Late last summer, I had the pleasure to join a receptive crowd at the Savoy for something relatively new to this venue, A Songwriter’s Circle. Certainly not a new concept on the island but a show that definitely made a lasting impression on those lucky enough to enjoy an inspiring, fun evening of entertainment.
Take five of the east coast’s most original, creative songwriters, and allow them the freedom to not only sing some of their best work, but to take you back to the time, place or person who inspired the lyrics, and you have The Song Circle. John Ferguson, Wally MacAulay, Buddy MacDonald, David Stone and Cyril MacPhee have been invited back for the 2002 version at the Savoy Friday evening, May 10th.
John Ferguson has an impressive history in music, first as part of Miller’s Jug, and for 25 years with the Maritime band, McGinty. Locals may be most familiar with his musical partnership with Buddy MacDonald, whom he has been touring with for the past 12 years. And of course he is well known solo performer. It was last year that Ferguson got the idea for The Song Circle, tailored after the similar successful, informal settings during ECMA weekends in recent years.
“I contacted these guys, who regularly perform the circuit and asked how they felt about getting together for the event.” Each one was eager to be included, so Ferguson began the task of contacting venues to explain the premise for the show. “The phone started ringing to book the gang and we did a few shows and people seemed to be really interested in the concept of learning the origins of some of their favorite songs.”
They have already had one show this past month with guest performer Dave Gunning, who will also take part in a couple of the upcoming dates.
“This show gives the guys a chance to get out of the pubs for a change in the regular bookings and the audiences seem to enjoy the setting as much as we do.” Ferguson says as long as the positive response is there, they will continue the trend.
David Stone is a St.Peters native who now lives in Dartmouth. Ferguson calls him an amazingly gifted song-writer. “David has a catalogue of over 300 songs and recently wrote both the songs and diologue for a production on the Halifax Explosion.” Stone is a regular in the Halifax area both as a solo artist and as a member of a band called One Too Many. “They do everything from ‘60s, ‘70s and traditional.
Buddy MacDonald needs no introduction, as he usually can be found playing somewhere on the island every night of the week, when he is not on the road touring the west. Whether pubs, theatres or outdoor ceilidhs, one of the first to be added to a line-up of performers is usually Buddy, who always has a story and of course his respected list of original songs to add to any show. For the past few years he has been resident host of the after-show Festival Club during Celtic Colours International Festival.
Cyril MacPhee is one of Cape Breton’s finest traditional song-writers/performers to also come out of St. Peters. His folk songs are both sung and explained with such clarity, the listener feels as if they were there in the moment of inspiration. Cyril’s sense of humor, though subtle, endears him to audiences everywhere. “When I Say I Do” and “The Matthew” are but a sample of his ability to turn lyrics into magic.
Wally MacAulay brings his rich baritone voice to the mix. He delivers a blend of folk and celtic for a truly traditional style. A common theme throughout his repertoire is the plight of the common man and woman, struggling to overcome obstacles in life, especially on Cape Breton. Nobody sings and tells it like it is quite like Wally MacAulay.
Ferguson tells me about a fairly new concept on the go these days, particularly in Ontario, called House Concerts. “Hosts generally have a fair sized living room to accommodate the crowd, who pay admission, and bring their own booze.” Musicians perform and the party goes on forever. “Kind of like traditional Cape Breton parties, only with a cover charge.” He hopes the upcoming Song Circle shows will give people that atmosphere of gathering with friends for an informal night of songs and stories and maybe even sing along if the mood strikes. When asked where his own earliest influences came from in regards to music, Ferguson has no hesitation. “It was during my family’s old fashioned style House Concerts that I learned to appreciate great music. He began guitar lessons at 10 and grew up listening to the Clancy Brothers, Tommy Makem and Gordon Lightfoot. “I was hooked from then on and still am today.”
So if you like songs with depth, spiked with humor, love or angst, then this is the show for you. Five outstanding traditional names on their own, but a powerful message to share together in a Song Circle.
The Song Circle – Savoy Theatre Friday, May 10th and Strathspey Place Saturday May 11th.