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

The Battle of the Kilt! Hoots mon!
High school senior in St Louis is told he can’t wear his formal kilt to the prom. He states that the principal told him the school wants to promote men “dressing like men.” Principal denies it, but at least one other student corroborates the story. There follows a significant turnout of support by the St Louis Scots community.
I believe that if they were discussing the traditional garb of some other nationality, there would have been all sorts of accommodation for this. And that’s as it should be. But I’d like to see this principal tell Sean Connery or Billy Connolly or Craig Ferguson that they aren’t “dressing like men.” Och, but wha’s fur ye won’t get by ye.

A Scot Across the Pond

It was a battle lasting just a few days in the St. Louis, USA, area, and it probably won’t go down in the annuls of Scottish history. But for the Scottish community in St. Louis, and the thousands of people who join with us throughout the year to celebrate the many profound connections between America and Scotland, it was an opportunity to stand for Scotland and to stand with a fellow Scot.

Many people from around the world have been following this skirmish, and many of them took action with e-mails and phone calls. Here’s a full summary of what happened.

On March 17, a student at Granite City High School, just outside St. Louis, USA, posted on his Facebook page that “I was denied wearing my kilt to prom because they want to teach the men to dress like men. That is what I was told. I’m very upset.”


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Happy Hogmanay to all

An’ remember: if it’s nae Scottish, it’s cr-r-r-r-r-r-rap!

So did this one.

Maynard’s Wine Gums, a gummi-bearish candy from the UK.

The song is “Hoots Mon (There’s A Moose Loose Aboot This Hoose)” by Lord Rockingham’s XI from 1958. Based on the Scottish folk song “A Hundred Pipers.” And yes, you guessed it,  I play it on the radio.

Clip from YouTube.