By Iain MacLeod
*WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 7th 1996*
It was the day before the official beginning of the 1996 East Coast Music awards and I really didn't know what was goin' on. I did know that it was my buddy Ryan MacNeil's birthday and he should be blowing through town soon.
I convinced my sister to construct a cake in the shape of a guitar (a piano would have taken us into over-time) and the only thing that was missing was the party hats. Oh well, maybe next year. When Ryan, Boyd, and my cousin Bhreagh arrived we decided to scarf down the food-stuffs and Ryan, my uncle, and I proceeded to the downtown core of Charlottetown. After supper, the OLDE DUBLIN PUB was offering trivia as a form of entertainment. Needless to say, we went to MYRONS.
*THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 8th 1996*
Thursday is the day that I grace the airwaves via CIMN, P.E.I.'s only alternative. I have been going to UPEI since last September, and my only really school-related extra-ciricular activity is with the community campus radio station. I thought that this would be an excellent opportunity to interview some of the musically inclined from back home and perhaps open the mind of my devoted listener(s).
The initial plan was to snag SLAINTE MHATH (Ryan & Boyd MacNeil, Bruce MacPhee, and Bhreagh MacDonald), from their various sound checks and their meetings with all those industry types in penguin suits, and interview them, and perhaps sneak preview some tracks from their new CD (that shall be coming out soon). However, things ran longer than expected and I thought that I would be left alone in the studio above the barn. However, I bumped into Ian Daye (manager of CAPR and drummer for the group LAMER) and he said he wouldn't mind talking to the masses, even though he and his cohorts were running on zero sleep for thirty-odd hours. Alfred was busy pumping out dubs and more dubs of their new indie cassette [insert title here] and we chatted about everything from the epic journey from Sydney to the importance of comfortable footwear.
The reason LAMER, along with EMILY [and insert other CB bands that made the trek] braved the causeways, highways, and ferries that make up the trek to Charlottetown was due to a thingy called a No-Case.As all you kitty cats probably remember from last year, CAPR hosted a group of concerts that showcased the talents of bands that were somehow snubbed, neglected, of rejected from the official ECMA Showcases. This year, CIMN was the host and bands were dragged in from all forty-seven corners of the East Coast. Some of the bands included in this fest were the Monoxides, Al Tuck and No Action, Sanisoft, and the Grace Babies. Since Hip Club Groove and Stinkin' Rich didn't make it, I was slightly disappointed. The thing is, I was kept so busy elsewere, I didn't have a chance to head to the 'Barn' and witness these festivities first hand! You cannot be everywhere at once, no matter what OJ thinks.
I had one class this Thursday evening, and then I was going to meet up with my family and friends at the CP Hotel. We were to witness the official Showcases of the first day of the East Coast Music Awards. I sat in the class room with my eyes glued to the clock waiting for it to strike 9:30. When it did, I rushed home and then rushed even more to the venue. As I was rushing, I realized I would miss Seinfeld. Dang. I prayed it would be a repeat. The reason I wanted to go to this showcase was to see SLAINTE MHATH. They were scheduled for the last time slot, around midnight, and ten bucks was the cover charge.
I missed the first act, a wanna-be Garth Brooks named Randy J Martin. That isn't an entirely 'bad' thing...I wanna have Garths' money too. As I watched CBC's Compass the next day (the PEI-centric version of First Edition), they spent a lot of time talking about this guy. By the way, he is from PEI. I was lucky enough to catch the beautiful vocals of Rita and Mary Rankin, and although their arrangements were not as up-beat as a young wipper-snapper like me likes to dig, I found it very soothing and powerful at the same time. When I watched Compass, they only had a 2 second clip of these sisters...not a word was mentioned. One of the other acts that I caught a glimpse of was Debbie Adshade. Compass said she was 'the talk of the town'. Maybe this was because her promo-packs she handed out had condoms in them. At any rate, she was accompanied by a pianist/conga player and a bassist. She played the rain stick and 'sang'. I wasn't exactly sure what bothered me the most about her performance...the fact that they called it celtic, the songs dealing with wood nymphs, or the way she would screech like a banshee. My father pointed out theobvious fear, what if she scares everyone away before SLAINTE MHATH hit the stage.
Then it was the moment I was waiting for. SLAINTE MHATH hit the stage. The began things with their still untitled piece that sounds like perfect motion-picture material. One thing is for certain, it is not called IMAGES. Then all hell broke loose. They hit everyone over the head with their sets of big jigs and reels. You could feel the energy in the room. It was truly amazing. Hoots and hollers were happenin', people were clappin'...and as Ryan said "If this was Cape Breton, they would be dancin' in the ailes." After they finished their patented dance routine and shuffled off the stage...a standing ovation occurred. Round two. Now nobody was safe. Bruce and his iron lungs comanded the highland pipes, the twin fiddles of Bhreagh and Boyd cause many a foot a stompin', and Ryan did his thing with the Roland keyboard he luckily borrowed from a Caper named Keith Tobin.
