Songwriters Circle,
Celtic Colours 2001
at Baddeck Academy, Cape Breton, NS
(9 October 2001)

"In all the excitement of instrumental music, the craft of songwriting can tend to be lost," said Brian McNeill, a Scottish singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose credits include the Battlefield Band and Clan Alba. Well, songwriting was certainly the focus at the Songwriters Circle, a delightful presentation Tuesday evening at Baddeck Academy in central Cape Breton.

McNeill shared the stage with Cape Breton's own Gordie Sampson, Newfoundland's Ron Hynes and renowned Scottish legend Archie Fisher. The four took turns showcasing their music, and the audience sat in rapt attention as the four men sang their stories. Each preceded their songs with some background about the music's origins.

McNeill started the show with "The Yew Tree," a powerful song that offers an unflinching look at Scotland's past. His songs also included "Strong Women Rule Us All With Their Tears," the strident "Join the Union" and the drinking song "Sunday on the Jar." "The Devil's Only Daughter" was on its surface a love song, but it's really about his fiddle.

Fisher gave great service with his strong, mellow voice on songs like "This Journey's End," "Fiddle Farewell," "Take It Easy on Me" and "The Golden Tones," about the vehicular demise of a band.

Hynes took his turns with "Won't Come Back Again," "Dark River," "From Dublin, With Love" and "A Good Dog is Lost," complete with arfing.

And Sampson, the hometown favorite, pleased the audience with songs including "Everything Comes in Waves," "Grampa's Remedy," "Joseph" and the apologetic "Sorry for Everything" (with a great snippet of "Puff the Magic Dragon"). He wound up the evening with "The Long Way Home." (I changed my mind 15 times in 3 seconds," he confessed.)

The standing ovation brought everyone back for an encore. Fisher led the crowd for a rousing sing-along rendition of "The Final Trawl."

This wasn't a big-scale production. There were no complicated set-ups, no difficult arrangements, no ripping fiddle tunes or brash bagpipe medleys. It was just four men on stage, each relying on the power of his voice and the vivid images conjured by their words. Background was limited pretty much to guitar or bouzouki; McNeill occasionally added a bit of fiddle to the mix. The show was casual, with lots of banter keeping it lively.

Songwriters Circle pointed its spotlight at the singers, yes, but the focus was just as much on the songs. The men featured here are all eminent craftsmen in their field, penning lyrics that tell evocative stories and reflect very human moods.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 3 November 2001