Fiddle Heaven,
Celtic Colours 2002
at Culture & Heritage Centre
in Wagmatcook,
Cape Breton, NS
(15 October 2002)

It's not just about the music. It's about stories captured in song. It's about the fellowship among talented singers who enjoy and admire each other's talents.

Bards & Ballads, another in the ongoing music series at Cape Breton's Celtic Colours festival, gathered five traditional singers and singer-songwriters in the Culture & Heritage Centre in Wagmatcook. Patrons were treated to a magical night as the singers shared their craft.

Host for the evening was North Shore's local favorite Buddy MacDonald. From nearby Prince Edward Island came talented singer-songwriter Lennie Gallant. Ireland's Eleanor McEvoy shared her songs with the help of pianist Brian Connor, while Scotland supplied music through Kris Drever, who is also one-third of the band Fine Friday, and Gaelic singer Margaret Bennett.

Buddy started the show with his well-loved song "We Remember You Well," a tribute I find touching every time I hear it. Lennie went next with "Pieces of You," a song he wrote while flying at 30,000 feet. "You write better when you're under pressure," Lennie confided. The nervousness of the person seated neat to him provided the impetus he needed.

Eleanor complained that "there are so many miserable love songs out there," so she shared "Easy in Love," a song she co-wrote with Brian Parker that's "happy all the way through." Kris, from the Scottish Orkneys, sang a lament for the selkie, and Margaret, who hails from the Isle of Skye, sang an a cappella Gaelic song written in Quebec but based on the Isle of Lewis. Cape Breton is, of course, one of the few places in the world where an audience could pick up enough Gaelic words to sing along with the chorus.

The singers exchanged casual banter and well-meaning barbs throughout the evening, achieving an easy rapport that spoke of long associations. They also leant a hand on each other's songs; for instance, Lennie added bodhran to several songs, while Eleanor played fiddle on one or two.

For the next round, Buddy sang his heading-home song "Eight More Hours." Lennie mourned the death of the fishing industry in the powerful "Peter's Dream." Eleanor explored the cycle of a relationship in "Seasoned Love." Kris sang a cappella on "Skippin' Barefoot Through the Heather," and Margaret sang "The Heir of Dunvegan," a song from Skye. "The Scots are not very good at saying they love each other," she noted. "'She's no' bad' means he's madly in love with her."

After a brief intermission, Buddy got things going again with a paean to his guitar, "Six Strings and Me." "I don't care if you like it," he sang, "'cause I love it myself." Lennie maintained the theme, strapping on a harmonica to accompany himself on "There Must Be Another Song," a gorgeous piece inspired by a luthier that explores the bond between a musician and his instrument, and the music waiting inside.

"I'll be taking the front off all my guitars when I go home to see if there are any songs like that in them," Buddy joked.

Eleanor got everyone on the stage singing along with "My Own Sweet Bed Tonight," a song that might have had a very different ending if she hadn't had a bottle of Jameson's waiting at home. Kris described a scoundrel in "Cold Blow"; Margaret countered with "a happy love song" among brothers, beating time with her hand on her lap as the audience quickly picked up the rhythm and the Gaelic chorus.

For the final round, Buddy sang "No Small Boats," a song he wrote about the loss of old wooden fishing boats, drawn ashore to die on the sand, as modern fiberglass boats take their place in the water. In North Shore, Buddy noted, "if you weren't a lobster fisherman, you went away somewhere. Or you became a musician." Lennie set his guitar aside and provided bare-handed rhythm on his bodhran for "Destination," which he wrote on a cross-country rail trip when he wasn't allowed to play his guitar ("That would be too much like having fun, and that wouldn't be very Canadian"), so he wrote it around the rhythm of the train.

Eleanor sang her highly acclaimed "Only a Woman's Heart." Kris added a song of leaving, "Funeray," ("We Must Up and Haste Away"), and Margaret closed with "a song about somebody already hasted away," an old Scots-Irish ballad that sounds suspiciously like American country, "Go and Leave Me."

Buddy thanked the crowd for being "an attentive, sing-along, happy-sounding audience" before a couple of ensemble songs, "Here's One More Day on the Grey Funnel Line" and "Getting Dark Again."

A night of incredible songs generated a warm glow that lasted well into the cold Cape Breton night.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 2 November 2002