The funny thing was, that supper-hour news show I mentioned called Compass did not acknowledge their existence. Was it past their bed time? I doubt it...it was the female anchor that was hosting the showcases that night! I was a wee bit disappointed, but I heard that Live at Five opened their show with SLAINTE MHATH not once, but twice. All this, and I find out that Darrell Greer is now a writer for the P.E.I. paper, the GUARDIAN. I'll tell ya, you always got to keep on your toes.
*FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9th 1996*
Ah, the midpoint of this week'o'fun. SLAINTE MHATH were scheduled to perform at a cozy little place called the OLDE DUBLIN PUB. Now, being a pub...size is not one of its strong points. Claustrophobes turned away at the door and 'standing room only' was definitely in effect. But, this was the place to be if you wanted to sample some traditional celtic music.
After a set by the Boys in the Kitchen, SLAINTE MHATH geared up for a rip-roaring set of tunes. Once the sound was all straighten away, we were all treated to a collection of intrumentals that filled the air with 'Good Cheer' and the blast of tunes even convinced a few to give us a few steps...even Richard Wood.
I though it was a special treat to invite Jerry O'Neil (sp?) up to drive some jigs out of Bhreagh's fiddle. In that moment, I knew I was witnessing a master. He was able to 'work' the audience with ease. A true performer to the bone. Then it was back to business for the members of the quartet. I believe the set was a little over an hour and a half, but it went by like that. I forgot that I was crammed into a little pub in Charlottetown...I thought I was back home in my living room.
However, this story is far from being completed. Ryan mentioned to me that Friday nite at midnight (or should I say Saturday morning?) Rave Entertainment was hosting a Cape Breton Rave Nite at the Charlottetown Inn. I figured as long as I haul an instrument or two in, I will be ok. Rave Entertainment Inc. is a management/production company that is the brainchild of Joella Foulds and Max MacDonald. Who better to through a true Cape Breton party, especially with John Allen Cameron, Duncan Wells, and JP Cormier on your side!
Duncan Wells, Gordie Johnson, and John Allen all did their magnificent sets. JP Cormier, his wife Hilda Chaisson, his cousin, and Dave MacIsaac keep the party going while I was wondering what it would be like having a room on the floor above us. SLAINTE MHATH once again had the opportunity to strut their stuff in front of a who's who of the business. A group of dancers, including Natalie MacMaster jumped up in front of the stage and began to step their way through a set or two. I also remember seeing Chris Murphy and the Super Friendz, Al Bennet, Gordie Sampson, Stuart Cameron, and Mike Cambell from Much East. Anyone agree with me that they should probably find a someone that is more into the east coast scene to host the show? If so, just have a talk with Mike. He can be found frequenting the bar at most social events.
On the other side of town, it was Stompin' Toms' birthday. I heard that a little place called GOODFELLAS was host to a birthday party of epic proportions. Ashley MacIsaac supposedly played, while the rest of the Capers were jammin' at the Rave Nite. I guess you REALLY cannot be everywhere at once.
*SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10th 1996*
Thank goodness for Saturday. The day you can sleep in and not miss much. There was a continuous 72 hour Jam session going on at the CP hotel, but I never had the opportunity to check that out. All you had to be was nineteen to enter it...I was thinking of signing up even though I cannot play a damn thing. But, I would have to work on my kazoo solo. The other thing that was goin' on was the Children's Concert that we shipped all of the 'little ones' (cousins, etc.) to. They all came back in one piece, so I assume that went over well.
The newspaper, namely the Guardian, printed an article by Barb MacKenna about all the negative aspects of the awards. I suppose you cannot please everyone, but she was super-bitter. She didn't approve of the nomination/voting process (heck, all awards are buried in BS), she didn't know what the big fuss over Stompin' Tom was because he isn't 'true' islander, she didn't like McEwan winning an industry award since he was chairperson, and, what probably hurt me deep inside...she dissed the seat fillers for 'misrepresenting the ECMA's to the rest of the world'. Being a seat-filler two years running, I think we should stand up for our rights! Actually, I only did it to get in free. All the televised award shows (from the Academy awards to the Juno's) have us to make things run smoothly. Next time, she should pick on somebody her own pompous size.
The paper did have a positive word or two about SLAINTE MHATH. They called them the 'Baby Barra's' and said that unlike the other bands in this genre, they actually play their instruments. However, this is a kick in the teeth for everyone else, I guess. But then again, this writer actually liked the Debbie Adshade performance.
When I walked into the OLDE DUBLIN PUB on Saturday, Richard Wood was stomping in a cloud of smoke and playing his fiddle like there was no tomorrow. He may have the stage presence of drying paint, but he is still a powerful fiddler. I will give him that.
Ryan MacNeil, Boyd MacNeil, Bruce MacPhee, and Bhreagh MacDonald a.k.a SLAINTE MHATH were scheduled to perform twice at the OLDE DUBLIN PUB, but since they tried to wedge eight acts in their from 2PM til 2AM, they ended up playing one heck of a set at 6PM. This time around I actually had a seat (hoooray!) and the crowd really got into things. As I mentioned before, there isn't much room in the pub...but that is what waitresses and waiters are for!.
