Celtic Colours – Day 1, Oct 9 2018

The hand crafted boat in the Bell museum

So today we slept for as long as possible after all our travels. Breakfast in the cafeteria was decent and then we hopped into a van that took us to our first gig in an Alexander Graham Bell museum. Apparently Alexander Graham Bell had a summer home in Cape Breton. Our driver’s name was Fred. Fred’s Cape Breton born and reared. He pointed out all the farms along the way where they grew turnip and cabbage and one farm where there were ten thousand chickens and another where they had strawberries. In summer you can pick your own strawberries there and pay for them by the pound. Fred picks a few pounds every year and makes jam. Fred loves strawberries. I reckon Fred is about seventy years old. He points out a number of features of the area as we pass by but mostly all there is to see is endless trees. Alain composed this Haiku as we drove along:

Yellow red green brown

Trees reach up to greet the clouds

It is a wet day

Which pretty much sums up the scene. The colours of the trees are really beautiful and you can see why the Canadians chose the red as opposed to the green maple leaf as their emblem. As we drove over a place called Kelly’s Mountain Fred recalled a song about the Kelly that the mountain was named after. He recited these lines:

Kelly was an Irishman

There is no doubt of that

His mothers name was Bridget

and his fathers name was Pat

So the first gig was an informal questions and answers session with a few songs which some would describe as a ‘workshop’. It was nice. We had a bit of a chuckle with the crowd who were all very amiable and attentive. We talked a bit about our songs, our instruments and our backgrounds. A number of people had interesting personal connections with the song Barbara Ellen. In the room where we played there was a primitive airplane suspended from the ceiling and a traditional hand-made boat off to our right. Of course we discovered that the boat was the one that Breanndán Ó Beaglaoich had mentioned he had been building over in Halifax when we had seen him the previous weekend in his brothers field in Kerry.

Fred next to the boat

Next Fred drove us to our lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Sydney. We shared the bill for our evening gig there with Norman Kennedy and Margaret Bennett, Nicole Le Blanc and Roger Stone.

Norman and Margaret are legends of Scottish traditional singing. Margaret has spent much of her life collecting songs and folklore in Scotland. She grew up in Skye, and was half raised in Gaelic, as far as we could tell, as her mother was a Gaelic speaker. The pair of them were speaking only Gaelic with eachother, a dialect that was easily understood to Donegal Irish ears too. When Brían mentioned our Arranmore connection Margaret recited a verse of a song she knew from a neighbor of hers in Scotland about the ‘tunnel tigers’, the gang of Irish tunnel workers who broke the world record for tunneling, many of whom were from Arranmore, Donegal and Achill. Margaret had interviewed the man who wrote this song as part of a project she worked on called End of the Shift, about the industries that died during the latter half of the 20th century. These Arranmore men became legendary in the area after they blasted their way through a huge mountain in the east of Scotland in just one week, which Margaret remembers well herself. Margaret’s singing is impeccable. She’s a brilliant performer, with great charm, songs and stories in Gaelic and English. She seemed to know every song collector, musicologist and folklorist we could think of.

Margaret, Norman and ourselves

Norman Kennedy is another treasure of Scottish traditional singing as well as a traditional wool weaver. He grew up surrounded by legends of the ballad singing tradition of Scotland in Aberdeenshire, (he himself being one of those legends of course). Jeannie Robertson was a close friend of his, they grew up on the same road and knew eachother since they were 7. Apparently, after Jeannie had a stroke and couldn’t sing anymore, she used to ask Norman to come and sing her songs to her. He had some great stories, an endless amount of them, some about times he and Joe Heaney spent wandering around Galway in 1965, or times he had singing at festivals in America in the 60s.

We got on really well with both of them, and we’re sure we’re going to meet them again. They’ll both possibly be at Fifesing in May, which we’ll be guest singers at.

After the gig Fred dropped us back to the Gaelic College and we stopped by the festival clubhouse where we were asked to play a few songs and we heard Bríghde Chaimbeul and Ross Ainslie for the first time. They played a number of tunes in the clubhouse. Tomorrow we’ll share the stage with them and get to know them a bit better. The Young ‘Uns were also floating about so we chatted to them briefly. Very friendly lads indeed.