By Joan Weeks
Since I’ve gotten back from Scotland, where I was on the road with Jerry Holland, Jennifer Roland and J.P. Cormier’s band, everyone keeps asking me, “What was it like?” Followed by, “It must have been fun!” I never know quite what to say.
I know what they’re thinking. The same thing I thought before I actually went “on the road”. Two weeks of partying, eating in restaurants and enjoying Scotland. It’s a rough job, but someone’s got to do it! Right? My husband, Richard MacKinnon, who actually spent a few years playing on the road, tried to tell me what it would be like but I didn’t get it.
First of all, what was I, a woman with no musical talent, doing with a bunch of top class performers? No, I’m not a groupie. I’m producing a documentary for CBC on the new economy being generated by the exploding popularity of Celtic music. The working title is $cotch Music. The Cape Breton Connections tour is just a timely opportunity to capture this popularity. So my cameraman and I meet them at the Halifax airport and we’re off!
We arrive in Glasgow after an all-night flight on which no one sleeps. They have to play in Inverness that night. Our road manager picks us up, we drive to Inverness, eat, do a sound check, unpack at the B&B and go to the concert hall. I decide not to film, knowing how exhausted everyone is and not expecting much of a performance.
The hall is packed and, much to my surprise, the guys and gals astound them. Much, much applause and an electric encore. Now the big partying, right? Nope. Everyone just wants to find some pizza and crash. Little did I know that the first day of the tour would be one of the easiest.
Over the next 15 days, the musicians play 14 concerts and do three BBC tapings. The gigs are spread out from the Orkneys (northern Scotland) to one date in Brighton (England’s south coast). That means we’re usually up at dawn and on the bus for the day. We rarely stop for lunch or dinner. Even getting the road manager to stop for a pee break can be tough. Thank God the van needs to be refueled every once in awhile!
On some evenings we get to the hall in time for a sound check and a bite to eat before the show starts. On other days we get there with just enough time for the musicians to change and jump on stage. And what amazes me is that, no matter how tough the day has been, they get up there, play their hearts out and thoroughly impress the audience. There are full halls everywhere and at least one encore every night.
Jerry breaks their hearts with his sweet fiddle, Jennifer wins them over with her enthusiasm and smiles and J.P. wows them with his blistering guitar and fiddle work. Hilda Chiasson-Cormier (keyboards, step dancing) and Daniel Maillet (bass, acoustic guitar) are outstanding as usual.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all a grind. In fact, it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed for the world. I couldn’t have picked a better bunch to spend 24 hours a day with, even though some of them (not mentioning any names Jerry and Daniel) tried their best to drive me insane. God forbid that I ever fell asleep in the van. I would be sure to wake up, either tied to the seat belt, with my legs duct taped to the seat in front of me or my shoes filled with crackers and laced upside down.
And I can’t say there wasn’t any partying. Hey, we all needed to blow off steam once in awhile! But now when I go to a concert, I’ll view the musicians with new respect. Being able to put so much of their hearts into the music and play with such precision and skill after a grueling day on the road… well, all I can say is… it took me two weeks to recover from just hanging around them.