“Here’s a drinking game for you,” fiddler Matthew Earhart tells the audience at the Cedars’ Club for the launch of the Pub Boys cd, “Whenever Gordie says ‘little’, take one drink; whenever he says ‘Irish’, take two drinks; and whenever he says ‘little Irish’, down the rest of your glass and call the cab now!”
Everybody laughs. Family and friends and fans from all of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality have filled the Sydney hall on a Wednesday night in the third week of July. Besides The Pub Boys, the other acts include Will’s Addiction, pianist Adam Cook (who plays on the cd and remarked at the release party: “I feel like I’m opening for The Rolling Stones!”), and emcee and performer Donnie Campbell (who helpfully informed the audience: “You can dance here, you can dance there, and there’s a table over there you can dance on”).
The Pub Boys’ music, on the cd and live on stage, is retro even for traditional music. It recalls the glory days of Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers: sincere, robust playing and tight, manly harmonies (and Earhart’s supple and assured fiddle playing is an asset). For anyone used to the punk snarl of the Pogues or the mystic overdubs of Enya, this is an adjustment but one with lasting pleasures.
But the audience at the launch party is already with them: Will’s Addiction asks “Any John Allan fans here tonight?” and the roar of glee in response leads into a roomful of voices joining in on “Rise and Follow Charlie”.
And when they sing “Whiskey In The Jar”, the Pub Boys make it an audience participation song with everyone joining in on the chorus, lead by Earhart, “Clap four times-clapclapclapclap–then twice-clapclap.”
Was it Gordie Parsons, lead vocalist/guitarist, or Tom McMullin, vocalist/bassist, or Shawn Bigley, who was busy switching from the bouzouki to the bodhran to the mandolin, who told the story about one Halloween while playing a gig, a couple dressed as pigs asked them how the band got together, and they had to tell them, “We met in church.” And they did; they were playing together in their parish choir when they decided to take their show on the road.
And then it’s into “Finnegan’s Wake” about “a guy who dies and comes back to life–but not Jesus.”
The Pub Boys play with energy and joy and their songs are so familiar, they might be part of the genome for anyone growing up on Cape Breton. They have just the two original tunes on the cd, both by Bigley (with Parsons helping out on the second tune), “Song for Allie”, a heartfelt ballad about a fellow bard, and “Summertime on Cape Breton Island”, a spritely ode to all the good things here even if “Some days will rain and some days will shine”, both sounding as timeless as the more well known tunes like “Kelly’s Mountain” and “Wild Mountain Thyme”.
Trays of snacks from Amadeo wafted around the room (“In French, they’re hor d’ouveres,” somebody explained from the stage, “In Cape Breton, they’re munchies.”). Stacks of cds were happily purchased. And there were spontaneous displays of stepdancing.
The launch was more fun than should be allowed on a weeknight, and the cd is a reminder that honouring the virtues of classic songs never goes out of style. Catch the Pub Boys live if you can, and if you can’t, buy their cd and have your own pub party at home.