonetheless.

Anyone lulled into a drowse by Lapp's more low-key performance was certainly revived by the blast of pipes and fiddles that heralded the arrival of the Battlefield Band.

A musical tradition some four decades long, the Battlefield Band now features the four-man lineup of Sean O'Donnell on vocals and guitar, Ewen Henderson on fiddle, bagpipes, whistles, piano and vocals, Alasdair White on fiddle, whistle, bouzouki, and small and Highland pipes, and Mike Katz on small and Highland pipes, whistles, guitar and bass guitar.

Their portion of this evening's show focused heavily on pipes and fiddle, as is proper. They mixed it up a bit, however, allowing less bellicose instruments, such as the keyboard, whistle and bouzouki, some say in the proceedings, and giving some time as well to a bit of Gaelic song. I've seen this band in several different incarnations over the years (the list of past members on their website is a who's who of Scottish music), and it's a grand thing to see them continuing the tradition is so strong a fashion.

Fast and slow (mostly fast), the set went by quickly, and to wrap things up, the Battlefield Band was joined on stage by Dugas and Lapp for a final blitz of musical enthusiasm.

review by
Tom Knapp

9 February 2013

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