McGinty's Gathering,
Celtic Colours 2001
at Brookshaven Hall,
Prime Brook, Cape Breton, NS
(12 October 2001)

On the second to last day of Cape Breton Island's Celtic Colours festival, I headed to Prime Brook, a small community just outside of Sydney, for McGinty's Gathering. McGinty is a well-known band in the area -- the majority of its members having been born and raised there -- and were rather excited to be playing in a venue so close to home. As an extra bonus, the hall had just recently been outfitted with new soundproofing, and the sound was excellent.

The evening began with Patricia Murray, a singer-songwriter from Canada's Prince Edward Island (another island steeped in musical traditions). Murray has a good range of material, from contemporary songs to the traditional Gaelic. Her presentation is impeccable. She is well-spoken and mixes songs and stories together with ease. Her voice is beautiful and strong and seems built for song. On occasion, I felt her voice to be almost too technical or polished but on reflection, I think the effect was merely from the pronunciation of certain Gaelic words. The expressive playing of Murray's guitar accompanist, Kevin Corbett, complemented her act well, and Murray's bodhran talents added some extra flavour to a well-polished performance.

Next onto the stage was Cape Breton talent Kimberley Fraser, accompanied by Fred Lavery on guitar and Stephanie Wills on piano. Fraser is a young woman with a variety of musical talents. Her performance featured tunes on fiddle, piano and harp -- all played with enthusiasm and expression. I always enjoy a performer who looks to be having a good time on the stage, and Fraser certainly had this appearance, right from the first note to the last. Slow airs were fluid with good tone and faster tunes energetic and lively. The gusto that Fraser put into the set she played on the piano was impressive as well. Often, the piano alone is not enough to get my feet tapping, but Fraser's playing certainly succeeded in this regard. Fraser's final set was fantastic. A slow air on the harp was followed by an excellent rendition of the strathspey "Tullochgorm" (in all its variations) and a high energy set of reels that left the audience wanting more. Instead, we were treated to a short intermission before McGinty hit the stage.

McGinty took the stage to an enthusiastic home crowd. This pub-style band plays a good mix of material -- a cappella shanties, drinking songs, Irish favorites and the odd original song. There aren't too many bands in Cape Breton who play this type of repertoire, perhaps because of the lack of performance venues, so people really seemed to enjoy the opportunity to hear them. The mandolin, guitar and bass combination heard in many of McGinty's songs has a good sound to it. I am also a big fan of their vocal harmonies, especially evidenced in their a cappella tunes. The band also played a slower original song which I really liked. They have a very polished act and, judging from the bantering they do on stage, are well accustomed to playing to the pub crowds.

Although I did find McGinty to be an enjoyable band to listen to -- and the crowd certainly loved them -- I found little to distinguish them from so many other bands one would hear in any Irish pub. With more focus on the original songs and their excellent harmonies, however, I would certainly be inclined to listen to them.

The night ended with a fabulous finale by all of the evening's performers. There was a little trouble fitting the bunch up on stage, but once they were all packed in, we were treated to an excellent batch of songs and tunes. The group began with a great rendition of traditional favorite "Wild Mountain Thyme," being joined by a good portion of the audience for the chorus. The performers then went into a grand set of reels, receiving an instantaneous standing ovation at the completion of their efforts. It is always a great pleasure to hear a diverse and talented group of performers such as these come together for a set. A good end to a great night's entertainment!

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 1 December 2001