BY WANDA EARHART
“Growing up in Cape Breton, I can remember this old blue radio with two stations,” recalls Wendy Markey, who was a shy kid from Glace Bay who loved music and always wanted to sing. “I’d dial back and forth to hear my favorite songs, which would have included hits like ‘New Kid In Town’ by The Eagles.” Markey says she actually put a band together at the age of 11, pretending they were Fleetwood Mac onstage, and loved the sound of artists like James Taylor, and Simon and Garfunkel.
“I loved music, but singing was the best kept secret about me in my family; in fact my parents didn’t even know that I sang until I recorded a song written years earlier.” Markey had moved to Hamilton and was struggling—living in an attic in a pretty bad neighborhood. Comfort came in packages from her Dad, including scratchy cassette tapes of Rita MacNeil and The Summertime Revue.
“It was from those lonesome feelings of home that I wrote the song ‘Raylene & Rita’, which describes how their voices and stories helped a girl cope with homesickness and thoughts of returning to Cape Breton.”
Her first CD was a solo effort, Here With Me, which is a collection of inspirational songs of hope and gratitude, released in 2003. At the age of 34, she had her first solo in a church play, and would sometimes sing with a worship group.
“But in order to perform, I needed musicians, and often times it was a scramble to recruit someone who could learn the songs instantly,” says the singer. “I had to find a band that I could count on.” She says she was introduced to Joan McNeil through an acquaintance, “who thought we’d make a good combo”.
McNeil began to play the bagpipes at the age of 13 and taught chanter to both the Dartmouth Boys Pipe Band and the MacDougall Girls Pipe Band. She picked up the guitar at 18. “My father was very active in the local music scene as a piano player,” she says. “Through him, I was also exposed to local Rotary shows that were so popular in those years.”
As a youth, she sang in choirs, in choral competitions and later performed in a couple of musical productions in the 1980s, Flower Drum Song and Brigadoon. She says it wasn’t until Wendy Markey came along that she looked at the possibility of actually pursuing it on a bigger, more serious scale.
They found singer-songwriter Charlie Clements next. Clements was born and raised in Glace Bay, leaving in the ‘70s to perform throughout North America, once opening for Conway Twitty and playing at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. A gifted songwriter, Clements has had top ten hits in the independent American top 40, “that draw heavily on my personal life experience.”
“It was a perfect fit,” says Markey of the pair. “Their instrumentation and harmony vocals were the perfect complement to what I was trying to achieve in my music.”
The newly formed band would be known as Acoustic. They released an album in 2009, On The Edge, and hosted a summer series at the Savoy Theatre, which brought an eclectic mix of performers to the stage including Jason MacDonald, Colin Grant, Jennifer Roland Buffett, Aaron Lewis, and Adam Cook. But making it in the music business sometimes depends on getting the right breaks. And sometimes they don’t come right away.
After taking a bit of a break and doing some soul searching, they decided it was time to get back to doing what they love, making music together. Part of the process included a name change, to The Wendy Markey Band.
“We thought it appropriate to return to highlighting Wendy in the title,” explains Clements, “as she is the lead vocalist and it just made sense to personalize the focal point of the band.” They also recently recorded a new song, “Five Miles”, which they debuted this spring. Its message of starting over reflects where the band is today, says Markey. “This song created additional momentum at a time when we were actively pursuing music as a group again.”
Markey says the recording process has been a fantastic experience for the group. “I love being in the studio, and the magic that happens there,” raves Markey. “It is most rewarding when you hear the finished product and know that our true personalities and sound have been authentically captured in the recording.”
The Wendy Markey Band will make a couple of stops at The Louisburg Playhouse this season, on July 3 and September 4.