With Autumn just around the corner and the leaves already starting to change colour, there’s a new set of tourists on their way. And they couldn’t have picked a better time, for the music or the scenery. For the second year, Rave Entertainment has put together an extraordinary line-up for the Celtic Colours International Festival. Once again they have managed to get the world’s finest performers to come to Cape Breton Island to play alongside many of own talented musicians.
During the week of October 9-17, the island will be dancing from hall to hall. What better way to work off that Thanksgiving dinner than at the opening concert which will feature Rita MacNeil along with Symphony Nova Scotia, Altan, The Barra MacNeils and special guests. No matter where one lives or happens to be staying on the island there will certainly be something going on.
One of the nice things about Celtic Colours is that not just large venues are being utilized. This year, 32 shows take place in 26 communities across the island. Halls both big and small along with theatres and arena will host performances by many of the finest Celtic musicians in the world.
It’s sure to be a busy nine days with dozens of musicians from Ireland, Scotland, the United States and other parts of Canada. In addition to those profiled here, other acts scheduled to appear include singers Ishbel MacAskill, Blanche Sophocleus, Mairi MacInnes, Jeff MacDonald, Anita Best, fiddlers David Greenberg, Kate Dunlay, Carl MacKenzie, Jerry Holland, Joe Peter MacLean, Gordon Cote, Dougie MacDonald, Eskasoni Fiddlers, Jennifer Roland, Alex Francis MacKay, Robert and Brenda Stubbert, pipers Fred Morrison, John MacLean, Barry Shears, Paul MacNeil, Jamie MacInnis, as well as Donnie Campbell, Dave MacIsaac, Kilt, Gordie Sampson, J.P. Cormier, Cyril MacPhee, Joey Beaton, Jackie Dunn, John Allan Cameron and many more. The festival wraps up on October 17 with the World’s Biggest Square Dance.
THE BARRA MACNEILS
From kitchen sessions in Sydney Mines to festivals around the world, the Barra MacNeils have made a name for themselves on the international music scene in the past twelve years. They now have seven albums to their credit and have made many guest appearances on a number of other albums. Their natural talent, combined with many years of experimenting in both Irish and Scottish sounds, has been the key to their success. Whether they are performing in Vancouver or with Symphony Nova Scotia, touring with Celine Dion or Kenny Rogers, the Barra MacNeils always present a show which brings out their strong Celtic background.
ALtan is a five-member group from Ireland. Since forming in 1981 the band has released eight albums. Throughout their seventeen years of performing, the group has developed a wide fan base stretching from their homeland of Ireland to Switzerland, Spain, the United States and Canada. The band consists of vocalist Maireád Ní Mhaonaigh who plays the fiddle as well. Ciaran Tourish from Buncrana plays the tin whistle and fiddle. Ciran Curran, a native of Kinawely, County Fermanagh, plays the bouzouki. Dermot Byrne played accordion on two of Altan’s albums before joining the group and is ranked as one of the country’s best. Daithi Sproule plays the guitar and is also a vocalist. Mark Kelly is the group’s guitarist. The Irish Echo in New York is quoted as saying, “They’re poised for greatness and under no circumstances should they be missed in concert.” Words to remember when October rolls along.
“Her songs are full of rose-coloured reflections on her own life, and the people who’ve passed through it.” (Chronicle Herald) Cape Breton’s own lady of song, Rita MacNeil, will be here to kick off Celtic Colours in style. Throughout her career Rita has released fourteen albums, with the latest being Music of a Thousand Nights. Rita’s style of music embodies elements of Celtic, country, folk, blues, rock and R&B. Most of her songs are greatly influenced by the people of Cape Breton as well as the island itself. Rita has been honoured through her life with numerous awards, honours, and accomplishments. She is also a television star, with several Christmas specials and the national CBC series Rita & Friends to her credit.
THE JOHN WHELAN BAND
John Whelan was born outside London, but has always been surrounded by Irish music. He grew up playing the button accordion and still plays the one that his father gave him when he was a boy. In 1991 Whelan accompanied Michael Flatley in the dance show that would later be known as “Riverdance”. The John Whelan Band consists of Robin Bullock (cittern and guitars), Liz Knowles (classical violinist and traditional fiddler), and Tom Wetmore (electric bass). This quartet is known for their lively reels and moving slow airs. It has even been said that when the music gets going John is noted for going into the audience and dancing with people.
