Re-rockin’ the 902: Celtic Colours 2014 and David Francey

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Updates will follow. But so far my big revelation of this year’s festival has been David Francey.

Just remember where you heard him first. Find more here. You’re welcome.

I saw you first in the smoky café light
Where I’d come in from the frozen winter night
And I saw a face that put the stars to shame
I loved you ‘fore I ever knew your name
And my heart sank, lost without a trace
And it’s a lucky man that gets to kiss your face

I’ve seen you shine in the summer, spring, and fall
But it’s winter when I love you best of all
And I’ve seen you in the spotlight hard and bright
And I’ve seen you in the shadows of the night
And when I see you coming I can feel my cold heart race
And it’s a lucky man that gets to kiss your face

I heard you singing to that empty hall
And I heard the joy that echoed off the walls
And I realized when all is said and done
That youth is never wasted on the young
And I don’t believe the silence of this place
And it’s a lucky man that gets to kiss your face

Song of the night: “I’ll Tell Me Ma” by Brak and The Chieftains

One step closer, maybe?

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Without a doubt, this day has been a mixed bag. So I was needful of some good news, and I got it: I’ll be a volunteer for this fall’s Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton.

I’m more hyped up about this than I can tell you. I attended the 2012 Celtic Colours last fall, chronicled it here, and had one of the greatest experiences of my life. Wasn’t that a time, as they say. I knew then that I want somehow to be part of this. And it looks like I will be. So far I’m signed on to help at gigs in Port Hawkesbury and Wagmatcook, with more possibly to come.

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Maybe this is, or maybe this isn’t, one big step closer to my goal. Feels like it could be. We shall see what we shall see. But, no matter, I get to be a part of Celtic Colours.

“I can’t believe we’re singing a song about a dead horse… in a ZOO.”

About a year and a half ago I wrote these words:

“And if you ever get a chance to see Great Big Sea in person: wake the kids, phone the neighbors, hock the jewelry. You will not regret it.”

So this morning I took my own advice. Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Went online. Sold out concert; are there ANY tickets left? Yes, just a few scattered single seats. Done. Here’s my plastic. So a two-plus-hour drive from my office, and there I was:

Watching Great Big Sea at the Minnesota Zoo.

What a show, what an amazing show. It’s one in the morning, I have to be at work in seven hours, and I’m still amped up.

And yes, they sang one of the two songs in their repertoire (“Concerning Charlie Horse”) about dead horses.

I’ve now seen the b’ys in concert three times. They never fail to amaze. I’ll see them thirty more times if I can. (Photos by me.)

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Great Big Sea. Tonight. Fitzgerald Theater, Saint Paul, MN.

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Great Big Sea. Man. I am so cranked up for this I can barely stand it. I’m giddy like a high-school kid.

As Van the Man sang: yeah you know, I’m so wired up, don’t need no coffee in my cup.

UPDATE PICS: I didn’t take many pics because (1) I was just that minute learning how to use my smartphone camera and (2) I was too busy jumping up and down and singing along. But here’s what I did get.

Get your Irish on, part II

“Raglan Road” by The High Kings



Get your Irish on, part I

Compare and contrast

See if you can pick up the subtle stylistic differences.

“Wi’ A Hundred Pipers” by Steve McDonald.

“Hoots Mon (There’s A Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose)” by Bad Manners. As Eytan Mirsky once pointed out: “It’s SKA-tish.”

Desert Island Discs: “Souvenir (1989-1998)” by The Rankins (2003)

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I spent most of September 2010 traveling around Nova Scotia, particularly Cape Breton. Discussed it here and here. This two-CD set was my constant traveling companion, the soundtrack of my journey. I still play it at home and on the radio, as a reminder of one of the best times of my life. Hence a Desert Island Disc.

And yes, it’s another greatest-hits compilation.

From the beginning it was clear the group was about so much more than just music, that there was a tradition to be respected and passed on, but not without ensuring its audience had a damn good time in the process. Young and energetic, The Rankins showed the rest of the country, and much of the world, that Cape Breton music was strong and vital and had a relevant place in the commercial market…The Rankins had a tricky balancing act on their hands, satisfying the folk music fans that bought the first 10,000 or so copies of their first two CDs and helped raise their music industry profile, and meeting the needs of a major label with commercial airplay that enabled them to fill arenas across the country…The Rankins were about tearing down barriers and bringing the music of their home to new listeners. – Stephen Cooke, Halifax Chronicle-Herald

“Souvenir 1989—1998” is a two-disc greatest hits compilation that came out in 2003. It is a great overview of the decade when the Rankin Family rose to prominence in the Canadian pop/folk scene and opened a floodgate of likeminded musicians who brought Celtic influences into the contemporary scene. It is evenly focused on their entire career, and also serves as a memorial to the late John Morris Rankin (1959-2000). Mrs. homercat introduced me to The Rankins and I love them. Just one listen to “You Feel the Same Way Too,” “Borders and Time,” or “The Mull River Shuffle” and you’ll be hooked too. The family is blessed with wonderful voices, particularly the women. The harmony is dense and absolutely pure. The voices are clear and crisp, the lyrics are full of meaning, and the music is just fantastic. The men in the group are excellent instrumentalists and the late John Morris’s fiddle playing is superb in an authentic Gaelic style. Truly one of Canada’s best kept secrets. –

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Jimmy, Raylene, Heather, Cookie, and John Morris Rankin

The Rankin clan hails from Mabou, a town of 1,300 on the western coast of Cape Breton. A family of 12, they all performed in various groupings, at ceilighs and fairs, across the island for years and years. The youngest five got national attention (in Canada) and signed with EMI in 1989. So they became another incredibly talented band that was huge in Canada, but barely known in the US. See also: Great Big Sea, Blue Rodeo, Sloan, et al.

