James Keelaghan wrote a series of articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times last year as part of the lead up to Summerfolk.
My six year old, Tomas, has decided on some favourites from this year’s Summerfolk line up.
When I finished booking the artists for this summer’s festival, I loaded their music on my iPod. It’s great to have it to listen to when I am doing the programming. I set the player on shuffle and listen to it in the office or more often, in the van.
Tomas’ current van favourite is a song titled John Riley by the Paul McKenna Band. He specifically requests it to “pump him up” for T-Ball.
The song isn’t typical fare for a six year old, but I was much like Tomas when I was his age. I loved when my dad played tunes like Roddy McCorley or The Irish Rover-songs that told a good story about the adult world.
Paul’s song is about a group of Irish immigrants that are hired as mercenaries by the American army. They are sent to Texas, but get disillusioned with their commanders and switch allegiance, crossing the Rio Grande to join Santa Anna.
As Tomas goes about his six year old day, he’ll sing the chorus which he knows by heart:
Adventure calls, some men run
This is their sad story
Some get drunk on demon rum
Some get drunk on glory
It’s a catchy song with a tale to tell. Paul McKenna delivers it with an edge and a broad Scot’s accent like Dick Gaughan’s. He has a sweet high tenor voice like Paul Brady’s-it’s a voice that cuts through everything
McKenna writes great original songs like John Riley. He also a great interpreter of traditional song. His version of The Mermaid is as sweet as any I have heard.
The band part of the Paul McKenna Band is an energetic bothy style ensemble-rollicking melodies on fiddle, bouzouki, tenor guitar, flutes, whistles and percussion.
They come from Glasgow, a hard working town with a proud working class history. Paul and the band tend to sing about the underdog, the working people. They do it by showing, rather than telling-picking a story like John Reilly to highlight something universal in the human character. It’s not a stuffy history lesson, because when the band kicks its heels up they’ll have you dancing in the aisles-or air dancing in the booster seat, like Tomas.
We now hit the part of the van ride where Tomas would like some private time in the second row. For this he must get his two and half year old brother Patrick to sleep.
He chooses the most achingly beautiful song in the whole playlist. It’s by Chic Gamine. The song is J’attends (que tu sois la). The lyric, very roughly translated from the French:
The cold, snow falling on the balcony.
The heat, the flowers bordering the house
You discover them,
Spring, fall and summer.
Winter heralds the end of the year.
Your first words, first steps, …
… but now I wait, you’re here.
I wish you could put your ear up to the newspaper and hear it. Four voices and percussion. That’s it, that’s all it needs.
Winnipeg vocalists Alexa Dirks, Ariane Jean, Andrina Turenne and Annick Bremault recruited Montreal drummer and percussionist Sacha Daoud, and between them they created Chic Gamine. They have rewritten the definition of girl group with original lyrics in both English and French. They write smart, confident songs, as sweet as that lullaby your mother sang to you, as heart stopping as your first kiss.
Since they got together in 2008, they have refined their songwriting and performance. The attention to detail and arrangements have landed them some plum gigs. They opened for Smokey Robinson. After sharing a stage with the legendary Mavis Staples she told them that they reminded her of her family, The Staples Singers.
You can hear Gospel in what they do. You can hear R&B and some French Chanson. Their voices are true to all of it.
I came to know the group mainly through Andrina. I met her at rehearsals for a Christmas event the Winnipeg Folk Festival put on every year. She was 16 at the time and a natural singer. She was one of my “go to” background vocalists on a couple of recordings. What I love about her, I love about Chic Gamine. They take the complex and make it seem simple. They take the difficult and make it seem easy. They sing because they were born to it.
In the van the other day, Tomas started asking questions. Who was Santa Anna? Where is the Rio Grande? He also started to translate French lyrics for me; “ oiseau: that means bird, Dad”.
Music at it’s best doesn’t just make the drive shorter, it makes our world wider.
The Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival begins in 4 weeks time on August 17 and continues through the 19th.