Archie Fisher is a vocalist, guitarist and poet. He comes from a very musical family in Scotland. Both his parents and two sisters were musicians. In 1965 they recorded The Fisher Family: Traditional and New Songs from Scotland. Throughout his life, he has spent many years with performers like Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy and has toured and recorded with Garnet Rogers. His beautiful songs have also been recorded by Stan Rogers.
“And oh how they dance… sitting down, standing up, individually or as a foursome, their red socks flashed and blurred…don’t miss any opportunity to see Barachois in concert.” (The Living Tradition) This Acadien quartet of Albert Arsenault, Helene Bergeron, Louise Arsenault and Chuck Arsenault plays a variety of instruments including fiddle, bass, keyboards, guitar, percussion, harmonica, French horn, tuba and trumpet. They sing and dance as well. Barachois plays traditional Acadien music which has been kept alive on Prince Edward Island for over two centuries. They have a gift which brings music to life through driving danceable rhythms and possess a sense of humour which can turn any stage into a kitchen party. Barachois received the East Coast Music Award for Francophone Recording of the Year.
Music historian and author Kate Dunlay says, “Buddy MacMaster of Judique surely must rate alongside Neil Gow as one of the greatest Scottish fiddlers ever to have lived!” The master of Cape Breton Fiddle is going to be gracing stages throughout the festival. Buddy MacMaster celebrated his love for music by “jigging” tunes every morning in bed. He learned the tunes from listening to his father play and was soon a regular player at dances throughout Cape Breton. He started out back in the 1940s and now fifty years later he is still a much sought after dance fiddler who has established himself as one of the island’s best. In 1995, he was awarded an Honourary Doctorate from St. Francis Xavier University for his contributions to Scottish music. Now he has the paper proof to back up his reputation as “the Dean of Cape Breton violin”.
MARY JANE LAMOND
With the release of her second album Suas e!, Mary Jane Lamond has won over a whole new generation of fans by combining the traditional Gaelic language and song with pop and funk, using highland bagpipes, the Irish bodhran and cello. Mary Jane was exposed to the Gaelic at an early age, when she spent many summers visiting her grandparents on Cape Breton Island. It was here that she had her first encounter with a milling frolic, where everyone was singing Gaelic songs and beating the cloth. Mary Jane’s affection, understanding and deep regard for the people and culture of Cape Breton are readily evident in her music.
Eleanor Shanley comes from County Leitrim, where she lived in a house that was filled with music. Her mother’s family were all singers. It was at informal sessions that she would sing and was eventually discovered by the band DeDannan from Galway. She toured Europe, America, Japan and Australia with the band who recorded two critically acclaimed albums during her time with them. In 1993, after five years with DeDannan she opted for a solo career. Her first CD, Eleanor Shanley, was released in April of 1995 producing two hit singles and earning the distinction of a gold record for sales.
ALASDAIR FRASER AND TONY MCMANUS
A recording artists as well as a fiddle teacher, Alasdair Fraser has been performing traditional Scottish music for many years. This wildly acclaimed performer will be showing off his talents at venues all over the island. Tony McManus is a sought after session musician in Scotland. He has just released his guitar album Pourquoi Quebec. McManus has taken Celtic tunes from the world and transformed them into music of a Scottish tradition.
Richard Wood’s fiddling and step dancing abilities, together with his instrumental brilliance and stunning showmanship, contribute to his high energy show. This Prince Edward Island performer has recorded 4 albums and appeared with Shania Twain on David Letterman and Good Morning America.
Tracey Dares was brought up in the small Cape Breton community of Marion Bridge. She has spent the past five years playing piano with the Natalie MacMaster band. Known for the quality and versatility she brings to her playing, Tracey has released a solo piano recording entitled Crooked Lake and a Cape Breton piano accompaniment instructional video called A’Chording to the Tunes.
The first thing you’ll notice about Bumblebees is their zest not only for music but for life. Beautiful tone, exciting rhythm and sheer fun combine to form the musical friendship that is Bumblebees. Donegal fiddler Liz Doherty is the traditional music lecturer in the music department of University College Cork. She is a frequent visitor to Cape Breton (where she researched her Ph.D.) and plays many of the fiddle tunes from here. Laoise Kelly, Mary Shannon and Colette O’Leary play a variety of instruments including accordion, fiddle, harp and banjo to complete the band’s sound. Bumblebees were a big hit at last year’s festival.