The Cape Breton Summertime Revue exists because a group of people did something about what was going on around them—a revolutionary idea around here. In 1977, the Steel City Players staged the Rise and Follies of Cape Breton Island. “Besides being an incredibly popular show,” the liner notes tell us, “the Follies was an important social phenomenon in Cape Breton, for the Players touched the bones and soul of the Island and honestly approached current issues, especially the urgent problem of high unemployment.” (CCBP 1002, 1977)
It’s true. “How she goin’, bye?” was becoming as popular on the streets of Calgary as “Howdy” because so many Cape Bretoners had to leave to make a living. This show spoke to that fact of life. Ronnie MacEachern sang, “Go off on your way now and may you find better things. Don’t wait around, ‘til you have no fare to leave. All the best if you’re staying and all the best if you should choose to leave. Here’s to kindness on your journey. Here’s to joy in your new home.” Through comedy and song, the Follies explored what it meant to be a Cape Bretoner for the first time. “The Island”, “Heavy Water Plant”, “What’s yer father’s name?”, “I’m a Cape Breton Barbarian”, well are, aren’t we? I didn’t really feel it until singing along to “The Island” in a sea of Capers at St. F.X. during a beer bash that the Barra MacNeils were playing. Looking back, the Rise and Follies were my introduction to the culture of Cape Breton Island and has been my experience ever since.
This year’s Revue takes me back to the Rise and Follies, or at least to what I believe was the spirit behind the Rise and Follies. The Revue became a good vehicle to make money over the past ten years, but the Rise & Follies had something to say. The Cape Breton Liberation Army, the news breaks, the medleys of music and music written for the show, the re-written histories of the Island, “You’re puttin’ an awful slope into the couch!” I only saw the Follies once, the year that Bryden MacDonald was “Off The Wall”… “Hey Buddy, got any smokes?”, but it has stuck with me, absorbed into my soul after repeated listens to the albums and re-telling of the jokes. The songs were of Cape Breton, as reviewed in the Cape Breton Post by Leo Serroul, “…not only beautifully sung but manage to be truly Cape Breton in sound and rhythm without being either imitations of familiar Scottish melodies or popular music” (08/24/77). This show laid the groundwork for the popularity of our music locally. The comedy sketches were funny because the subjects and situations were familiar, the accents were easily recognized.
“Good Dear, Good.” Someone actually said that to me on the phone the other day. But she was older an’ that, eh? Of course, I may have startled her with my exuberant, “Hi, how are you today.” After ten years, the Revue had gotten stagnant, certainly irrelevant to me. I was getting sick of the drunken arsehole on the beach and gossipy old bag (not Maynard and Bette, but Cecil and Ms. Morrison). I couldn’t relate to them and the show didn’t relate to my life… Now “Higher Education” and “The One On The Sofa”, those are guys I can relate to (and I know my parents’ll recognize them). This Just In, Underground Economy, and O.R. grabbed onto a part of funny I didn’t expect to see on that stage. I didn’t recognize Jeb or Angus but Moon played a pretty trippy Mad Margaret and the sentiment of “Damn Fine Shame” stood up strong and proud. The truth is out there with this show. It’s funny and a little crazy and the music’s great… it’s life as we know it.