John Morris Rankin
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The band went on hiatus in 1998, took on side projects, and raised their families. As homercat mentioned above: in 2000 John Morris Rankin, the older brother and virtuosic instrumentalist, was killed in a roadside accident not far from his home in Mabou. The remaining members were in shock to say the least. Since then Jimmy, Cookie, Raylene, and Heather have reunited as a foursome and in smaller groups, and continue to take on solo and other side projects. “Souvenir” chronicles the music made by all five of them together.

The Rankins’ style of tight harmonies, outstanding instrumentation, and Celtic influences has become known in Canada as “East Coast Music.” This is in part because it’s primarily based in Atlantic Canada, the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador with their strong Scottish and Irish populations. Although some Acadian elements have seeped into the music as well. According to wikipedia:

The Maritime Provinces are best known for the strong influence of Scottish and Irish settlers on the sound of the region’s traditional music. This Celtic-derived music is most strongly expressed on Cape Breton Island, which is especially well known for the Scottish influx in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Scottish-style fiddle music, sometimes accompanied by the piano, was popular at the time, and these traditions survive today. In some cases, like Cape Breton Island, Scottish folk traditions are better-maintained than in Scotland itself…New Brunswick has seen a roots revival of their own Acadian traditions, dating back to before the French settlers of the area were expelled to Louisiana and became the Cajuns…While closely related to the three Maritime provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador is culturally and politically separate. However, the two areas share a regional awards show, the East Coast Music Awards, and a common musical heritage.

As I say, this CD set was my traveling buddy throughout Nova Scotia. With a backdrop like that it’s obvious why it has a special place in my collection, but I’m not fickle; I continue to listen now that I’m back home.

John Morris’s contribution was his amazing musicianship on piano, guitar, and fiddle. He rarely took a lead vocal, but the other four made up for it. Cookie (real name, Carol) takes the lead on several numbers, including “Borders And Time.”

Cookie Rankin
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Blue are the ocean waters
Along a lover’s shoreline
You will not be forgotten
But now that you’re gone
The heartache lives on

(Please continue to page two)

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Desert Island Discs: “The Hard And The Easy” by Great Big Sea (2005)

About three years ago, through the suggestion of my friend Lily, I became aware of Great Big Sea. It will take me years to thank her for this.

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Great Big Sea is unlike any other band you will ever hear. “Celtic rock” is a phrase often applied to them, but that doesn’t even do them justice. Principal members Séan McCann, Bob Hallett, Alan Doyle, and Darrell Power grew up in Newfoundland and met up at university where all were English majors. They shared a love of the folk songs they grew up with, including sea shanties, which draw from the island’s 500-year-old Irish, English, and French heritage. And of course, rock’n’roll. They earned their apprenticeships playing in the divey college bars of St. John’s to wildly enthusiastic fans, and released their first DIY album in 1993. More albums followed which maintained the formula established in their stage shows: a mix of Newfie folk songs with originals and some covers (“Run Runaway” by Slade, “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” by R.E.M., “Let My Love Open The Door” by Pete Townshend).

By 2005 Darrell Power had quit the band to pursue a quieter life in Newfoundland. And many of the band’s more hardcore folky followers were hoping they would play less R’n’R. Thus bolstered by a new bassist and drummer, GBS went into the studio and recorded “The Hard And The Easy,” their seventh studio album and a compilation of the folk songs mostly gleaned from Alan Doyle’s family songbooks. All of the guys had grown up with these songs, though, and all of their families very likely had similar collections.

There was one exception. The band recorded a song called “The Mermaid” which they believed to be an old Irish sea shanty. It was only after Warner Canada pressed and released the CD that they discovered it had actually been written by the one and only Shel Silverstein. The cover art, front and back, illustrates the song: the mixed-species image is on the front cover, and the back cover features the two species reversed. As McCann describes looking at the two images: “Sometimes it makes me hungry, and…”

It’s also noteworthy that “The Hard And The Easy” features not one, but two songs about horses falling through the ice (“Concerning Charlie Horse” and “Tickle Cove Pond”). How many other albums can you say that about?!

As I said, I’m a fan. This is the GBS album I most often return to and sing along with. I’m Scots-Irish and not a Newfie, but I don’t think you need to be in order to appreciate these songs. It’s a great place to start if you’ve never heard the b’ys before.

Some highlights: “Come And I Will Sing You (The Twelve Apostles)” is a traditional Newfoundland song that shares themes and imagery with many other folk-based songs including “The Twelve Days Of Christmas.” Bob Hallett observes that some version of this song exists in almost every culture, or at least western culture. He adds that you are destined to be remembered forever if you were to sing this song at a party.

“Captain Kidd” is reported to be the story of pirate William Kidd. Alan Doyle gives it hell.

“Graceful And Charming (Sweet Forget-Me-Not)” was the song Séan McCann’s grandfather sang to propose to his wife, and was one of the first songs Séan ever learned.

Get this album and you’ll be hooked too. And if you ever get a chance to see GBS in person: wake the kids, phone the neighbors, hock the jewelry. You will not regret it.

Clips  from Youtube