Among the 44 concerts and workshops at this year's Celtic Colours Festival were a few known as "heritage concerts," in which the community honors the musicians of an older generation. Among them this year were "Winston's Home," "Tribute to Bill Lamey," and "Kinfolk," of which I attended the latter two.
(At the outset, I'll have to apologize for not providing the names of more of the tunes that were performed. This lack is due to the fact that most of the halls were dark, which made it difficult to take notes during performances, and also to the fact that most of the musicians didn't identify the tunes. Indeed, they more often than not don't know the tunes' names, and introduce them with a story about who they learned the tunes from and when.)
The Tribute to Bill Lamey took place on Wednesday, Oct. 16, at the Parish hall in Glendale, near the late Lamey's home. The tiny hall was packed to the walls with local residents and festival-goers, with Paul MacDonald presiding over the affair as DJ and host. MacDonald, who along with Lamey's daughter Mary Elizabeth produced the Lamey compilation CD Full Circle on Rounder in 2000, played snippets of old recordings of Lamey and other musicians, gleaned from archives in the course of making the CD.
Singer Mary Jane Lamond (www.maryjanelamond.com) started the program, singing several songs in Gaelic in her beautiful, crystal-clear soprano. She was joined for the last number, a bit of lively Gaelic mouth music, by step-dancer Peggy Lamey, Bill's daughter.
They were followed by a family act that was ubiquitous during this year's Celtic Colours, the MacLellan Trio -- Marie on piano, with sister Theresa and brother Donald on fiddle. The three were infused with love for the music by their father, legendary fiddler "Big" Ronald MacLellan. The two sisters still perform regularly for dances on Cape Breton, their old-fashioned but still powerful playing immediately recognizable. Donald, who lives in the States, doesn't play as regularly and confessed to being a little rusty, but by the end of the night was working out the kinks.
They were joined for part of their set by another long-time disciple of Bill Lamey, Dave MacIsaac. MacIsaac has a somewhat idiosyncratic fiddle style that didn't readily blend with the other musicians on the stage. But when he switched to guitar, his driving flat-picking style complemented and completed the ensemble nicely. MacIsaac also played some duets with Mary Jessie MacDonald on piano. The daughter of another legendary fiddler, Mary "Hughie" MacDonald, Mary Jessie was Lamey's favorite piano accompanist, and she played her own short solo set on the tinny old upright that lives in the parish hall.
The last set featured Jerry Holland, perhaps Lamey's best-known disciple, accompanied by Mary Jessie and MacIsaac, and dedicated to the MacLellan sisters. First, though, host Paul MacDonald played a tape of Holland's audition for his first public gig, a radio show he performed on at the age of 6. Holland told several stories about travelling and playing with Lamey as a youngster, all of which had the crowd alternately laughing and sighing with nostalgia.
Holland's part of the show included the "Christy Campbell Set," two strathspeys and two reels that had every foot in the house tapping. He was joined on stage for the grand finale by all the previous musicians, as well as members of three generations of Lamey's family, all of whom took their turn step-dancing. Peggy Lamey, who minutes earlier had Holland in tears with a story of her father's love for Jerry, even persuaded Holland to show off his steps.
The Kinfolk concert on Friday, Oct. 18, followed a family theme. It was staged in the large gym/auditorium of the Inverness Academy, which was filled with several hundred people seated in bleachers and in folding chairs on the floor.
The openers were siblings Kendra (fiddle), Troy (piano) and Sabra (dance) MacGillivray, grandchildren of Mary Hughie MacDonald. Sabra did step-dance moves to the jigs, reels and a waltz played by her brother and sister, and finished the set fiddling and dancing, a Cape Breton specialty.
The cavernous hall thundered with a standing ovation as the MacLellan Trio took the stage, for a similar set to the one they'd played on Wednesday in Glendale. Brother Donald was definitely back in the swing of things after three days of more or less continuous playing and traveling around the island.
Finishing up the opening set were brothers Jacky and Patrick Molard, who played music from their home in Brittany. It was their first time playing in Cape Breton, said fiddler Jacky, "so we are playing Breton music for Bretons." Patrick played a set of small pipes as well as Highland pipes on various pieces, including circle dances, a march, and a mesmerizing air featuring the piercing small pipes.
The featured set of the evening was by local favorite Buddy MacMaster, who took the stage to a standing ovation and a rendition of "Happy Birthday" on the highland pipes by an Inverness student. Very dignified in a suit and tie, MacMaster was accompanied by his daughter Mary Elizabeth on piano. The crowd hung on every note he played, in his fluid, energetic, crisp and very rhythmic style. He specially featured a set of two jigs by one of his mentors, the late John Morris Rankin.
The finale was a bit disjointed but quite enjoyable. Since Patrick Molard didn't know any of the local tunes, he and Jacky played another piece by themselves, before Jacky joined with the others in a fiddling and dancing extravaganza on some of Buddy's favorite tunes.