John Allan Cameron Trio, Slàinte Mhath and La Bottine Souriante on Celtic Connections '99, final night
By Christian Moll - FolkWorld Live Review 2/99
The final night of Celtic Connections, 31 January 1999 in Glasgow, has plenty of exciting music on offer: From the most traddy concert, the 'Belle Stewart Tribute Concert' featuring some of Scotlands finest singers, over English folk rockers Oysterband supported by the Lush Rollers, and Capercaillie supported by the magic Alain Genty Band to the Canadian Concert with the John Allan Cameron Trio, Slàinte Mhath and La Bottine Souriante in the Old Fruitmarket. Not an easy decision - but without doubt we were on the right side to visit the sold out Canadian Concert. What a great night!
The opener of the night was the 'Godfather of Canadian Celtic music', John Allan Cameron from Cape Breton. It is always amazing to see somebody who has toured with his music for over 30 years now - but it is even more amazing to see this guy performing with an absolutely fresh, young and even wild approach. John can entertain his audience; it's not just the excellent music, it's especially the stage performance and 'show' that makes the difference to others.
John Allan is a crafted interpreter of Celtic tunes on the guitar - he was the first one to do this. While in his trio with his son Steve Cameron (guitar) and Al Bennet (bass), there is no melody instrument apart from his guitar, the sound of the band is still rich and full; nothing is missing. Also, John is an excellent singer and songwriter. All songs that he chooses to sing are suiting his style well, and there are often some catchy hook lines to sing along to.
As he comes to the final tune of his set, he (and also Al) is playing the instrument which is best known for Cape Breton music - the fiddle. He explains that the fiddle was his first instrument; he had learned it before the guitar, but he quit as his brother got better than him...
Next on were the stormy young band Slàinte Mhath. This breathtaking five piece from Cape Breton played a set of mostly traditional instrumentals. Two of the lads (Ryan and Boyd MacNeil) are from the clan of the famous Barra MacNeils, and Slàinte Mhath are stepping in their footsteps but with their own, distinctive and wild style. Ryan makes with his piano the backbone of the music, Boyd is multi-instrumentalist. The brothers are joined by the pipeman Bruce MacPhee, a drummer/percussionist (recently added to the band's line-up) and Lisa Gallant, a highly talented fiddler, stepdancer and percussionist/bodhran player.
With their power, they are setting free much dance energy in the audience. Centrepiece of Slàinte Mhath's music is Celtic traditional music, but they are quite open minded. For example, a unique very percussive tune with latin feeling is played this evenig - this tune leads to the stepdance sensation: Lisa starts to attract the audience with her step dance, after a while she is joined by Ryan and Boyd. These musicians know how to bring the atmosphere of the traditional Cape Breton kitchen parties onto major stages; staying true to the thought that everybody should be involved in the party, by dancing, clapping, enjoying. They are great entertainment - some other, older and more established bands should learn from this young band!
The finale of the Cape Breton part of the evening was also special, when Slàinte Mhath called John Allan & Steve Cameron and Al Bennett back onto stage for a little session - a great way to end the first half of an excellent evening.
The headliner of the evening is called the laughing shoes - normally there is only one pair of magic feet in La Bottine Souriante, the feet of sitting step master Michel Bordeleau, but this time they had as a special guest the dancer and foot percussionist Sandy Silver (well known from Kevin Burke's Open House). She added a new visual excitement to this very entertaining band - still, for my personal taste the step dancing of Slàinte Mhath's Lisa Gallant was more beautiful than Sandy's dancing...
But let us have a look on the 'rest' of the band. Head of the band is the funny looking accordeonist and singer in French Yves Lambert. His introductions - half in English, half in French are a good starter to get in the right Québecois mood. On 'normal' folk instruments, I still to name the quite new young fiddler, the piano keyboarder and a drummer. To make this band extremely special, they have added to this star line up a four member brass section to groove the night away. It is amazing how well this unusual combination works - the music is always swapping between traditional Quebecois and jazzy rocky music with lots of flair and livelyness.
A great and long night of Canadian music sensations, bringing their European Canadian heritage back to Europe!