Celtic Colours – Day Two, 10 Oct 2018

We stopped at Tim Hortons for coffee and donuts. A true Canadian experience we’re told.

Started the day much the same as the previous one. Chatted to Roger Stone over breakfast, who told some anecdotes about his father and his own encounter with Liam Clancy, which involved the telling of an unprintable joke. His Father was apparently a great singer and storyteller. One of his father’s old wind ups was if somebody asked him what kind of dog he had he’d say “It’s a blacksmith hound – every time you kick it up the arse it makes a bolt for the door.”

Then Jim arrived on the scene. Jim would be our driver for the day. “How are you Jim?” Roger asked. To which Jim replied, “Oh can’t complain, no one would listen” and then broke into a mischievous grin. Jim is seventy-one years old. A couple of years ago, after one of the artists got too drunk and made a fool of himself, Jim was blamed for giving them moonshine. Everyone else had Jim’s back in that situation but the moonshine supply curiously dried up.

As we drive along Jim tells us about the hunting and fishing in the area much like Fred had on the previous days drive but with more swearing and bursts of roguish laughter. It quickly becomes evident that Jim is a very enthusiastic hunter. If it has four legs and it lives in the woods Jim has killed, skinned and eaten it. It’s hard to know how to feel about someone having killed and eaten bears but Jim just is what he is. It’s hard not to like him. Apparently bear hunting is not heavily regulated but you need a license to hunt moose. A mature bull moose can weigh a thousand pounds he says and if you hit one with your car at a hundred miles an hour you’d be done for but the moose would probably walk away. He said it was very unlikely that we would see a moose where we were going though. He tells us a lot about the local mushrooms too like chaga, chanterelle and Portobello and how he uses tree sap to make a salve for sore muscles.

Next he gets on to tell us that he’s been driving for Celtic Colors for twenty-one out of twenty two years. Apparently the Celtic Colors drivers have collectively put in a million miles over the lifespan of the festival and never had one accident. But that’s not all. Jim drives for music venues in the area too. He’s driven Snoop Dog and Steve Tyler from Aerosmith whom he describes as ‘a card’.

When we reach the venue J.P. Cormier and Ray Lagere are sound checking. These guys are the headline act of the evening. They’re a bluegrass duo and they play about a million notes a minute. They’re really incredible players. There’s a radio show and then a televised Bingo program broadcast from the upstairs of the venue so we sit downstairs and listen to the other act sound checking.

Brìghde Chaimbeul and Ross Ainslie play the small pipes and their music is a mixture of traditional Scottish tunes, contemporary tunes and a few Bulgarian tunes, which Brìghde learned on a tune hunting trip she took there. Stephen Byrnes, an accompanist from Waterford who plays bouzouki and guitar, joins them onstage also.

Brìghde is from the Isle of Skye and took up piping at the age of seven. She describes herself as having been really obsessed with piping at the age of nine or ten, rising early to practice for two hours a day before school and listening to solo pipe music on her iPod shuffle.

It’s hard to describe what two sets of small pipes sound like if you’ve never heard them before. Brían describes it as a bit like Scottish Nintendos. This may not sound immediately appealing but it is. When he says this to Brìghde she laughs and recalls the father of a childhood friend asking if she was playing video games when she was locked away in a room for hours at a time. It’s clear when you listen Brìghde’s impeccable sense of rhythm that she didn’t waste a lot of time playing video games as a child. These guys are exceptional musicians. Its an oddly mesmeric style of music that sounds both ancient and modern and you’ll find that the notes seem to keep swirling around in your mind long after the music has stopped, leaving you wanting more.

The gig itself went well and we all took to the stage for the finale which is kind of a Celtic Colors custom and which many people here seem to pronounce ‘finally’. Afterwards we went down to the marina for tea and cake.

It was dark by the time we were leaving. Brían sat up front chatting away to Jim. Alain and I were seated in the back of the car and began to nod off immediately. When the van suddenly slowed down and we heard exclamations of surprise from the front seats we both jolted awake and saw what was happening. A moose had run out into the road ahead of our van and Jim hit the brakes just in time. We came within a few feet of hitting it. Then the startled animal continued to run along in front of the vehicle for a while so we had a good look at it before Jim finally blew the horn and scared it away. We were all in slight shock afterwards and laughed a lot but it gradually dawned on us all that we had been very lucky. Jim told us that it had been a young bull moose and estimated that it might have weighed 600lbs. It doesn’t bear thinking about what might have happened if we had hit it at speed. We were pretty glad afterwards that we hadn’t altered the Celtic Colours perfect record for accident free driving.