After that gig, the group was sooo wiped they decided to call it a night. We went back to my place and attempted to record some real crappy mixes involving a recorder, a baby squeeze-box, a rhythm egg, and a guitar. It was pretty scarey experience, but there is always room for improvement. We ended up missing a party outside of Charlottetown involving some great music and people standing on their heads. How would we know?
We then headed towards their hotel room at The Inn on the Hill (not much of a hill, I might add) and rented 'The Usual Suspects' (one of the best films of '95). Ryan typically fell asleep.
*SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11th 1996*
The funny thing is, the Award show is never really the pinnacle of the East Coast Music Award week. It is just a reminder that it will all be over soon. All of the fun is found in the showcases, pubs and surrounding bars, and house parties that go on after the bartenders go home. I never had great expectations for the awards, but I thought it would be somewhat amusing.
I thought Denny Doherty was an interesting choice for host...what with all the interesting tales he may still remember from the 60's. Combine that with the ability to talk about tug boats and you may have something. I didn't think Heather Rankin was a cleaver choice. You should have someone that is not up for an award or six themselves. I just didn't think there was much 'chemistry' between them. But that isn't either of their faults. I liked David Lettermen hosting the Oscars. Oh yeah, Why didn't they pick someone from PEI? Maybe, I don't need an answer for that one.
The opening sequence left much to be desired, but I cannot deny Stompin' Tom and the chair dancing of Barachois. Other performances that were worthy of mention were Laura Smith and the NS Mass Choir. Bruce Guthro and Natalie MacMaster's number 'FIDDLE & BOW' was fantastic as well. Sandbox was never at the top of my list, even though I filled there seats during the show, and what was with the jerky camera work for the Super Friendz? Ashley's number didn't sit that right with me, I thought the tempo changes were slightly off or something. However, when he played....boy did he ever.
In the award end of things, I think that Dave MacIsaac winning three 'door stops', as he said, is long over due. He has been a key fixture of things on the east coast for so long, he deserves every ounce of credit coming his way. If you don't know what I am talking about, just listen to him play.
Sloan getting Alternative artist (whatever that means)? I think they would have been the perfect candidate a year or so ago (when they had an album out), excuse this year was the year for the Super Friendz. Not to knock Sloan or anything, but they have been braking up for two years now...shit or get off the pot.
Lee Cremo raked in the First Nations recording of the year, which Ryan MacNeil played a part of. Duncan Wells cleaned up the Children's category...I was just hoping his dog would make an appearence [i forget his name!]. And as usual, the classical winner gave the longest speech. You have to admire them though, they do get over shadowed during the year.
The highlight of the night for me was when the Barra's were awarded the pop/rock artist award (sort of a dubious title, but anyway) and SLAINTE MHATH accepted it for them. I felt like hollering something obscene, but I was actually speechless. I am just glad Ryan wasn't speechless.
I also thought that Great Big Sea were the best choice for entertainers of the year. They had a hell of a year and there is no telling the heights they will reach this year.
After the awards there was a party for the volunteers...I went there to get my complementry drink (a coke, I might add) and then I met up with the surviving members of SLAINTE MHATH at Pizza Hut on University Avenue. When you live in Cape Breton so long, Pizza Hut really becomes a facinating place regardless of the amount of grease they inject in each personal pan pizza. We planned to meet at Arby's because Ryan thought it would be like a restaurant. However, everything in Charlottetown usually closes down at midnight. The hut was our only hope.
After the scoff, we decided to head down to the real happening at the CP Hotel. The ballroom was home to some sort of jam session, so the youngin's decided to set up camp by the piano in the hall. It was sort of a SLAINTE MHATH unplugged session. Gordie Sampson joined them on guitar and JP Cormier hunkered down to drag his bow across his fiddle. Someone else accompanied them on Bodhran and before you knew it a crowd had been formed. This is what it is all about. I remember last year at the Pelican Longue after the awards, the Barra's, one half of Ryan's Fancy, a fella on stand up bass, the lead singer of Great Big Sea, Richard Wood, and Ronald Bourgeois all were sharing the music that means sooo much to them. As much as I wish I could take part, I just count my lucky stars that I am able to soak as much of it in as possible.
Next thing I know it is four in the morning and I am starting to contemplate how important that test I have in the morning really is.
*MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12th 1996*
After writing my test, I thought I was going to die. In fact, I would have been happy just doing that. But, I get a phone call from Ryan saying that they were going to Smitty's before they all head back to the real island of my dreams.
It was my brother, Boyd, Ryan, Keith Tobin (piano-lender-guy), and myself in the van and Bhreagh and Bruce in the civic. Next stop, Smitty's pancake emporium. We conversed about the events that transpired as we packed our bellies with the most interesting combination of food I ever encountered. I had the Peaches and pancakes, which consisted of lots of whip cream and even some strawberries. I was wondering if your desert I could get some ice cream with pancakes on top it. We laughed, we cried, we bid our farewells. I went home and slept from 4:30PM til 10:00AM the next day. I felt like a million bucks.
See you in Moncton...I'm going for the three year seat filling program!