September is finally here, where’d the summer go? Kids are back in school. We can turn off the air conditioner once in awhile but there are still plenty of good music festivals to keep us interested.
We’ve had some memorable piping competitions this summer but we’ve also seen a disturbing trend on the part of some Highland Games organizers to save money by dropping their sanctioning by local Pipe band associations. This saves the sanctioning fees and costs of judges but reduces the number and quality of the pipe bands that show up. I had one organizer, who shall remain nameless, tell me that “people don’t know the difference between a grade 2 band and a grade 5 band”. Yeah right, unless, of course, they hear them!
Travel money and prize money have also been slow in increasing. Adjusted for inflation, we’re paying less, at most games, than we did 20 years ago. Luckily there are exceptions and we’ve seen some tremendous band performances this year. The Ohio Scottish Games saw the City of Chicago Pipes & Drums under Pipe Major Pat Lynch compete against Niagara Regional and Oran Mor. Man was that some competition! Oran Mor, having suffered thru a fire on their band bus, competed in band tee shirts and whatever else they had. You can see the video of their set on U Tube and on their website. What spirit this band has. I’ve noticed, speaking of band spirit, that bands that play into the field are usually the ones that play out with a trophy in front. Just something I’ve noticed.
City of Chicago Pipe Band was also at the Dublin Ohio Irish Festival this year and the crowd was wild about them. Received a bunch of requests for their CD! (Pat, are you listening?)
New CD Reviews
A bunch of new CDs have been rolling in and I want to mention a few that have really impressed me. Breabach is one of the most talked about new acts on the Scottish folk scene. Their first CD, The Big Spree has been released in the US on Compass records and is a stopper in my book (a “stopper” is a CD that makes you stop what you’re doing and just listen). Winners of Scotland’s Danny Kyle Open Stage Award in 2005, and nominated for Best Up and Coming Artist at the Scots Trad Music Awards in 2006, the band features double pipes, whistle guitar, fiddle and superb vocals. I can’t wait for this bunch to tour the US.
One group touring this year in support of their new CD is our favorite French Canadian band, Vishtèn. Leading the band are sisters Emmanuelle and Pastelle LeBlanc, who, between them, play piano, flute, whistle, bodhran, and accordion. They are ably assisted by Pascal Miousse on violin, guitar and mandolin. All three sing and the ladies dance divinely. When they’re not dancing they sit and hammer out percussion with their feet. All in all it makes for one darn fine show and music that tends to go right to your feet. Their newest CD, Vishtèn Live, is their third release and has already been loaded on my teenagers’ Ipod. We got to see the band at the Dublin Ohio Irish Fest and it was a joy for us. They don’t come to the states often, unfortunately, so see them if you get the chance or at least pick up their CDs.
A rising stat from Scotland is harpist Catriona McKay and her new CD, Starfish, will forever destroy all your preconceived notions concerning what harp music should sound like. Performing on her Starfish McKay harp that she collaborated with Starfish Designs in North Ballachulish, Scotland to create, Catriona absolutely blew my mind with her music. If you’re looking for your traditional Grannie’s tearoom harp music, don’t buy this CD but if you want some music that will stir your soul and prove Catriona McKay’s genius, hear you go (misspelling intentional).
As I sit here banging away on my keyboard, I’m listening to a privately produced CD from a great bunch in Texas, and thoroughly enjoying it. The group is Shift, and their first self-titled CD is simply good stuff. Jason Huntly plays fiddle, Emily Bryant plays guitar and Craig Scotland keeps the heartbeat steady on the bodhran on this impressive first recording. It always impresses me when local folk take the time and effort to put out a truly professional recording and this one is no exception. This is one CD I’ll shift to the top of the pile (sorry, couldn’t help myself).
We just finished watching the new DVD from Kila, Once Upon a Time… and my jaw is still at half staff. What a tremendous production. Kila’s music is fun to listen to but they are also a very visual band, who present a stage show that is every bit a treat for the eyes as for the ears. Their new DVD captures all the fun, you’ll love it.
The last recording I want to mention isn’t strictly Celtic, although most of the performances are by Scottish artists. Greentrax Recordings has put out another masterpiece in its new release, Far, Far From Ypres – Songs, Poems and Music of World War I. A two CD set containing the most comprehensive gathering of the music from World War 1, this collection is unrivaled in presenting this period’s music. Lest we forget the sacrifices made during this horrific war, this CD will help us remember and, hopefully, keep us from repeating. Ian Green is the master at finding important recordings and making them available to us. This one is a landmark. I was fascinated by the CD and mesmerized by the liner notes. History buffs will love this one.
That’s about it for this month. I want to thank again all of you that keep supporting Celtic music, Celtic musicians and Celtic music festivals. You are the people who make it happen. You pay for the bands to perform, the athletes to compete, the tents, the beer truck, the tee shirts and my kids education. I thank you. Slaintè
Thanks also for your gossip, real and imagined, your support, your goodwill and the occasional pint. Thanks to Gayle & Mary Lou for technical support and inspiration. Thanks to Ian for driving in Ohio. Bless you all. You can find me at my regular spot at Rampant Lion Celtic Traders, 47 S. Villa, Villa Park, IL 60181. 630-834-8108.