The confused and somewhat fortunate moose

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.

Canada – Dublin to Halifax, Oct 8 2018

Captain Funky Moose, guardian of the airport gift-shop

We departed from our homes at half past five this morning. Mohammed, our taxi driver didn’t believe at first that we could fit all of our luggage* into his car. We had to smile to ourselves. He had never seen us on tour in the Opel Corsa that served for years as our trusty bandwagon. We became so adept at car-boot Tetris that Brían wanted to give workshops at BIMM.

Our Dublin airport experience was easy peasy. We ran into Ocelot Ashley Watson, another well traveled musician, who assured us that he knew the whereabouts of every water dispenser in the building.

Our five hour flight from Dublin to St. John was a breeze. Alain watched King Arthur and read the introduction to ‘The Left Hand Of Darkness’ by Ursula K. Le Guin. He was sitting next to a dancer who will also be at Celtic Colours festival and who spent the entire journey listening to Moving Hearts and The Chieftains. After an very easy passage through customs and bag drop in St. Johns we settled into a few games of backgammon accompanied by burgers in the bar.

Brían contemplates the homunculus and the giant metal boob

Canadians have a reputation for being friendly but even people in those roles that so often connote surliness (customs officers and other petit officiales) are so pleasant here that you want to beg your mother to let you keep them. One example that caught our attention was a security worker in full uniform and badge who’s sole purpose seemed to be the distribution of colouring books and crayons among children.

We’ve discovered two interesting facts since we’ve been sitting around here on our five hour layover in St. John’s.

Fact One: today is Canadian Thanksgiving, an event which draws on European harvest festivals and has been celebrated since 1879. It falls on the second Monday of October each year and the French refer to it as Action de Grace. It’s not as commercialised as its American counterpart but it does mean that everyone gets a three day weekend.

Fact two: Today there was an explosion at an oil refinery in St. Johns. Nobody was killed. A 36 year old man named Nate Guimond was doing house repairs when he witnessed the scene “There was thick, pitch black smoke mixed with white smoke,” said Guimond. “I heard a rumbling, roaring sound.”

We boarded a tiny plane for our two hour flight to Halifax. Before boarding we overheard some indistinct walkie-talkie transmissions of which follows an approximate transcript as best we could decipher it: “thirsty hob-goblins “, “We found a right hand in the biscuit tin”, “Help me, Laura”. Very mysterious.

When we arrived in Halifax we were picked up by our driver, Dave, who drove us to the Gaelic College three hours away where we will be staying for the duration of the trip. After twenty one hours travelling and three hours of sleep we’re very tired boys. Goodnight Canada.

Sleepy Alain

*Our luggage: one guitar, one bouzouki, one mandolin, one fiddle, one enormous suitcase, one small suitcase, three shoulder bags, two laptops, one backgammon board.

The fully packed Corsa along with Ocelot Brandon Watson and Christof van der Ven



Hello world!

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Convallis a cras semper auctor neque vitae tempus. Cursus euismod quis viverra nibh cras pulvinar mattis nunc sed. Suspendisse interdum consectetur libero id faucibus nisl tincidunt eget nullam. Id consectetur purus ut faucibus pulvinar elementum integer. Elementum curabitur vitae nunc sed velit. Iaculis nunc sed augue lacus viverra vitae congue eu consequat. Venenatis lectus magna fringilla urna porttitor. Amet consectetur adipiscing elit duis tristique. Neque egestas congue quisque egestas diam in arcu cursus. Nunc sed id semper risus. Eget felis eget nunc lobortis. Maecenas sed enim ut sem viverra. Egestas maecenas pharetra convallis posuere morbi leo urna molestie at. Dignissim cras tincidunt lobortis feugiat vivamus at augue eget. Lacus vestibulum sed arcu non. Sit amet porttitor eget dolor morbi non arcu risus. Tortor at auctor urna nunc id. Continue reading “Hello world!”